San Bei Ji (Wen Tianxiang Chicken or Three Cups Chicken)
At the end of the Song Dynasty and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (about 1276 A.D.), scholar Wen Tianxiang (1236 A.D. ~ 1282 A.D., born at the end of the Song Dynasty) defied the conquering Mongols and settled his army in Chaoyang, Guangdong Province. He was eventually captured, and imprisoned in Dadu (Beijing). Wen refused to submit to the Mongols, and wrote a poem called “Song of Honor” to show that he would remain loyal to his deposed emperor until the day he was killed. It was said that during his imprisonment an old lady often visited him, and with the help of a jailer she made Three Cups Chicken for him in a ceramic pot, adding water, wine, and oil. After Wen was executed, the jailer went back to his hometown in Jiangxi Province, and every year on December 9th, the date Wen was executed, the jailer made Three Cups Chicken to commemorate him. This delicacy thereafter spread through the rest of China.
Note: Scholar Wen Tianxiang is commemorated in the East Side Building at the Confucius Temple.
Kao Ting Double Delicacy
Among the Twelve Wise Men commemorated in Dacheng Hall at the Confucius Temple, Zhu Xi (1130 A.D. ~ 1200 A.D., born in the Song Dynasty) is the only scholar who was not a disciple of Confucius. He was a great philosopher who integrated the various contending Confucian philosophy schools of China. He was unsuccessful in life, yet nevertheless lectured and wrote tirelessly. In the famous cookbook “Shan Jia Qing Gong,” written by Lin Hong (born in Song Dynasty, time of birth and death unknown), there is a “Kao Ting Nasturtium” entry that says: “After Mr. Kao Ting finished a meal, he would always head out to collect nasturtium…his purpose to cultivate the plants….” When Zhu lectured in Jianyang, other scholars called him Mr. Kao Ting. Nasturtium is a kind of amaranth, with health benefits as a nutrient supplement and strengthening the blood. It is also a good culinary item, matching many other ingredients. Zhu often ate this vegetable, which he believed contributed to a clear mind, becoming a great philosopher.
Notes:Zhu Xi is commemorated in Dacheng Hall at the Confucius Temple.
Hanlin Twice Cooked Pork
In the past people usually paid their respects to Confucius with a whole pig in a sacrificial ceremony. After the ceremony the shizi or young scholars (a polite term for young men) would split the pork and take it back home, the practice called “eating cold pork.” People in Sichuan Province, however, cooked the pork once again after the ceremony, leading to the term “Hui Guo Pork,” which means twice-cooked pork. Usually it is cooked or roasted first, then stir-fried. At the end of the Manchu Dynasty and afterwards (1897~1927), a member of the Imperial Academy (started in the Tang Dynasty, and formally called the Hanlin Academy) called Lin, who hailed from Chengdu in Sichuan Province, went back to his hometown after retirement and began studying cooking methods. He used a method of double-boiling to steam Hui Guo Pork until the skin became soft and the meat very tender, and then stir-fried it. This method for Hui Guo Pork, called “dry-steaming,” quickly became famous in Chengdu, its reputation thereafter spreading throughout Sichuan and beyond, later given the name “Hanlin Twice Cooked Pork.”
Note: Confucius is commemorated in Dacheng Hall at the Confucius Temple.
Emperor & Ministers Congee
At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty (about 1276 A.D.), the capital fell into Mongol hands, and the emperor and his ministers fled. The Mongols chased them, seeking to kill them. Scholar Lu Xiufu (1237 A.D. ~ 1279 A.D.), who was serving as prime minister, escorted the young emperor Zhao Hao (1271 A.D. ~ 1279 A.D.), the last emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty, in flight to Zhangzhou, Fujian Province. At one point their entourage ran out of food, so they begged a rich family for food. This rich family saw their dirty clothes and thought they were beggars, so they gave them leftovers (called “cat congee” in Fujian), meant to feed the cats. The emperor and his ministers were starving, so they devoured the leftovers quickly.
Later, after the emperor reestablished his court, the royal cook was sent to Zhangzhou to visit this rich family, returning to prepare a special “cat congee” which was much admired by the young emperor, and this delicacy soon became famous. Cat congee is actually a kind of assorted congee containing seafood, meat, and vegetables. It is a hearty dish with plentiful ingredients, entailing fastidious cooking and attention to heat control, resulting in a dish that be eaten immediately and has a refreshing aroma. It can be enjoyed at any time.
Note:Scholar Lu Xiufu is commemorated in the West Side Building at the Confucius Temple.
Guan City Chicken
The name “Guan City Chicken” is taken from a story about chickens used as a metaphor for the old tax system using customs barriers. Among the six types of Chinese domesticated animals, the only one that has two feet is the chicken. A senior official named Dai Ying-zhi (birth and death dates unknown), who lived during the Warring States Period in the state of Song, once said to Mencius (born 372 B.C. , died 289 B.C.) that “In your opinion, the government should levy a tax when goods enter a city or pass through a customs barrier. But due to various factors, we could not do that this year. We have to wait until next year to implement the new tax system.” Mencius replied, “Let’s say there is a person stealing one chicken from his neighbor every day. Someone tells him that this is not what a person of noble character and integrity would do. That person replies that he will from now on steal one every month, and that he will not steal after next year. Since the person knows his action is not appropriate, why not stop doing it immediately? You do not have to wait until next year.” His choice of the chicken for his indicates that the raising of chickens was most likely quite widespread on the plains between the Yellow and Huai rivers at that time.
