East Meets West: Liu Jingxian: Why is the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" a Treasure of Chinese Cuisine Culture?
Shenyang, 27 December (China News Service) -- Why is the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" a Treasure of Chinese Cuisine Culture?
--Interview with Liu Jingxian, chief advisor of the China Cuisine Association, international culinary arts master and Chinese special first-class culinary master
The "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is known as the national quintessence of China and is the top representative of Chinese cuisine. As a product of the intermingling of the food cultures of the Manchu and Han, it is renowned for its exquisite national rituals, a wide variety of dishes, and consummate cooking skills. Some people say it was the state banquet of the Qing Palace, with 108 dishes, which could be eaten for three days and nights. But is there really a "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" in the Qing Palace?
Liu Jingxian, chief advisor of the China Cuisine Association and Chinese first-class culinary master, in a recent interview with the China News Service's "East Meets West" said that the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" was not a state banquet in the Qing Palace, nor was in the Emperor's imperial repast, and that there were more than 108 dishes in the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast".
In February 2007, Liu Jingxian made the dishes of "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" on-site at the 11th Shenyang Non-Staple Foods Festival.
Photo by Huang Jinkun, China News Service
The interview summary is as follows:
China News Service: The "court image" of "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is deeply rooted in people's minds. Was there really a "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" in the imperial repast in the Qing Palace? What role did it play in the intermingling of Manchu and Han food cultures?
Liu Jingxian: The "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is the pinnacle of the combination of Manchu and Han foods. But there was only the Manchu feast and Han feast in the Qing dynasty, no "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast".
The "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" originated from the traditional dietary habits of the Manchu ancestors in the Liaoning region, and after more than 300 years of innovation and development, formed on the basis of a fusion of the essence of the Manchu feast at the palace and the Han feast in the south.
In 1616, Nurhaci built his capital in Hetu Ala (the old town of Xinbin County, Liaoning Province) and established the Later Jin until the Manchus conquered the Ming Dynasty. Manchu and Han Chinese have long lived together and integrated with each other. After the conquest of the Ming Dynasty, the capital was set in Beijing. At that time, Beijing was the political, economic and cultural centre of China, where Manchu and Han officials and eminent officials gathered, and because Beijing has the proximity to Liaoning, Shandong, Tianjin and other places, there are many similarities in food styles. These factors provided the conditions for the creation of the Manchu–Han Imperial Feast.
During the Kangxi Era, the Manchu and Han feasts were clearly recorded resepectively. At that time, the Manchu and Han officials were entertained with Manchu and Han feasts separately, such as the two thousand-elder banquets held during the Kangxi Era, divided into Manchu and Han banquets.
During the Qianlong Era, the Han officials were entertained with Han dishes at Manchu official banquets, and the Manchu officials with Manchu dishes at Han official banquets. Emperor Qianlong's own dietary habits of both North and South, along with his strong support to make "Manchu and Han as one" to consolidate his ruling position, prompted the Manchu and Han feasts to fuse and evolve into the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast". It was also the habit of Manchu and Han officials to often feast with each other that created a fusion of national food cultures, laying the foundation for using Manchu and Han feasts and even the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast". The earliest record of a "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is found in Yangzhou Painted-Boat Notebook, written by Li Dou during the Qianlong Era.
China News Service: Why is the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" a cultural treasure of Chinese cuisine?
Liu Jingxian: The wide variety of dishes is an important sign of the maturity of Chinese cooking techniques, and the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast", a collection of ancient culinary masterpieces, is the best example.
Liu Jingxian was demonstrating his cooking skills.
Photo by Yu Haiyang, China News Service
The "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is made from a wide range of ingredients, with both courtly features and local flavours, with exquisite dishes and elaborate manners, forming a unique style. The most representative ones are land-beasts, seafood, poultry, and fungi and herbs, also known as the "four groups of eight precious ingredients". It can be roughly divided into the Mongolian kinship banquet, courtier banquet, emperor's birthday banquet, thousand-elder banquet, nine-white-beast banquet, and seasonal banquet. It highlights the flavour of Manchu dishes, such as the grill, and hot pot, while showing the characteristics of Han cooking, such as stewing, frying, stir-frying, quick-frying, roasting and so on.
Among them, "bobo"(Manchu bun or cake), showing the traditional Manchu flavour, is the staple food, such as lotus cake, sachima, mung-bean cake, five-flower cake, cool cake, glutinous rice cake, rolled cake, ludagun, and other Manchu food, which are now famous in the domestic and international markets.
Not only that, but the utensils of the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" are also very elaborate. Most of them are made of copper, with elaborate carving; the centre is the famille-rose porcelain tableware with "寿"(longevity) characters, and large pieces of porcelain imitate the shape of chickens, ducks, fish and pigs; there is fire furniture (i.e. hot pot), with dishes on the upper layer and liquor on the lower layer to light the fire; the water-carrying ware is made of tin, with two layers inside and outside, and soup is contained by the inner layer and boiling water by the outer layer, which is easy to keep the soup warm.
