Chapter 30: Figure it out
Three days later, on an early morning, Ye Jiayao ventured out wearing old-fashioned grey clothes. She looked like a good-looking young boy as she waited among the crowds who were going into the city.
The shabby grey clothes she bought from a farmer cost her 100 copper coins. It was a bit too expensive, but as she had nothing else, this attire was safe and convenient.
She had never been to Ji Nan district, but she heard it was famous. It was a classic dialogue said by Qiong Yao:?Your Majesty, do you still remember Xia Yuhe from Da Ming lake?
At five in the morning, the city gate opened slowly, and the crowds walked into the city like waves. Ancient people usually got up early because there were not busy doing fun activities at night.
As early as it was, the shops had already opened on the street. The most popular ones being the breakfast shops. There were steamed buns with soup, steamed corn bread, deep-fried dough sticks, pancakes and pliable ramen. It emitted a heady, exquisite fragrance that wafted through the city.
Ye Jiayao spent four copper coins on two big meat buns and one copper coin on a soup. After she had her fill, she then started to ask about the Wei family in Ji Nan district.
It was easy to find Wei’s house, it was getting inside of it that was the hard part. She?couldn’t just barge in hastily, otherwise, people would be suspicious. Therefore, she walked near the back door and looked for the most suitable opportunity.
After a while, Ye Jiayao saw an auntie with a vegetable basket walk out from the back door. She looked like she was going out to buy food in the market.
Big families usually had a specific place and time to buy cooking materials. Every day, people sent the food in. It was only when the master specifically asked for something that servants had to go out and buy them.
Ye Jiayao followed her from a distance, trying to find a chance to talk to her.
The auntie arrived at the market and she walked straight to an aquatic product store. Without even asking for the price, she weighed out 1.5 kg of river shrimps, two crabs, as well as two basses. She then walked to a cooked food store at the side of the market, coming out with a basket overflowing with goods.
Ye Jiayao intentionally wobbled and carelessly bumped into her.
“Damn you! Don’t you have eyes? Watch the roads when you are walking,” the auntie shouted at her.
Ye Jiayao smiled apologetically and immediately made a bow, with her hands folded in front, to say sorry.
“Big sister, I am so sorry. I was looking for someone just now and didn’t pay attention. I apologize to you.”
Her anger vanished as she stared at the very handsome young man with beautiful eyes. Guys were very forgiving to beautiful girls, and women were also forgiving to handsome guys.
“Little brother, you are too reckless. If you’ve knocked off my groceries, how would you repay it?” the auntie chastised gently.
Ye Jiayao kept bowing to her with her hands folded in the front. “Big sister, you are right. It was my fault. Big sister, did I hurt you?”
The aunt stroked the hem of her skirt. “Don’t worry, just be careful in the future.”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
The auntie turned around and walked away. Ye Jiayao thought for a moment and ran up to her. “Big sister, your basket is heavy. Can I help you carry it to compensate for my wrong-doing?”
The auntie was not angry anymore and waved her hands dismissively. “No, no, I am alright.”
“It is okay, sister. I was looking for my village friend, but I couldn’t find him. He probably went back already. I can help you carry the basket home then I will go back to the village.” Ye Jiayao took over the basket in her hand as she spoke.
“Big sister, where do you live?”
The auntie thought she was warm-hearted, so she just let her do it. It was a long way back and the basket was, indeed, heavy. She forgot to take helpers and her arms would suffer if she was to carry the basket back alone. She was glad that someone was willing to help.
“Wei’s house,” the auntie said.
Ye Jiayao acted surprised, “Is it the prefecture of Wei Zhi?”
“Yes, it is the prefecture of Wei Zhi.”
Ye Jiayao composed her features to show an admiring expression. “Aiya! I have found a high-ranking government official today. Big sister, I knew your manner and breadth of mind was different from other people. As it turned out, you were from the prefecture of Wei Zhi! Big sister, you are so amazing! People from big families are certainly different.”
The auntie laughed. “You, little guy, have a smooth tongue. How am I different from others?”
Ye Jiayao said seriously, “Of course you are different. Big sister, even if you just stand among people wordlessly, your manner shows that you are superior.”
The auntie was happily flattered. The two of them shared stories and laughter on their way back to the prefecture of Wei.
Ye Jiayao returned the basket to the auntie as they arrived. “Sister, I will just leave you here now.”
The auntie saw her sweat all over her head and offered, “Do you want to have a drink inside?”
Ye Jiayao smiled fatuously. “I am a bit thirsty, but… I have never been in such a huge house before. I dare not to enter.”
The auntie laughed once again. “Don’t worry about it! Come in and drink some water before leaving.”
“Aye,” Ye Jiayao answered happily and took over the basket again. “Let me carry this.”
Ye Jiayao was right, this auntie worked in the kitchen. The reason that she glowed with health was that she could eat good food stealthily.
“Yo, Sister Gui, where did you kidnap such a cute young guy?” The aunties who worked in kitchen teased upon seeing Ye Jiayao.
Sister Gui played along humorously. “I kidnapped him from the market. He bumped me carelessly and was forced to carry the food back to compensate for his wrong-doing.”
Ye Jiayao laughed. She put the basket down and said, “Hello, big sisters, I am here for some water.”
Sister Gui said, “You wait for a second, I will pour some water for you.”
Ye Jiayao looked around, just like a villager who has never seen the world. She exclaimed, “Wow! The big families are really so different. This kitchen is bigger than my house!”
“Yo, little brother, where are you from? Your accent is not local,” one of the aunties asked.