In the pre-Qin period, there were many methods of cooking chicken. Most people would broil, stew, or bake the chicken, or they would make broth from the chicken. Each method is unique in its own way.
Notes:The Second Sage, Mencius, is commemorated in Dacheng Hall at the Confucius Temple.
Yang Ming Vinegar Fish
Scholar Wang Shou Ren (1472 A.D. ~ 1528 A.D.), born in the Ming Dynasty, called himself Yang Ming Zi, and was called Mr. Yang Ming by other scholars. It is said that when he served as county magistrate in Luling, Jiangxi Province, he grew passionate about eating fish. He heard that a chef in Ganzhou was especially good at cooking fish, so he hired him as his own private chef. This person was very creative in his recipes, pleasing Wang very much. One day, the chef decided to add more vinegar than usual to a dish, and Wang agreed the taste was wonderful, asking the name of the delicacy. The chef thought that since the main ingredient in this new version of the dish was vinegar, he responded: “It’s vinegar fried fish.” Demand for the dish spread quickly, and the delicacy was soon renowned throughout Jiangxi. River fish is preferred for the preparation of fried fish, especially mackerel and grass carp, two of the “Four Great Domestic Fishes” of the Jiangnan region, the lands immediately south of the Yangtze River’s lower reaches.
Note:Scholar Wang Shou Ren is commemorated in the West Side Building at the Confucius Temple.
Zhuge Double Delicacy
Former scholar Zhuge Liang (181 A.D. ~ 234 A.D.), born in the Three Kingdoms Period, invented and promoted two delicacies during his time conquering the southern tribes of China, and these delicacies have had a deep impact on Chinese posterity. One of them is the steamed bun, which is still a main food in north China; the other one is a turnip called “Zhuge Vegetable,” which later on came to also be called “Big Head Vegetable.” Steamed bun with stuffing and steamed bread with pork stuffing are both simply called steamed buns. In addition, the turnip, which was described by Lee Shizhen (1518 A.D. ~ 1593 A.D.), born in the Ming Dynasty, as “most beneficial among all vegetables,” has these features: “It can be found in both south and north China, especially north China. It can grow in all seasons. People eat its shoot in spring, its center in summer, its stem in fall, and its root in winter.” Also, “it can also be prepared for times of famine.” You can enjoy this delicacy, the white steamed bun, and the best stuffing for this bun, many agree, is “Big head vegetable with fried pork,” a traditional delicacy in Yunnan Province.
Note:Scholar Zhuge Liang is commemorated in the West Side Building at the Confucius Temple.
Zhu Xi (1130 A.D. ~ 1200 A.D.), born in the Song Dynasty, was a greatly accomplished academic, in later times coming to be called the “mentor of all ages.” His great mind was also focused on the study of nature and the consistency of all things. A person once joked about him, “One day Zhu weighed beans, water, and the other ingredients which make up tofu, and later he weighed tofu. He found out that tofu weighed more than those ingredients. Zhu, who liked to study the nature of things, couldn’t think of any explanation for this, so from that day forward he didn’t eat any tofu.” The truth is, however, that Zhu loved tofu, and among the many kinds perhaps the most interesting is Precious Tofu, so named because of the many types of special ingredient it may contain. Whether it is the eel tofu, shrimp tofu, or pulp tofu versions, the exotic novelty will most certainly cause the diner meditation over the wondrous gifts of nature.
Notes:Zhu, one of the Twelve Wise Men, is commemorated in Dacheng Hall at the Confucius Temple.
Deceive the Scholar Fish
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C. ~ 476 B.C.), a person sent scholar Zi Chan (also named Gong Sun Qiao, time of birth and death unknown) a living fish. Zi Chan asked a pond caretaker to raise the fish in the pond, but the caretaker instead cooked the fish and a few days later told Zi Chan: “The fish didn’t move in the pond at first, but moments later it swam to the deep bottom of the pond and disappeared.” Zi Chan said: “That’s the place where it belongs! That’s the place where it belongs!” After that incident, the pond caretaker told people: “I don’t think he is as smart as people say he is. I lied to him and cooked the fish, and all he said was ‘that’s the place where it belongs!’” The methods used for cooking fish during the early Qin period (before 221 B.C., when the Qin took over all of then China) were diversified, and included frying, boiling, mincing, toasting, stewing, and preserving with salt.
Note:Scholar Gong Sun Qiao is commemorated in the East Side Building at the Confucius Temple.
Yang Huo Pork
Pork is also called “useful meat” in Chinese, and has been a staple food in north China for 6,000 years. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C. ~ 476 B.C.), scholar Yang Huo of the kingdom of Lu wanted to visit Confucius (551 B.C. ~ 479 B.C.; born in in Spring and Autumn Period), so he prepared a suckling pig as a present for Confucius. Confucius didn’t want to see him, so instead went to Yang Huo’s house to offer a return present, knowing he wasn’t at home. Coincidentally, they ran into each other on the street and Confucius was obliged by politeness to have a face-to-face conversation. Both the “Analects” and “Mencius” have records of their conversation, which differ, and both are interesting. There were many methods of cooking pork in the early Qin era (before 221 B.C.), including frying, steaming, mincing, toasting, dicing, slicing, stewing, pickling, and boiling. All these methods remain widely used today.
Note:Confucius is commemorated in Dacheng Hall at the Confucius Temple.