Red Mansion Banquet
|article selected from Travel China weekly|
In Beijing, there is a famous resort called Grand View Garden. In the mid-1980s, it was a set CCTV established to shoot a TV program called "A Dream of Red Mansions." Later, it was opened to the public and has since then become a popular tourist attraction.
The Grand View Garden is adapted from the home of the play's leading character, Jia Baoyu. In the novel, he and his family members as relatives of the emperor hold titles of official nobility. Hence the garden's luxurious waterside pavilions, towers, buildings, bridges, streams, pools and many courtyards are reminiscent of Ming and Qing style.
Pheasant cooked in casserole.
As a family that had produced public officials for several generations, life for the Jias was one of ostentation and extravagance. The novel details the family feasts, grand banquets and small feasts all very carefully. Until the opening of the garden, readers just had to imagine the taste of the various dishes and refreshments described in "A Dream of Red Mansions." What does it really look and taste like?
In order to let fans discover what Jia family dinning is like, the Grand View Garden specially opened a Grand View Tower Restaurant to serve the "Red Mansion Banquet."
Grand View Tower Restaurant chefs have all carefully studies dishes of the "Red Mansion Banquet" described in the novel. There are several different flavors and dishes to meet varying palates. Some were cooked referring to the meaning of each dish and the rest are made according to the actual ingredients. These delicacies greatly expand horizons of the novel's readers. Every dish symbolizes an allusion or a wonderful passage to the novel. For instance, a dish called Qiexiang connects to a plot about a poor rural woman called Grandama Liu, one of the Jia's relatives. On her first visit to the grand garden she had the Qiexiang dish. She was curious to ask the dish's name and recipe. Upon hearing that it required many steps and ingredients, her jaw gaped in shock. It is cooked with simple everyday vegetables, but complicated by the dozens of ingredients it contains.
Red Mansion Banquet serves tiny zongzi filled with sweet bean paste and steamed shrimp dumplings.
Now at the Red Namsion Banquet of the Grand View Tower Restaurant, visitors can taste this dish. For another example, dishes, including a finger joint-like zhongzi and roasted venison, are prepared exquisitely. Frequently people are not there to eat but to watch the chefs demonstrate their skills.
Of course, having so elegant delicacies must be set off by a warm atmosphere. The restaurant offers three styles of banquets for guests: grand, big and family. The grand banquet is designed according to the novel's plot reading "Yuanchun Returns to Visit Her Family." Yuanchun, the eldest daughter of the family, is "supremely honored" by being made an imperial concubine and granted permission to visit her family for just one day at the Grand View Garden. The banquet pays attention to the family's ceremonious protocol, ostentation and extravagance. In order to achieve a grandiose environment, the banquet is arranged from the evening to the midnight with many guests attending.
When visitors arrive for the banquet at the main gate of the Grand View Garden, they are greeted by a host wearing Qing-Dynasty clothing. After hearing a brief introduction to "Yuanchun Returns Home to Visit Her Family," guests proceed to the feast. As they settle into the ambiance of the novel's environment, visitors sit in carts and sedans and are accompanied by a large number of various attendants holding up flags with patterns of the dragon and phoenix, canapies and horsetail whisks. What a procession of people and chariots!
The banquet begins with the service of dishes in red lacquer boxes and the introduction of the dishes. In the background, a band strikes up Chinese classical music or the music from the TV play "A Dream of the Red Mansions."
The second is a big banquet served according to a variety of ceremonial feasts described in the novel. As a kind of family banquet, it ranges from the extravagant to the simple or large to simple. This kind of banquet suits for people who want to experience the style of noble family's feast. Not as ostentation and extravagance as the grand banquet, the banquet is cordial and lively.
The third is the family feast, a small one suitable for the gatherings of several relatives or friends. It is designed according to the novel's scene and plot at Yihongyuan, Hengwuyuan or Qiushuangzhai. Attendants wearing Qing-Dynasty maidservant clothes as characters in the novel serve the banquet. As a result, visitors feel as if they were personally one the scene.
Though the three banquets differ from each other in scale, they have two common features. First, attendant introduces the serving dish and interesting parts of the novel; Second, recreational activities are arranged that appear in the novel, such as the beating of the drums while passing a flower, riddle guessing and connecting words.
As an ancient cultural city, Beijing has imperial palaces, gardens, hutongs and siheyuan (a courtyard house) and food evoking its deep cultural roots. Tasting the Red Mansion Banquet ate the Grand View Tower Restaurant is a good way to learn about ancient culture.