# 170. Not bad, now go...
In the kitchen, several cooks were running left and right, washing and chopping vegetables, tending to the fire and cooking, talking and making that evening’s dinner.
“Soon we’ll go live in the inner city.” the cook chopping vegetables laughed.
All the common people of the capital had an attraction to the inner city. The inner city was far better than the outer city, there were practically no slums or other areas of poor repair, young women can go out onto the streets alone without feeling fear. They could even go into the small back alleys of the inner city — though this should probably not be encouraged.
“Dalang really has made a lot, I heard the madam say that that house cost five thousand taels.” The cook washing the vegetables carried on the conversation.
“Five thousand taels? That’s not much more than our house here.” The one tending to the fire said.
“What do you know,” the vegetable washer exclaimed, “I heard the madam say, that that house was worth at least seven thousand taels, far above our current place.”
As to why they had only spent five thousand tales, this was clearly just natural talent on the part of Xu Qi’an. He was, after all, a Nightwatcher, he should easily be able to buy a house on the cheap.
“Madam said to me that after a few more days, she’ll take us all over. Let me tell you, the inner city is really posh.”
In the outer city lived much of the bottom rungs of society, who almost never had opportunity to venture further in. If one was not in a carriage or on horseback, and just on their own too legs, to go into the inner city from the outer one could take three or four hours. If one were to leave after lunch, then they would arrive by sundown.
The servants and maids in the manor were looking forward to the impending move to the inner city, and this morale boost had stepped up their eagerness to work, lest they risk dismissal. Except for Lü’e, who had been sold into the Xu manor since she was small, and also the maids that Xu Dalang could sleep with, everyone else had rolling contracts.
“I’ve discovered something…” the vegetable chopper suddenly butted back into the conversation. After the other two cooks had turned to look, she said in a low tone:
“I’ve discovered that madam likes to show off Dalang more and more, he’s always at the corner of her mouth, but as soon as Dalang comes back, she won’t give him any nice attitude.”
Suddenly, coughing came from outside the kitchen door, interrupting the cooks’ gossip.
“Why is Dalang here?” the cooks asked in surprise.
An oily, dirty place like the kitchen was not a place the masters of the house frequented.
*You’re really full of old maids’ games… it’d be a wonder if Auntie did show off about me…* Xu Qi’an, bowl of stock in hand, nodded, saying:
“I’ve made a secret recipe, so I’m coming to help you cook.”
Xu Qi’an looked around the room. The kitchen could not be said to be dirty, but it was certainly not clean, as after all years of oil and smoke had formed a layer on the walls and stoves that could not be cleaned.
However, as long as the bowls, plates, pots and pans were thoroughly clean, then there were no problems.
“What’s this?” The cooks’ eyes fell on the bowl in his hand, and the thick something within.
“It’s good, don’t look at it, it’s a secret recipe.” Xu Qi’an turned slightly, hiding his treasure from the cooks.
They didn’t mind, and continued in their work. If Dalang wanted to stay he could stay; he was the master, and they were merely just servants, since when could servants order around their masters? Furthermore, whenever the madam would argue with him, she would be rolling her eyes in anger.
Except for the Master of the house, there was perhaps only the second son who could speak a torrent that could actually argue with him.
Xu Qi’an stood to one side, watching. The first pan contained bamboo shoots and fried pork, and when the cook was tossing it, he added a small spoon of his “chicken bouillon” into it. He then tasted some, nodding slightly.
The savouriness of the dish was significantly improved, yet it could not compare to the real thing.
*Guanylic acid and monosodium glutamate are meant to complement one another… if I want to reach the flavours of my past life, I’d need to make proper MSG…* Xu Qi’an was nonetheless satisfied, though.
Seeing this, the cook took a pair of chopsticks, and also tasted some, chewing carefully.
Her eyes suddenly became wide, as she forgot to continue tossing.
The flavour she tasted was both familiar and new. There was the flavour of chicken, yet chicken could not be this savoury. To raise the umami of this dish by so much with such a small spoon, no stock could do this.
Xu Qi’an glanced at her, before snatching the spatula out of her hand and continued stirring, lest the dish be burnt.
