The Manchu and Han banquet originated during the Qing Dynasty. At first the complete courses of Manchu and Han were served separately, but later both were combined and thus the Man Han Quan Xi came into being shortly after the Manchu rulers took supreme power in Beijing. In an attempt to unify the two most important ethnic groups of the empire, the Qing emperors ordered that the two peoples should live, work, and eat together. To reduce social resistance while ruling a nation whose dominant population was Han, the Manchu rulers ostensibly strove to equalize the treatment of the Manchu and Han officials, encouraging the exchange and integration between the two cultures in all aspects. This is the historical backdrop of Man Han Quan Xi.
The Evolvement of Man Han Quan Xi
By the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722), the integration of Manchu and Han people had advanced dramatically from several decades before. More frequent exchanges between officials of the two sides was realized. On New Year's Day of the 23rd year of Emperor Kangxi's reign, both the Manchu and Han complete courses emerged side by side for the first time in the imperial feast and from then on this tradition was written in the imperial banquet regulation of the Qing Dynasty.
Features of Man Han Quan Xi
The banquet featured many of the world's edible delicacies from land and sea such as famous mushrooms and fungi, choice vegetables, and fruit. Quality was the key selection criteria, and only the best materials were chosen. A case in point is the preparation of the roast suckling pigs. The pigs were required to weigh 12 to 13 kilos and been fattened with porridge for three to four days before slaughter so the pork would be tastier. The feast also attached much importance to the choices of tableware, rituals, and all other forms of table etiquette.
Rituals of Man Han Quan Xi
The serving process of Man Han Quan Xi is very complex and interesting. Although this intricate culinary practice is no longer embraced in China, it is still worthwhile to know something about it. At the meal's beginning, the diners cleaned their faces and hands before having a cup of fragrant tea. The tea was accompanied with multi-colored Ding Sung, this first step refered to as Daofeng, "the reception of arrival". With the tea cup in hand, the diners started the second step, Xuming, or "chat over tea". As the name implies, diners could chat with each other while enjoying the tea and some other appetizer like water melon seeds and hazel nuts, normally each diner getting two small plates each. Next the dishes began to be served. At the main table, four sorts of fresh fruits and four sorts of ornamental fruits were arranged in different designs. Diners therefore might eat the fresh fruits before having the four different kinds of cold dishes and wine. After the preliminary cold dishes, then came another four hot dishes. After three rounds of wines, one of the major courses, the shark's fin was presented. After finishing the shark's fin, diners took a short break and washed their hands and faces again with fragrant tissue. In the meantime, the servants removed the empty cups, bowels and plates. When the feast was drawing to its end, rice and porridge was served. Afterwards, a very exquisite silver plate was presented holding toothpicks and areca leaves. At last the coming of Bingshui, or "water for face washing", marked the end of the lengthy feast. Due to the multitude of the dishes and food of Man Han QuanXi, no one could finish them all at each serving. In the past it often took a whole day or several days to finish the exuberant and costly feast.
As mentioned above, great importance is attached to the choices of table wares. In the past golden wine cups, silver plates, jade calyx, and ivory chopsticks were used.
Where can you have real Man Han Quan Xi in Beijing?
Beijing Fangshan Restaurant probably serves the most typical Man Han Quan Xi. This restaurant's history dates back to 1925. More on Fangshan Restaurant