Aki Lee

Sauerknautsch, Speise des Wasserwegs


2022
Mixed Media Installation

Sauerknautsch, also known as Speise des Wasserwegs (水路菜), is a unique, pickled recipe made with leaf mustard and fermented without salt. The process is simple: the vegetable is soaked in hot water for approximately 30 to 60 seconds and left to ferment for 2 to 5 days at a warm temperature. This recipe was discovered by the artist among the Hakka people, a subgroup of North Han Chinese residing in the Pearl River Delta Region (Canton, China).

The Hakka people, often referred to as "guest people," have a rich migratory history that dates back to 221 BC. Fleeing domestic conflicts and social unrest, they embarked on a nomadic lifestyle, adapting their diets to various landscapes and climates as they traveled from the North Temperate Plain to tropical Deltas. Speise des Wasserwegs is one such adaptation that emerged during their process of re-rooting.

Water, an essential resource for agriculture, played a significant role in the expansion of Canton in the 6th century, thanks to fertile salty lands and extensive waterways. However, the marginalized Hakka population had limited access to water, be it fresh water or sea salts. Instead, they settled in Karst topography and Limestone mountains, the only available areas for habitation under discrimination. To cope with this challenging environment, they neutralized the hard water from mountain springs (containing substances like Calcium Carbonate), preserving food without relying on luxury salts, and adapting to shifting climatic conditions. The sour taste of this daily dish reflects the struggles they faced and the ingenuity they employed to overcome them.

Drawing inspiration from this humble recipe, Hakka Sauerkraut invites us to experience, taste, and envision the unseen sourness, sorrows, and setbacks that lie within this microcosmic culinary practice. Similarly, Sauerknautsch encourages us to contemplate how a guest people adapt and integrate themselves into new homes, embodying the fluidity of Taoist philosophy and the concept of being like water. Moreover, it reminds us that shared life experiences associated with water, such as floods, are not distant memories but rather common threads that connect us, much like the Danube river. Today, as our perception of water expands and deepens in our daily lives, the focus shifts from its static origin to how we can redirect and channel its flow dynamically.

︎︎︎ Aki Lee

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