“Is it… it’s tasty?” the other two cooks noticed her expression.
“It’s… it’s so tasty, I’ve never eaten such savoury food…” the one cooking said with excitement.
In the main hall, Xu Lingyue picked up some rice, and looked around, asking: “Where’s big brother?”
Normally at this time big brother would already be at the table waiting for the start of the meal, maybe playing around a bit with Xu Lingyin, or arguing with Auntie, furthering their bad relations.
“Today is rest day, maybe he’s at the Jiaofangsi.” Xu Pingzhi, head lowered and polishing his sabre, replied.
“All you know is crazy talk, dad, big brother doesn’t even go to the Goulan.” Xu Lingyue puffed her cheeks, a face full of unhappiness.
*… Yeah, I used to think so too… your “doesn’t go to the Goulan” big brother is suddenly an important person who is fought over by the Jiaofangsi’s oirans…*
Xu Pingzhi exclaimed in his mind, saying: “He’s now refining spirit, he doesn’t need to remain chaste. Going to the Jiaofangsi is a thing any man does, who doesn’t…”
Suddenly feeling the murderous energy coming from one side, Xu Pingzhi without a change in posture or reaction changed mid-sentence: “Your dad and second brother of course don’t go, but Ningyan might have gone. The Nightwatchers have their social events too, there’s no real way out of it.
“Talking about it, none of our Xu family lads particularly like those type of establishments.”
Xu Lingyue believed his father’s words, thinking that her proud second brother and well-behaved big brother were indeed not the type of people to be attracted to the red lights.
She nodded, and sat peacefully.
“Mum, I want to go to Guiyuelou.” Xu Lingyin came out from under the table, giving Auntie a shock.
Auntie ignored her, as uncle Xu lectured his daughter: “Lingyin, we can’t go to Guiyuelou all the time, it takes silver.”
“Big brother took me yesterday.” Xu Lingyin was not convinced.
“Then go find big brother to take you.” Xu Pingzhi waved his hand, giving up on the conversation with his youngest daughter. This girl was too stupid that not even the Cloud Deer Academy’s teachers could teach her.
Auntie sighed: “They say the chefs of the Guiyuelou came from the imperial palace, their craft is unparalleled in the capital, if we could get these kind of chefs for our family, wouldn’t that be great.”
“Woah, that smells good…” Xu Lingyin suddenly said. Her nose twitched, as she looked out of the door.
A second slower, the refining qi martial artist Xu Pingzhi also smelled the extremely savoury scent.
A moment later, the cooks brought over the dishes. With them was Xu Qi’an, but even Xu Lingyue, who really liked her big brother was not paying attention to him, rather her eyes fixated on the food.
Glinting fried pork and bamboo shoot, sour hand-torn cabbage, yam soup, scrambled egg and wild garlic, stewed lotus root and lamb leg, red-oil water bamboo… as well as pig trotters cooked personally by Xu Qi’an.
“The food today is really fragrant.” Xu Pingzhi said with some surprise.
He summoned them over, and picked up a piece of pig trotter, with crispy skin and tender interior and a dark sauce lathered on top. Smelling its savouriness that could make any person drool, he eagerly shoved it into his mouth.
“How is it this good?” He said in shock.
“You’re being too grandiose.” Auntie pursed her lips, and when the cooks had placed the dishes on the table, she picked up a piece of bamboo root. After chewing on it though, her pretty eyes suddenly became wide.
The dish was still the dish, there was nothing special to it, but that umami exploded over her taste buds, something she had never experienced before.
Usually when cooking, they would add at most a ladle of stock, and although there were different flavours of stock, they could not provide such an intense flavour, as the stocks of this era did not have any MSG with them.
Even if one were drinking chicken soup, or eating shiitake mushrooms, they would think it is savoury, but what Xu Qi’an had done was to take the essence of savouriness out of two whole baskets of mushrooms, how could anything compare?
Auntie looked with surprise at the cooks, light dancing in her eyes: “Today’s food is especially different from before, how did you make it?”
Xu Lingyue and Xu Pingzhi also put down their chopsticks, awaiting an answer with great interest.