The "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is generally served with a minimum of 108 dishes, 54 from the south and 54 from the north, and is eaten over three days - there are also cases of 168 or 198 dishes. When guests enter the banquet hall, music is played first, and after they are seated, dim sum is served first; after all the guests arrive, the four fresh fruits are removed, and a toast is proposed before the main courses are served; the whole process is followed by four changes of tabletops, switching between Manchu and Han dishes, commonly known as "turning the table"; during the feast, generally the Manchu dishes are eaten first before the Han dishes, during which the tabletops are changed, and this is called "turning the top".
In June 2021, the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" was presented at the Huajiao Catering Expo Conference in Shenyang, Liaoning province.
Photo by Huang Jinkun, China News Service
China News Service: What is the spiritual core of the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast"? How to build a new image of the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" in the era?
Liu Jingxian: The spiritual core of the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is the chef's tireless pursuit of skills, the ultimate refinement of food colour, aroma, and taster, and great confidence in Chinese food culture, which is the world-renowned charm of "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast".
Today, Chinese chefs have the dream of the feast of a great country and hope to inherit and carry forward this precious treasure, the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast". This is not only to recreate the long-lost and challenging dish, but more importantly to pass on its spirit, which requires researchers to disseminate cultural knowledge to the general public and reconstruct a new contemporary image of the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast". It is also up to those involved in the catering industry to promote it to the world and let the world experience the Chinese characteristics of the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" in a new era.
China News Service: How do you see the differences between Chinese and Western cuisine? What aspects of cuisine would you like to compare?
Liu Jingxian: Chinese cuisine and Western cuisine have their own characteristics and there is no distinction of good or bad between them. They can be compared in terms of the choice of raw ingredients, cooking methods and other culinary aspects, so that the differences between Chinese and Western cuisines can be drawn to complement each other.
For example, there is a big difference in the composition of banquets between Chinese and Western cuisines. Western banquet dishes are composed of tapas, soup, cold dishes, hot dishes, desserts, fruits, and drinks, with most of the tapas being cocktail and the soup served as an appetiser, also to moisten the throat. Hot dishes usually consist of seafood (fish or prawn), a steak or pork chop, a vegetarian dish, or a poultry dish. A full meal is usually no more than ten courses. In terms of format, large-scale western banquets include cocktail parties and buffet parties. Cocktail parties are usually held at 3 or 4 pm and feature drinks with snacks. Buffet parties are held in the evening. Whole fish, chicken, meat, and vegetables are cooked and placed on the table beforehand. Once the guests have been seated, the chef starts the banquet, and the guests choose their own. There is often a show at these banquets. Western cuisine is grand but not ostentatious, and the individual serving system is hygienic and rationed. This is in contrast to Chinese cuisine, which is characterised by a large number of dishes and the use of fine ingredients.
Liu Jingxian made an exchange visit to Beijing Union University.
Photo by the interviewee
China News Service: The difference between Chinese and Western food is formed by the difference in concept, but there are many characteristics of Western cuisine, and is it possible for them to join the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast"?
Liu Jingxian: Of course. Western cuisine is rationed by the person, and there is very little waste. Whether it is a snack or a feast, the amount of ingredients served is linked to the amount of food eaten by the diner; the number of dishes is very small, ensuring that each meal is finished. Western buffets and buffet parties are also designed to reduce waste. However, the "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" cater to the traditional mentality of the customer, to leave leftovers, often with the intention to prepare excess dishes.
In French Western cuisine, the emphasis is on matching the dish to the soup, and, for example, fish soup is for fish dishes and beef soup for beef dishes, so that the original flavour is well maintained, whereas, in Chinese cuisine, most of the dishes are served with one kind of soup, with little distinction. French cuisine also emphasises that a certain wine is used for cooking a certain dish, and a certain wine is served to a certain dish, so that the wine helps to make the dish tasty. Chinese wine is no worse than any other country, and there is much to be said for matching wine to a dish.
The "Manchu–Han Imperial Feast" is a collection of the best traditional dishes from various cuisines, summarising the rules of cooking, and at the same time incorporating the characteristics of Western cuisine in an international context, which will be of great benefit to the inheritance of Chinese culinary skills and the promotion of modern banqueting to new heights. (End)
Profile of the Interviewee:
Photo by Li Xian, China News Service
Liu Jingxian is a representative inheritor of the national intangible cultural heritage, a Chinese special first-class culinary master, an international culinary arts master, a senior national cook, a national and international judge of the catering industry, a judge of the international competition of the World Association of Chinese Cuisine, a member of the National Expert Committee for Vocational Skills Certification, the Honorary Chairman of the China Hotel Association, the Chief Advisor of the China Cuisine Association and the Honorary Lifetime President of the Liaoning Hotel Association. He has been engaged in the catering industry for sixty years and is proficient in the cooking techniques of all major cuisines such as Liaoning and Shandong cuisines. He has been invited to many countries for technical exchanges and has been well received and praised. He has trained a large number of highly skilled culinary talents at home and abroad, contributing to the promotion of Chinese culinary culture and the development of Chinese cooking.
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