“Oh, my hometown is Yang Zhou. I came to Shang Dong to do a small business a few years ago but I lost the money. Now, I plan to go back to Yang Zhou.” Ye Jiayao intentionally mentioned Yang Zhou to get them talking.
“Aiyo! Such a coincidence! Our lady is also from Yang Zhou.” Sister Gui carried a cup of tea to her.
Ye Jiayao feigned surprise. “Really? Where about in Yang Zhou was she from? And how many years has she been in Ji Nan?”
“She only just married here last month.”
“She is from inside the city and she is Tong Zhi governor’s daughter. She is the perfect match for our young master. It is just her temper-” another auntie said, trailing off as she made a sour expression.
Married here last month? How is that possible? Or did Wei’s family find a faker?
As they were talking, someone came in and cleared her throat and said, “Sister Gui, did you get the river shrimps and crabs that the first lady wanted?”
Ye Jiayao heard the sound and turned around. She almost spat the water in her mouth in shock.?What????Isn’t that my second sister’s servant girl, Tao Hong?
Sister Gui answered, “I bought them. They are all fresh and still alive.”
“Good. Today, you can just make some Fried Shelled Fresh Shrimp and some Crab Roe Buns for lunch. Make sure it is delicate.” Tao Hong turned away after barking out the orders. She didn’t even spare a glance at Ye Jiayao.
Wow!???A lowly servant giving people threatening looks. Huh.
Sister Gui waited for Tao Hong to leave before she poohed at the door. It seemed that she disliked Tao Hong.
“Sister, who is that person? She’s so snobby,” Ye Jiayao asked.
Sister Gui had a contemptuous look as she answered sulkily, “That’s the big servant girl of first lady.”
“She is just a servant? I thought she was an actual master or something.”
Her heart was beating crazily fast and she could not stay calm. Tao Hong was the best personal maid for Jinrong. Tao Hong was here. Fried shelled fresh shrimp was Jinrong’s favorite dish. Undoubtedly, the first lady in the prefecture was Ye Jinrong. The problem was, Jinrong was supposed to be in Yang Zhou. Even if her father let Jinrong save the situation, it shouldn’t have happened this fast.
The only possible reason for Jinrong marrying to Wei so fast was that she followed her here. The second-in-charge said that she was framed by her own family. Perhaps, Jinrong followed her here secretly in preparation to take over her position.
“Aye, who knows how to cook fried shelled fresh shrimp?” Sister Gui asked everyone.
“We didn’t learn Huiyang style of cooking. How would we know?” someone answered grumpily.
Someone else piped in, “We have made Crab Roe Buns several times, and every time, she despised it. Pei! She has such a picky mouth and stomach. Why didn’t she just bring her chef here to cook for her every whim? ”
“Aye, what can we do? She is the apple of the eye of the big young master. We are just servants. Servants just get used to being scolded.”
“Such a hassle! At least, they are going to Jin Ling next month,” Sister Gui complained sulkily.
They’re going to Jin Ling next month??Wei Liujiang must be going to join the test and visit Jinrong’s family on the way.?Then, it is decided!?Ye Jiayao would go to Jin Ling as well. Even if she doesn’t know how to make things right, she would not let this atrocity go so easily.
Ye Jiayao offered weakly, “Perhaps you’d let me try? My father worked as a chef in restaurants and I mucked around in them when I was young. I haven’t made Fried Shelled Fresh Shrimp, but I have seen how to make it.”
Sister Gui’s eyes widened in surprise, but she said unhappily, “I have the method, but we can’t create the taste that first lady wanted. You haven’t even done it so you probably can’t, too.”
Ye Jiayao laughed. “Don’t forget that I am from Yang Zhou. I am very familiar with the taste that Yang Zhou people want. Don’t worry, I will make sure the first lady will be satisfied.”
This was only the way she could repay Sister Gui for taking her in.
“What’s the harm in letting him try? If it doesn’t go well, it would not be the first time that we messed it up, anyway,” one of the aunts suggested.
Ye Jiayao rolled her sleeves up and started to work. She washed the shrimp and put them into boiling water for three minutes. Then, she got rid of the shrimp shells and placed them on a plate in a very elegant, neat and beautiful shape. Huai Yang dish was delicate. It has to have good color, smell, taste, and shape – not a single one can be omitted.
She put the shelled shrimps in circles inside the plate orderly before she started on making the sauce. She poured sesame oil into the pot, waited until it was fragrant, and then added soy sauce, sugar, and caltrop starch to mingle. The amount of soy sauce put in the dish has to be perfectly controlled. If it was in little amounts, the shrimps wouldn’t look bright. If it was too much, the dark look of the shrimps would ruin the beauty of the food. Everything required precise control and measurements, but to Ye Jiayao, it was just a piece of cake.
“Little guy, you don’t look new at this at all,” Sister Gui exclaimed as she watched her.?This guy has better cooking skill than me!
Ye Jiayao replied casually, “Normally, I cook at home as my mum is not well.”
As she talked, the sauce has already mixed well, so she used a spoon to spread it on the shelled fresh shrimps on the plate. The satisfying sizzling sound it made signaled that the plate of Fresh Fried Shelled Shrimps was done.
Ye Jiayao also made some Huai Yang dish, Steamed Bass, Boiled and Shredded Dry Bean Curd, Bean Curd with Mince and Chili Oil…
Damn! Jinrong took over my place, and yet, I still cooked for her! I hope she gets diarrhea after eating!
Ye Jiayao cursed her sister inwardly as she finished her dishes.