Only Xu Lingyin did not care, she only cared about how much good food could end up in her belly.
“It’s Dalang’s secret recipe…” The cooks waved theri hands.
The whole family immediately turned to look at Xu Qi’an. Xu Pingzhi asked: “Where did you get a secret recipe?”
Xu Lingyue and Auntie also looked at him curiously.
Xu Qi’an’s chopsticks moved as fast as lightning, as he explained: “I felt that the food at home was too plan, and Guiyuelou was too expensive, so I figured out something. It seems it’s pretty good.”
Uncle Xu nodded slightly, turning to look at the table. His eyes went wide, as he shouted: “Xu Lingyin!”
Xu Lingyin had climbed onto the table, and was pulling the dishes over to herself.
“They’re all mine.” She frowned comically, declaring to her father.
At 6 AM Xu Qi’an arrived at the constabulary, and did nothing until noon, waiting to receive the Bronze Gongs and Silver Gongs returning from jail.
Yesterday they had received news of the fall of the Minister of Industry from their colleagues, and about that case in general which ultimately decided their fates.
If Xu Qi’an did not butt in and contribute, then many of their fortunes would have taken a turn for the worse.
After getting through all of the talk, Xu Qi’an tied on his bronze gong, strapped on his sabre, and went on patrol.
“Ningyan, you haven’t been to the Jiaofangsi in a while.” The silent Zhu Guangxiao suddenly said.
*Because I’ve gotten the perception that it’s not me freeloading off the oirans, but them freeloading off me…* Xu Qi’an said helplessly: “I feel like I’m nearing the peak of refining qi, I need to plan to try for the next rank.”
*Peak of refining qi…* Zhu Guangxiao and Song Tingfeng looked at him in a daze.
They were also at the peak of refining qi, this was not the difficult bit. As long as one constantly did their exercises and cultivated, reaching the peak was only a matter of time.
What was difficult was to gain merit, in return for visualisation paintings.
That said, Xu Qi’an had only been in the Nightwatchers for two months, and he was already at the peak of refining qi? What kind of aptitude is that?
“Then you need to gain merit.” Song Tingfeng said with some jealousy, before adding gloomily: “But I suppose from the Sangpo case until now you’ve probably gotten more than enough.”
“Mn,” Xu Qi’an lightly changed the topic: “I want to save for a couple weeks before going to the Jiaofangsi.”
The Jiaofangsi was by far and away the best topic for their lively atmosphere. Song Tingfeng winked: “Then Miss Fuxiang will have to suffer.”
*She won’t suffer, she’ll just overflow, just like the one to my right…* Xu Qi’an glanced rightwards.
As they walked and talked, they came back round to the constabulary, and were drawn to a tall and burly monk in a blue monk’s robe.
His robe was somewhat tattered, around his neck were hung a string of heavy prayer beads, two lines of scars were arranged on his bald head, and his expression carried deep suffering.
It was Hengyuan.
Seeing Xu Qi’an arriving, Hengyuan’s face lit up, as he came over to them with big strides, clasping his hands together: “Sir Xu.”
*Not bad, now go…* Xu Qi’an interrupted him, saying with some exasperation: “Master Hengyuan, I have a public duty to carry out, please let’s get to the point. This official only has a salary of five tales of silver, my wallets are quite bare.”
As he talked, his gaze went downwards, seeing that Hengyuan’s canvas shoes were already tattered, and two of his toes were sticking out.
*So he’s come to Ningyan for money…* Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao looked at Hengyuan with not so friendly gazes.
Seeing Xu Qi’an’s brisk refusal, Hengyuan fell silent for a long time, before bowing: “This monk understands.”
Seeing the figure of the monk walking away, a memory suddenly came to the front of Xu Qi’an’s mind, of the figure of his father, who had travelled such a long way to bring him lunch at school, only to be met with distaste at how he wasn’t fast enough — he was also like this, looking lonely and downtrodden.
“Ugh… wait up.” Xu Qi’an called after him, and let out a long breath, “How much do you need this time, just tell me an amount, I can’t give too much though, I don’t have much money recently.”