Chinese Imperial cuisine

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Chinese imperial cuisine (simplified Chinese: 御膳 / 宫廷菜; traditional Chinese: 御膳 / 宮廷菜; pinyin: yùshàn / gōngtíng cài) is derived from a variety of cooking styles of the regions in China, mainly from Shandong cuisine and Jiangsu cuisine. The style originated from various Emperors' Kitchen and the Empress Dowagers' Kitchen, and it is similar to Beijing cuisine which it heavily influenced. Imperial cuisine was served mainly to the emperors, their wives and concubines, and the royal families. The characteristics of the Chinese imperial cuisine are the elaborate cooking methods and the strict selection of raw materials, which are often extremely expensive, rare, or complicated in preparation. Visual presentation is also very important, so the color and the shape of the dish must be carefully arranged. The most famous Chinese imperial cuisine restaurants are both located in Beijing: Fang Shan (Chinese: 仿膳; pinyin: fǎngshàn) in Beihai Park and Ting Li Ting (simplified Chinese: 听鹂厅; traditional Chinese: 聽鸝廳; pinyin: tīng lí tīng) in the Summer Palace.[1]

Styles and tastes of Chinese imperial cuisine vary by different dynasty. Every dynasty has its own distinguishing features. The two famous styles of Chinese imperial cuisine are Ming dynasty imperial cuisine and Qing dynasty imperial cuisine. Many famous dishes emerged in these dynasties, such as Wensi Tofu and Peking Duck.[2]


Chinese imperial cuisine

In the history of Chinese cuisine, Chinese imperial cuisine experienced a development progress which changed from simple to exquisite. Through the changing of dynasty, Chinese imperial cuisine was continually changing, improving, and self-completing. Chinese imperial food originated around the Zhou dynasty(11th century B.C. – 476 B.C. ). Emperors used their power to collect best cuisines and best cooks from the whole country. Therefore, from Chinese people’s perspective, imperial food represented a dynasty’s best cuisine.[2]

A complete system for imperial food was developed which included procurement and diets preparation. Every progress of making and serving imperial food was done in a fixed order according to the "eating principles." Many famous dishes were developed through creating imperial food such as the six cereals stew which included rice, millet, broomcorn, sorghum, wheat, and wild rice.[3]

Imperial food was closely related to preserving health. Several hundred writings about using food and diet therapy for better health have appeared throughout Chinese history. For example, The Health Building of the People in the Song Dynasty, by Song Xu, the Gentlemen’s Remark on Diets, by Chen Jiru, and the History of the Ming Palace- Preferences for Diets, by Liu Ruoyu in the Ming Dynasty. Most of these books about diet therapy were written by scholars, literati, medical specialists, or historians. Cooking and diet therapy to maintain good health formed an important part of Chinese imperial cuisine and Chinese dietetic culture.[4]

Although only the royal family has the authorization to eat imperial food, Chinese imperial cuisine comprised the dietetic culture of the Chinese palaces. The raw materials of imperial cuisines were provided by peasants, herders, and fisherman. The kitchen utensils were made by craftsmen. Imperial food can also represent the efforts of the cooking staffs who provided the service, civil officials who named the dishes, and protocol officials who drafted the dietary and culinary principles. Chinese imperial food is an valuable part of Chinese traditional cuisine and cultural heritage.[5]

Imperial Food in Different Dynasties[edit]

Imperial Food in the Qing Dynasty[edit]

Imperial Food in the Qing Dynasty

Chinese imperial food in the Qing dynasty was developed basing on the traditional diet of the Manchu ethic group and Shandong cuisine.[6] The famous Manchu Han Imperial Feast was created during this dynasty. There was a special organization, “Imperial Kitchen” within the Qing Palace which was responsible for creating and making imperial cuisine for the emperor. The Imperial Kitchen was managed by the General Office of internal Affairs. During the rule of Qianlong Emperor(1736 - 1795), the imperial kitchen was divided into the Internal Kitchen and the External Kitchen. The Internal Kitchen had departments for meat dishes, vegetables, roasting, baking, and rice cooking. The External kitchen prepared the palace banquets, feasts, and sacrificial rites.[2] During Qing dynasty, the rites for the meals, the number of people, and the use, cost, variety, and quality of sumptuous courses at each meal were the greatest of all the dynasties in China.[2]

Popular Dishes[edit]

