Generally speaking, in famous literary works, none excels the classic novel A Dream of Red Mansions written by Cao Xueqin in the description of gourmet or table delicacies. With regard to the more than 400 characters of the Ning Mansion and the Rong Mansion, the book gives spectacular details of banquets, big or small, seasonal delicacies, tonics of four seasons, fine pastries, gruel, soups, noodles and top quality wines as well. The description of these delicacies is not only closely linked with the characterization and plot of the monumental works, but also gives a complete account of the colours, smells and tastes of the delicacies, making countless devoted readers of the book in the past and at the present regret being unable to savour in person the delicious food described by Cao Xueqin.
Today, this dream has come true. The chefs of Yangzhou Xiyuan Hotel, Yangzhou Guesthouse and the Cooking Department of the Commercial ‘raining School of Jiangsu Province have prepared and served a large “Red Mansions Banquet” which has been highly praised by scholars researching into the work of A Dream of Red Mansions and Chinese and foreign customers for the colour, smell, taste, pattern, and utensils of the dishes.
Entering the “Red Mansion Hall” of the aristocratic ambiance of the Qing Dynasty, diners feel as if in the Grand View Garden described in the book. On the luxurious and elegant painted table there is an array of silver wares; waitresses dressed up in the style of “slave girls in the Red Mansions” are waiting respectfully to welcome diners.
The first course of the banquet is a dish for pleasing the eyes with the name of “Grand View, “ featuring“beautiful landscape” and “peacocks” and “butterflies, ” all exquisitely carved and vivid. The overture is cold dishes of the style of Jia family, with the names of“Gold Hairpin and Silver Thread,” “Jadeite Feather Dress,” “Grain_Picked Goose Duck’ s Heart,” “Rouge Dried Goose Meat,” “Delicious Tomato Dried Fish,” which are appetizing and during which customers may enjoy tea and chat with each other. When the main dishes of the Ning Mansion and the Rong Mansion are served, the banquet enters its theme. The first course is “Celery Sprout on Snow”, implying two Chinese characters “Xue” and “Qin” which are corresponding to “snow” and“celery. “ On the glittering “white snow” made of egg white are scattered green celery sprouts in addition to soft dried goose meat, which are very ‘delicious: . “Southern Wine Duck Series” is a dish made of domestic duck, wild duck and quail, which are thoroughly cooked with high quality Shaoxing wine, winning the warm applause of guests. Served next one by one are pheasant claws, pigeon eggs, snow flake bean curd. The most unique dish is “Pearls in Old Clams.” The“pearls” made of the meat of whitefish or grouper are hidden under the shell of a turtle and are stewed with slow fire with specially chosen condiments. The dish is tasty and its smell is excellent, with wonderful feeling in the mouth. It is said that this was a famous dish once prepared by Cao Xueqin himself.
Following the main dishes are “Happy Red Court fine pastries” (Happy Red Court is the living quarters of Jia Baoyu, the leading male character in the book). These pastries can be called the re-emergence of the theme of the Red Mansion food. “qingwen stuffed bun” ( stuffed bun wrapped by the thin. Of soy bean milk,) “tianxiang lotus root,” “ happy Jiaozi” (dumplings, ) “jujube paste and yam cake,““bean curd thick soup,” “aromatic rice gruel, “ “gingko soup”. . . Every course of pastries or refreshment and every soup is exquisite and fantastic. The guest is indeed reluctant to eat them up, but s/he is also unwilling to miss any one of them. Guests will also have the pleasure of enjoying the “Qionghua Flower Wine, “‘‘Tribute Spring Tea, “ and the like, which were presented to the imperial court and beloved by the sisters of the Grand View Garden. This will add to the interest and charm of the banquet.
“Red Mansions Banquet” is extremely elegant in appearance and unparalleled in taste, and every course has its own story. Customers can eat while chatting and enjoying the sights. It is a harmony of gourmet delights and culture and an enjoyment for the senses and the mind. It will be a great pleasure, just like in the dreamland.