Nantouhe Sesame Oil in Meinong／美濃「南頭河」芝麻油
Nantouhe Sesame Oil in Meinong
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
Nantouhe is a sesame oil mill that has been a trusted supplier of high quality sesame oil to Meinong residents for generations. This family business is currently managed by the fourth-generation owner, Mr. Wu Jheng-sian.
It surprises many that this oil mill has been a side business for all four generations of owners; each handed over the business to the following generation only when their successors promised to always run the business with dignity. The key stipulation is that everything must be done by the book; no short cuts are allowed. If the business cannot be sustained this way, then it should be closed. Mr. Wu's full-time job covers the family's living expenses, and so his main aim when producing sesame oil is not to make money, but to keep memories alive.
In the old days, many of Meinong's youngsters left the town to seek a better future elsewhere. When they departed, they always took a couple of bottles of sesame oil with them. Mr. Wu says that he has been watching his father make oil since he was a child, and his childhood memories mostly feature the oil mill, a place where everything was a glossy black, polished by layers of oil. The business was supposed to go to his second elder brother, but he died unexpectedly, around the time their father suffered a stroke. He was faced with a choice of picking up the torch, or closing the shop. He chose the former because he simply could not allow a 130-year-old family business to die in his hands. Nor could he bear the thought of dis-appointing the old customers who continue to buy their oil from the shop. Because he works outside Meinong, he spends his weekends in his hometown making sesame oil.
The Wu family makes their oil semi-manually using the cold press method. This is to avoid any elements that could ruin the quality. Mr. Wu says each batch requires 50 kg (110 lbs) of sesame seeds, and it takes about 3 kg (6.6 lbs) of seeds to produce 600g (1.3 lb) of oil. Not only that, tremendous precision and experience are required.
The first step is roasting the sesame. This is where you can tell if someone is a true master: If the seeds are overcooked, the whole wok is ruined. If they are undercooked, the signature aroma of sesame does not come out. Throughout the process of roasting, Mr. Wu keeps taking a small pinch of seeds and rubbing them between his fingers to determine if they are ready. When the sesame seeds are roasted to Mr. Wu's satisfaction, the next step is spreading them out on the ground so they can cool quickly, and not be overcooked by residual heat which may turn them bitter. Unlike the bold richness of the finished product, the production process is actually very subdued. At the beginning, a mere hint of sesame scent swirls delicately in the air; this comes to full bloom as the process approaches completion. When the seeds have cooled, they are milled and then steamed in a double boiler at about 60–70 degrees Celsius (140–158 degrees Fahrenheit), as this significantly increases the amount of oil that can be produced. After that, the ground sesame is made into flat, round cakes which are wrapped in pieces of cotton. These are piled up in an oil press, and sesame oil slowly oozes out as pressure is applied.
Mr. Wu says the sesame oil he makes is not only fragrant, but has a superior taste. He says he has really given his all to keep this family business running, and has been instructing his nephew in the art of sesame oil making. The boy is his sister's son, and is currently in junior high school. Mr. Wu says he hopes to install a sense of identity with the oil business in his nephew. The boy can now tie up sesame cakes with precise and practiced moves; his palms and the bottom of his feet are tinted black by sesame oil, a stamp that marks his inheritance. The torch is slowly being passed down to the next generation, which certainly comforts Wu Jheng-sian's father, who always sits aside watching them making sesame oil.
Nantouhe Sesame Oil 07-6814795