Dezhou Braised Chicken[edit]
Dezhou Braised Chicken

Dezhou Braised Chicken is a traditional cuisine of Dezhou in Shangdong Province and it is named after it. When the emperor of the Qing dynasty, Qianlong (1711 - 1799), traveled to Dezhou, a Han family made Dezhou Braised Chicken for him. Qianlong thought highly of this dish and praised it as "a wonder of all cuisine." After eating Dezhou Braised Chicken, Qianlong ordered to add this dish into the menu of the imperial cuisine.[7]

Wensi Tofu[edit]
Wensi Toufu

A southern China’s Jiangsu cuisine which is a soup made of finely shredded tofu and different ingredients of different colors, such as carrots and cucumbers. This dish represents the typical work of knife skill of a Yangzhou cook because a cook needs to cut a square of tofu into more than 5000 pieces in order to make this soup.[8]

During the rule of Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799), a monk, whose name was Wensi, was famous for making vegetarian dishes, particularly those with tofu. He created this soup which ingredients included tender tofu, dried daylily, and black fungus. This soup soon became well-known throughout the whole region by the name of Wensi Tofu.[9] The Emperor Qianlong tried this soup and highly appreciated it. Wensi Tofu then added by Qianlong to the menu of the imperial cuisine and became famous in Palace.[10]

Imperial Food in the Ming Dynasty[edit]

Imperial food in the Ming dynasty mostly cooked with the flavors of South China because of the preference of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang.[11] The cuisine in the Ming palace totally changed the Mongolian style of food served in former palace. The imperial food of Ming dynasty had one important characteristic which was used to protect health.[12] The emperors of the Ming dynasty paid great attention to protecting health by eating healthy food. The menu of the imperial food changed daily and dishes were not repeated.[13] The imperial food in Ming dynasty was mainly grain based. Therefore, meat and bean products were not as popular as they were in the former dynasties. In Qing dynasty, a famous dish was sweet potatoes. Maize and chili peppers were also introduced in about mid-16th century. Other famous dishes included shark's fin soup and edible bird's nest also gained their fames during this period. Those two dishes were introduced into China by Zheng He, a famous traveler, in the early Ming years. While these two dishes were becoming important parts of imperial extravagant dishes, sea cucumbers and prawns were also brought into China. Many famous cooks and chefs emerged in this dynasty such as Song Wusao and Wang Eryu.[3]

Popular Dishes[edit]

Peking Duck[edit]
Peking Duck

Peking Duck originated in the Southern and Northern dynasties during 420 AD- 589 AD. Roasted duck started serving as an imperial cuisine during the Yuan dynasty. It developed fully and became an important part of imperial court menus during the Ming dynasty. In contemporary society, Peking roasted duck enters into the international cuisine. Its unique taste was favored by foreign tourists as well as by Chinese people. Peking roasted duck was famous because of its crispy skin and the juicy meat which leave a deep impression on the first-time eaters during their trips. There are unique techniques to serving and eating Peking Duck for maximum enjoyment of its taste.[14]

See also[edit]

Different cuisine and dishes[edit]




  1. ^ "The History of Chinese Imperial Food". Beijing Tourism. 
  2. ^ a b c d "The History of Chinese Imperial Food". 
  3. ^ a b "Premodern Chinese Food. Chinese Culinary History before the Republic of China". WHKMLA. 
  4. ^ Xu, Song. The Health Building of the People in the Song Dynasty. 
  5. ^ "The History of Chinese Imperial Food". China Culture. 
  6. ^ Jacqueline. M. Newman. Qian-Long: Qing Emperor and His Foods. FAVOR & FORTUNE. 2008;15(1): 14–33.
  7. ^ "Dezhou Braised Chicken". China Today. 
  8. ^ "Famous Yangzhou dishes". 
  9. ^ "JiangNing Clubhouse". Jiang Ni Hui Guan. 
  10. ^ "Wensi Tofu". China Today. 
  11. ^ "Chinese Imperial Food-Imperial Food in the Ming Dynasty". Acutimes. 
  12. ^ Tingquan, Zhang (1998). Chinese Imperial Cuisines and Eating Secrets (Chinese/English Edition ed.). Panda Books. ISBN 978-7507103762. Retrieved 28 Oct 2014. 
  13. ^ "Imperial Food in the Ming Dynasty". 
  14. ^ "WANDA REALM BEIJING". Travel China Inc. 

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