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    Beijing Imperial Cuisine, or Fangshan in Chinese pronunciation, as the name suggests, consists of dishes once prepared exclusively for the imperial family. Todays Court Cuisine is based on the dishes prepared by the Qing imperial kitchens but further developed ever since. In ancient times, although imperial food originated with the common people, imperial food used high quality raw food stuffs.

    The rice, flour, meat, vegetables, melon, fruits, poultry, fish, and unconventional delicacies from land and sea were carefully chosen as tributes by local officials throughout the country. They were unmatched in quality and purity

    For example, the rice used in the imperial kitchen was only grown at Jade Spring Hill and Tang Spring in the Haidian District, west of Beijing. It was known as Jingxi Rice (west of Beijing) or Haidian Rice. Because of its low yield and excellent taste, only the emperors could eat it. Top quality rice tributes from other parts of the country were also eaten only in the palace.

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    The mutton eaten in the palace came from the Qingfeng Department (Department of Celebrating Good Harvests). The Qing Dynasty Imperial Kitchen did not serve beef, but it did use cows milk, which came from the same department. All kinds of melon and fruits, and delicacies from land and sea were tributes from different parts of the country. The palace cooking water was brought every morning from the Jade Spring, which Emperor Qianlong named the Number One Spring in the world. Poultry and seasonal vegetables were bought at the market. Carefully chosen raw food stuffs were a pre requisite for preparing imperial food.

    All cooks in the imperial kitchen were well trained and masters of their specialized categories. They cooked their dishes to emphasize taste, color, and shape. Besides tasting good, every dish must look as good as a work of art. Many cooks specialized in making one or several dishes during their lives. The more their labor was divided, the better the dishes were prepared. Their excellent cooking skills were the key to the making of palace delicacies.

    Imperial cuisine highly values a subtle balance among color, fragrance, and taste and stresses the original stock and taste of the dishes. Between shape and taste, taste would be more emphasized. For example, if the main ingredient is chicken, the dish should taste of chicken. Regardless of what auxiliary ingredients and seasonings are used, they should not affect the taste of the chicken. This was also true of venison, aquatic products, seafood, and of hot and cold dishes. A dish that looks good but does not taste good is not acceptable, and vice versa.

    Ingredients in the imperial dishes were strictly blended, and the auxiliary ingredients could not be modified. In public restaurants cooks can adjust the ingredients according to whatever ingredients are available as long as they make dishes with appealing color, aroma, and taste. But in the palace, not a single auxiliary ingredient could be replaced. If a cook wished to create a new dish, he had to assume a risk. If the emperor liked his new dish, his bonus would be impressive, but if the emperor disliked it, the cook would be punished or demoted.

    Palace dishes were named simply, usually for their cooking methods, main ingredients, or for the major and minor ingredients so the emperors knew what was in the dish as soon as they saw it. For example, quick fried chicken with fresh mushrooms; pork meatballs; shrimp and sea cucumber; stir fried fish filets, and quick fried mutton with onion. Looking through more than 200 years of files from the Qing Palace Imperial Diets, we found no dishes with fancy names

    Maybe this was because the emperors wanted their ministers to think and act consistently. While the imperial dishes were named differently from those in restaurants, they were very similar to dishes eaten by the common people. Palace cuisine can be regarded as a collection of the best examples of Chinese food. The imperial cooks who started the Fangshan Restaurant in 1925 passed along their cooking skills so that today we can taste imitations of the palace dishes.