China / Beijing

Imperial Cuisine

Introducing the Imperial Cuisine (Fang Shan)

The food prepared for the emperor in the past is known as Imperial Cuisine. When the emperors of Qing Dynasty had a meal, there was always a table for him to dine alone except for during banquets. Each soup or dish was covered and only when the emperor began to eat, would the cover be removed. There were special departments in charge of various kinds of food. Different kinds of tea were served by the Imperial Tea House; while the Pastry House made a variety of pastries; dinner dishes were served by the Imperial Kitchen. The Qing Emperor used to have two meals a day. In winter, breakfast was served at 6:00 am or 7:00 am; dinner was served between 12:00 to 14:00 and the evening snack was served at about 6:00 pm. Dishes for preparing each meal were all listed and the list was submitted to the officials of each department. Cooking methods included Manchu and Han styles, as well as southern and the northern cooking methods. Imperial cuisine features the essences of famous dishes from all over the country. Color, fragrance and taste are all important elements of imperial dishes. Imperial dishes have an additional characteristic that each dish has an auspicious or special name. Examples of such dishes include “Jade Phoenix Returns”, “the Dragon Boat Fish”, “the Phoenix in the Nest”, “Evergreen with Clear Soup”, “Bamboo Fungus with Longjing Tea” and “Golden Fried Rolls” etc.

When the Chinese revolution took place and the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, imperial chefs left the Forbidden City and began to live among the common people. They opened restaurants and since their dishes were a kind of imitation of the Imperial Cuisine served in the former Qing Court, the dishes were called “Imitation Imperial Cuisine”. Now, the “Imitation Imperial Cuisine Restaurant” is a famous restaurant which specializes in serving imperial dishes. It is located in the former imperial garden - Beihai Park in Beijing and has a history of more than 90 years. The “Imitation Imperial Cuisine Restaurant” was founded by Zhao Renqi, a former chef of the Qing court. In 1925, he invited several chefs from the Qing court to open the “Imitation Imperial Cuisine Restaurant”, creating a public sensation as soon as business opened. The restaurant then became famous exclusively serving imperial dishes for customers.

Famous Imperial Cuisine Restaurant In Beijing

Beihai Fangshan Restaurant

The Beihai Fangshan Restaurant is located inside Beihai Park, 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, pastries shaped like apple, peach, fingered citron, and lucky rolls. 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. After seated the guests would be served the pastry first and then the Three-Course Tea, finally the main course which usually consists of one hundred and eight dishes. The feast would last for three days with two meals in one day. 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 from 35$ to 980 $ 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, could bring guests back to an imperial-style banquet.

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