Beijing Imperial Cuisine
Beijing Imperial Cuisine, or Fangshan in Chinese pronunciation, as the name suggests, consists of dishes once prepared exclusively for the imperial family. Todays Court Cuisine is based on the dishes prepared by the Qing imperial kitchens but further developed ever since.
In ancient times, although imperial food originated with the common people, imperial food used high quality raw food stuffs. The rice, flour, meat, vegetables, melon, fruits, poultry, fish, and unconventional delicacies from land and sea were carefully chosen as tributes by local officials throughout the country. They were unmatched in quality and purity.
For example, the rice used in the imperial kitchen was only grown at Jade Spring Hill and Tang Spring in the Haidian District, west of Beijing. It was known as Jingxi Rice (west of Beijing) or Haidian Rice. Because of its low yield and excellent taste, only the emperors could eat it. Top quality rice tributes from other parts of the country were also eaten only in the palace.
The mutton eaten in the palace came from the Qingfeng Department (Department of Celebrating Good Harvests). The Qing Dynasty Imperial Kitchen did not serve beef, but it did use cows milk, which came from the same department. All kinds of melon and fruits, and delicacies from land and sea were tributes from different parts of the country. The palace cooking water was brought every morning from the Jade Spring, which Emperor Qianlong named the Number One Spring in the world. Poultry and seasonal vegetables were bought at the market. Carefully chosen raw food stuffs were a pre requisite for preparing imperial food.
All cooks in the imperial kitchen were well trained and masters of their specialized categories. They cooked their dishes to emphasize taste, color, and shape. Besides tasting good, every dish must look as good as a work of art. Many cooks specialized in making one or several dishes during their lives. The more their labor was divided, the better the dishes were prepared. Their excellent cooking skills were the key to the making of palace delicacies.
Imperial cuisine highly values a subtle balance among color, fragrance, and taste and stresses the original stock and taste of the dishes. Between shape and taste, taste would be more emphasized. For example, if the main ingredient is chicken, the dish should taste of chicken. Regardless of what auxiliary ingredients and seasonings are used, they should not affect the taste of the chicken. This was also true of venison, aquatic products, seafood, and of hot and cold dishes. A dish that looks good but does not taste good is not acceptable, and vice versa.
Ingredients in the imperial dishes were strictly blended, and the auxiliary ingredients could not be modified. In public restaurants cooks can adjust the ingredients according to whatever ingredients are available as long as they make dishes with appealing color, aroma, and taste. But in the palace, not a single auxiliary ingredient could be replaced. If a cook wished to create a new dish, he had to assume a risk. If the emperor liked his new dish, his bonus would be impressive, but if the emperor disliked it, the cook would be punished or demoted.
Palace dishes were named simply, usually for their cooking methods, main ingredients, or for the major and minor ingredients so the emperors knew what was in the dish as soon as they saw it. For example, quick fried chicken with fresh mushrooms; pork meatballs; shrimp and sea cucumber; stir fried fish filets, and quick fried mutton with onion. Looking through more than 200 years of files from the Qing Palace Imperial Diets, we found no dishes with fancy names. Maybe this was because the emperors wanted their ministers to think and act consistently. While the imperial dishes were named differently from those in restaurants, they were very similar to dishes eaten by the common people. Palace cuisine can be regarded as a collection of the best examples of Chinese food. The imperial cooks who started the Fangshan Restaurant in 1925 passed along their cooking skills so that today we can taste imitations of the palace dishes.
Beijing Beihai Fangshan Restaurant
The Beihai Fangshan Restaurant is located in Yilantang Hall on the north side of the Jade Isle, where Empress Dowager Cixi (1835 - 1908) used to take her meals after sightseeing in the park. The food made in the Qing Palace for the emperors was called imperial food, so a restaurant operating outside the palace making and selling imperial food was only an imitation (in Chinese, Fangshan).
The restaurants popular food is cooked wheaten products, such as baked sesame seed cakes with fried minced-meat filling and pastries shaped like apple, peach, fingered citron, and lucky rolls. Whatever wheaten food you eat, you will receive a good luck message: apple all is well; peach longevity, you will live a long life; lucky rolls everything is fine.
The pastries included steamed corn-flour cake, rolls of kidney bean flour, and mashed pea cake, which were all favorites of Empress Dowager Cixi. The most sumptuous food at Fangshan Restaurant was their Manchu and Han banquet. These dishes have the blended flavors of the Beijing cuisine and palace dishes.
Fangshan offers a selection of complete set-meals and fixed banquets ranging price from 100 RMB to 800 RMB per person depending on the selections. The menu combines imperial recipes, traditional Beijing favorites and modern creations. Guests who reserve a table on the second floor can enjoy a stunning view of the Beihai Park Lake.
The restaurants traditional Qing Dynasty atmosphere, where the waiters and waitresses wear elaborate silk gowns and delicate platform shoes, still brings guests back in time to an imperial-style banquet.
Add: 1 Wenjing Street (inside the east gate of Beihai Park), neighborhood Xi Cheng District, Beijing
Tel: +86 10 6401 1879
Opening Hours Lunch: 11am-1:30pm Mon-Fri; 10:30am-1:30pm Sat-Sun; Dinner: 5pm-
7:30pm Mon-Fri; 4:30pm-8pm Sat-Sun
Tiananmen Fangshan Restaurant
It provides the deluxe and famous Imperial Dishes in Beijing. Hand-made special desserts are very flavorful, including deep fried sesame corn bread. Box-packed desserts are also available as presents to your relatives and friends. Special dishes include Braised Sharks Fin, Sauted Sliced Fish, and Fried Prawns with Crabmeat, Braised Toad, and Braised Sea Cucumber with Sinew.
Add: No.37 Dongjiaominxiang, Chongnei Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Tel: +86 10 6523 1240
Opening Hours Lunch: 11am-1pm; Dinner: 5pm-8pm