Manchu Han Imperial Feast
|Manchu Han Imperial Feast|
Manchu Han Imperial Feast displayed at Tao Heung Museum of Food Culture
|Vietnamese alphabet||Mãn Hán Toàn Tịch|
Manhan Quanxi, literally Manchu Han Imperial Feast was one of the grandest meals ever documented in Chinese cuisine. It consisted of at least 108 unique dishes from the Manchu and Han Chinese culture during the Qing Dynasty, and it is only reserved and intended for the emperors. The meal was held for three whole days, across six banquets. The culinary skills consisted of cooking methods from all over Imperial China.
Quite a number of English names have been used to describe the dish combinations.
- Manchu Han Imperial Feast
- Qing Han Imperial Feast
- Manchu Han Feast
- Feast of Complete Manchu-Han Courses
- Man Han Quan Xi
When the Manchus conquered China and founded the Qing dynasty, Manchu and Han struggled for power. Kangxi emperor wanted to resolve the disputes, and held a banquet in his 66th birthday. The banquet/imperial meal consisted of Manchu and Han dishes, both groups also attended the banquet together. After the Wuchang Uprising, common people learned about this royal cuisine. The original meal was served in the Forbidden city in Beijing.
The meal was prepared comprising six banquets over three days with over 300 dishes. Altogether there are said to have been 196 main dishes and 124 snack dishes, for a total of 320 dishes sampled over three days. Depending on how the dishes are counted with the samples, at the absolute minimum there were 108 dishes. The emperor, after previewing the dishes, gave the feast its present name. The feast was divided into inner-palace and outer-palace banquets; only the imperial family and meritorious officials, including Han officials above the second rank, were invited into the inner-palace banquets. A book from the reign of Qianlong gives a detailed description of the feast and the dishes and ingredients.
It is said that there were "Thirty-Two Delicacies", referring to the more exotic ingredients used for the banquet. The "Eight Mountain Delicacies" includes such dishes as camel's hump, bear's paws, monkey's brains, ape's lips, leopard fetuses, rhinoceros tails and deer tendons. The "Eight Land Delicacies" includes several precious fowls and mushrooms, and the "Eight Sea Delicacies" includes dried sea cucumbers, shark's fin, bird's nest and others.
Some of the individual names of the dishes within:
- Snowy Palm - bear claw with sturgeon
- Golden Eyes and Burning Brain - bean curd simmered in chicken, duck and cuckoo brains
- Monkey King and Shark - goat brain
- Live monkey brain
- Egg tart
The utensils, like the food, were also lavish; the majority of utensils were finely crafted bronzeware, and porcelainware in the shape of many animals were designed with mechanisms for keeping the dishes warm throughout the meal. In general the Manchu dishes were first sampled, followed by the Han dishes.
The Red Guards during Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution burned most books and records related to the feast, and this has greatly damaged the recipe, routine and other related procedures. The recipe was attempted to be recovered through memory of surviving old Qing officials, but it has not been fully recuperated and likely will never be. The current versions Manchu Han Imperial Feast are just collections of expensive meals. It does not reflect the original feast.
In popular culture
The imperial meal was re-enacted in the movie The Chinese Feast and the TV drama Happy Ever After. It's also featured in the anime Cooking Master Boy and the mega-hit TV series My Fair Princess as well as in chapters 106 and 142 of the Medaka Box manga. In modern times, the Sintic term "Manhan Quanxi" can be used as an idiomatic expression to represent any feast of significant proportions. As an example, various media outlets may refer to a dinner gala as "Manhan Quanxi", while in China there are also numerous cooking competitions which make use of the aforementioned name, while not specifically referring to the original meaning of the imperial feast. The name is also used extensively in product names in the food industry, such usage evident as brands of sauces and instant noodles by various companies.
The cuisine is extremely rare in China today, and if offered it is by a large margin one of the most expensive meals in the entire Chinese cuisine collection. Even when served, it is done with replacement ingredients, as many of the animals are essentially endangered species. Waiters serving the replicas are required to wear some form of traditional Chinese clothing.