Food is a very important
part of Chinese cultural inheritance. From the time of the Han Dynasty
(206BC-220AD) until the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) chefs would prepare the
dishes for celebrations within the Confucian family, and when important
dignitaries such as high officials, scholars and even Emperors came to visit.
Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty was a particularly frequent visitor, giving
the Confucian family many opportunities to entertain themselves with traditional
family dishes. Therefore, the specific cuisine in Confucius family is handed
down from generation to generation, known as Confucius Food.
Confucius once said,
"For your dinner, you can never cook your food too fine, nor mince your meat too
well." This in fact demonstrates the essence of Confucius
The art of cooking
surely lies in taste. The Chinese believe that the most important elements that
help us appreciate taste are color, aroma, flavor and texture. All of these
elements must be combined to make a harmonious whole: it is the ability to
create this harmony that the Chinese believe to be the art of cooking. The best
way to trace the aroma of the exotic dishes is to visit the Confucius Mansions
in Qufu, Shandong Province, China. This will give you a taste of what life was
like for the Confucius family, who ruled the town of Qufu and the surrounding
area. If you stay at nearby Queli Hotel, you will be able to enjoy some of the
dishes that made up a typical Confucian banquet. Of course, it won't be quite
the same as when the descendents of Confucius sat down to dinner -- for one
thing; it was customary for an opera company to perform for them while they were
enjoying their feast! Those with a culinary bent can also try making the recipe
Many came to the
kitchen of the Confucian Mansion, built over 2,000 years ago to house the
descendents of Confucius. It was the grandest residence in China other than the
individual to each ingredient, and can change during cooking. At the same time
the intensity of color can change according to the color of the other
ingredients in the dish.
|Decorated Duck Custard|
Aroma and flavor are
very closely related. The most common ingredients used in Chinese cooking to
bring out the aroma of ingredients are spring onions, garlic, ginger and
Each school of cuisine
has its own classification of flavors; however there are five primary flavors:
sweet, sour, salty, bitter and piquant.
There are generally accepted to be five primary
textures in Chinese cuisine: tenderness, crunchiness, crispiness, smoothness and
softness. The selection of contrasting textures is as important as the selection
of different flavors. Famous Confucian dishes are characterised by the above
mentioned textures such as Four Edible Birds' Nest Dishes Wish you long life,
Roast Pork Ribs, Fried Chrysanthemum Shrimp Dumplings, Deep-fried chicken
breast, bean curd, Decorated Duck Custard, and Toffee Dates.
|Four Edible Bird's Nest Dishes "Wish you long
A famous Confucian
Crossing the Sea Gamboling around the Arhat
One of the most famous
dishes of Confucian cuisine was a dish with an impressive sounding name of
"Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea Gamboling around the Arhat". This dish
typifies the fresh, fragrant, pure taste that made Confucian cuisine so
But how did the dish
come to have such an unusual name? According to an old Chinese legend, there
once lived eight individuals who had done enough good deeds to allow them to
become immortal. First, however, they had to pass a test by overcoming several
obstacles put forth by the devils in the East Sea. The eight individuals
struggled to swim across the sea in the company of an Arhat or Buddhist saint,
each showing off feats of strength and in the end becoming immortal.
At some point a chef
was inspired by the legend, and decided to create a dish with eight ingredients
representing the eight immortals: shark's fin, sea cucumbers, abalone, shrimp,
fishbone, fish maw, asparagus, and ham. Just as the eight immortals swam across
the sea, each ingredient is cooked and laid in an earthen pot containing chicken
broth. But where does the Arhat come in? Considered as the guide and companion
of the eight would-be immortals crossing the sea, he is represented by chicken,
which acts as the leader of the ingredients.
Immortals Crossing the Sea Gamboling Around the Arhat
1. Cooked chicken
2. Soaked shark fin
3. Sea cucumber
6. Fish maw
8. Ham 100g
10. Fish meat (white
fish, preferably Chinese white croaker) 250g
11. Cooking wine
12. Some chicken broth,
some ginger, leaves of greens, and some cooked lard.
Note: The ingredients
must be laid out separately in a pot or dish in eight sections. The chicken
representing Arhat is placed in the center, and covered with slices of ham,
ginger, and greens).
1. Mince half (150g) of
the chicken breast into a fine paste. Use part of the paste to lay out on the
bottom of a pot or dish to form Arhat's cushion. Cut the rest of the chicken
2. Cut the white fish
into bars and sandwich the fishbone in each.
3. Arrange the shrimps
in a ring.
4. Form the shape of
chrysanthemum with the shark fin and the chicken paste.
5. Shape the sea
cucumbers like butterflies.
6. Pick out eight
pieces of asparagus.
7. Arrange all the
ingredients in the pot as described above.
7. Season the materials
above with salt, MSG (if desired), and Shaoxing chew (a cooking wine), and
8. Pour hot chicken
broth and hot lard over the ingredients and serve hot.
*Fish bone is a kind of
fish glue abstracted from fishbone and scales of sharks or croakers by braising.
In fact, it is a clear jelly.
** Fish maw is the
air-bladder of certain types of fish. It must be soaked in water before being