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Monday, January 21, 2013

Confucius Culinary Journey: History in Food

How much do you know about Confucius, his history and teachings? I confess I'm pretty ignorant.

I'm ashamed I didn't know this bit about my Chinese culture while Westerners tattoo themselves silly with Chinese characters that embodies Confucius teachings. 
Kinship is one of the values Confucius is an strong advocate of. He believes obligations to family and friends come before obligations to the community and other values like filial piety.
While we go gaga over American pop culture (pun intended) and grateful for the Western inventions, imagine if we tattoo ourselves.
 Therefore, i MUST know some history about the Chinese and not remain ignorant.
Real Knowledge is to Know the Extent of One's Ignorance
On the weekend, i found a fun way to learn history! It's without reading but eating. 

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is leading a Qufu culinary expedition across Asia with a team of Lu cuisine chefs and service professionals. Qufu, the hometown of Confucius & listed as UNESCO World heritage sites, will see the new Shangri-La Hotel.  To celebrate the hotel's imminent launch, Singapore is one of the six selected countries to experience the Confucius Culinary Journey.

Qufu's cuisine flourished under the Kong family, descendents of Confucius.  Going on Shangri-La's culinary journey, it would be a glimpse into the royal banquets during the imperial Ming (1368-1644) And Qing (1644 -1912) dynasties.
Qufu today, have festivals in the name of Confucius
The service at Shang Palace was immaculate,
and the interior deco intricate. They paid attention to the little details in honour of the culinary experience that awaits.
Scroll-like place mats.
As Confucius says,

Because Confucius advocated the promotion of the Six Arts, the leaders of Qufu commissioned research and engagement of the best chefs to study the origins of Kong Family Cuisine and the traditional preparation methods used. The "Six Arts" cold appetizers were born, recreating authentic Kong Family Cultural banquets.
$68 for the set
The scallop skirt and lettuce salad representing Calligraphy was my favourite. With a generous serving of very fresh shell fish, it was succulent with a zest, perhaps from the ginger, olive and garlic sauce drizzled all over.
Followed by the baby celery dish that represented Mathematics. Now, i HATE parsley, celery, coriander and anything similar but i actually ate every morsel of this dish. There is some kind of magic in the sesame and olive oil.
The jelly fish salad representing Music was refreshing and not as chewy as the ones you get at wedding dinners. It was also one of my favourites.
I didn't like the spiced beef shanks representing Rites that much. It tasted like dried beef but my friend, a male, liked it.
The sea whelk jelly representing Chariot Racing was like biting into gelatin and it's an acquired taste for me. Whelk are sea snails.

All 6 of the "Six Arts" cold appetizers are really exotic. They had spiced duck tongues representing Archery. I first "french kissed" a duck in Taipei but it wasn't such a yummy experience because there wasn't much meat. The ones at Shang Palace, they are juicy and fat.
Confucius didn't teach not to play with food. This is not how you eat a duck tongue though, i stuck the other end of the cartilage (shaped like a Y) into my mouth for the picture. You should be picking off the fat from the other side.

Forget Brands Essence, take the Six Arts to be a scholar.

The wise sage also said,
Yes, there is ALOT to taste. After all, this special menu is only available for one short week.  Available only from 18 to 24 January, another day has gone while you're reading this!

Soup is a very important part of Chinese cuisine and the Three Ingredients soup is heavenly. The best of the best, chicken, duck and pig trotters were cooked and simmered, repeated three times, making it special and unique in the Confucius "Kong" family banquet.

Truly a product of mastery in soup-making skills, i was in awe to see the milky white soup being poured from a ceramic tea pot into a tea cup! It was very rich, savory and nothing like what I've drank before. The ceramic teapot keeps the soup hot while you savour little portions with each serve, it can pour 4 tea cups.

The soup alone makes it worthwhile to visit Shang Palace for the Confucius Culinary Journey.
Wow, check out the very well-groomed nails of the male server. I just noticed it.

I'm not a fan of pork usually (it being not the leanest meat), but the next dish is one guilty indulgence i would cave in for. Called the Wisdom Frees Perplexity, legend has it that this dish was created during Emperor Qin Shi Huang's era (259 - 210 BC) of the burning of books and the live burial of scholars. Minister Zhang Ge, for the perservation of the Kong Family line, is said to have exchanged his own son for the life of a Kong family male descendent, and in the process created this dish to pass on secret information.
These boneless pork ribs are slowly braised with the bone replaced with a stalk of scallion symbolising the "switch of sons". Also my favourite of the day, the meat was very tender, the sticky sauce made it sweet and it made me imagine what superbly roasted char siew would taste like.

Then, came a surprise box. We were all curious as to what it conceals.
Ta-dah! It's a whole roasted salted chicken.
The second layer unveil special condiments to go along. There's ginger, chilli and olive. It's unlike what we are used to at Boon Tong Kee.
Chinese legends tell that just before the birth of Confucius, a Kirin (a mythical Chinese creature like a unicorn with scales), made its appearance in the neighbourhood of the Kong family. In the mouth of the Kirin was a piece of jade stone, and on the jade was written "From a defeated Kingdom rose a new emperor- a spiritual leader."

The next dish The Kirin Imperial Book was inspired by that. There was a period where i had a phobia of eating fish. I was afraid that if the scales weren't removed properly, the eater would develop scales after consumption.  The Kirin Imperial Book is the most unique fish dish i've ever had. The freshwater bass skin is fried into the shape of the skin of the Kirin. The scales were kept to create that effect!
Slightly salted, the meat was soft and moist inside while the outside was fried to a golden brown and crispy.
No, i didn't grow scales.

For fortune, prosperity, longevity and happiness, order Kong's family special, the Four Supreme Bowls ($68 per set)
Braised pork

Meat roll of minced chicken breast and prawns wrapped with seaweed

Braised fish
Braised chicken
Qufu's cuisine can be a tad salty, i learned.
Shang Palace's tea selection is designed like divinity lots.
For dessert, i tried the Gingko Poetry Rites for it reduces phlegm and remove toxins from the body. It is a steamed snow pear stuffed with ginkgo and dates.
Bite into the crumbly Apricot Pavilion Chinese date cake and let the warm date filling fill your mouth. It reminds me of our old school street snack, the tu-tu kueh.
"Friends from afar"
$9 for 6
They're both very lovely desserts, and i ate them with no guilt because they aren't too sweet. They are also unlike Chinese desserts i've sampled.

The Confucius Culinary Journey ends 24 January in Singapore but if you've missed them, you can follow the remarkable chefs' expedition across Asia.

- Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong from 28 January to 3 February 2013
- Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei from 27 February to 5 March 2013
- Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok from 9 to 15 March 2013
- Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta from 19 to 25 March 2013

Otherwise, visit Shangri-La's new hotel in Qufu, the real home of Confucius, opening in March.

Book your table in Shang Palace (Singapore) today! Confucius famous last words, die with no regrets. Eat and die with no regrets.


Anonymous said...

Really very special. I went to try after reading!

Xtine said...

and how was it?

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