讓我們回到289年前的中國清朝。今天是1723年的1月10日中午約兩點鐘。在養心殿的乾隆皇帝正準備用膳, 一個由十五道菜組成的奢華晚餐。這十五道菜主要包括雞, 鴨, 豬, 牛, 羊, 燕窩及鹿尾巴; 另加傳統的滿州菜色, 例如一眾烤肉和煙熏肉類, 再以酒下肚。十五個侍從正從御膳房順序地傳召出每道菜, 小心翼翼的按照皇帝先前定下的次序, 把菜餚整齊排列在細緻的御用漆木長檯上, 亂一不可。 貼身太監隨即把一根小銀針插進每道菜中測毒, 以防食物被落毒, 危害皇帝安全 (在中國歷史上已有近十一位皇帝死於人為的食物中毒)。 但這還未夠。 在皇帝起筷前, 太監還要親嘗每一道菜, 以再三確定食物的純潔。晚餐這才正式開始。
不同顏色的盛器有系統地排列在桌上, 每個人都清楚自己的位置: 皇室人員的盛器呈紅色、文武百官的盛器呈綠色而其餘的則用白色。至於菜式上也極為講究及嚴謹。 每道菜都十分嚴格地規定至必需要包含五穀及五味, 也即是甜、酸、苦、辣、咸, 以達致中國哲學最尊崇的「和諧」之境。
這不是虛構故事, 而是根據自乾隆年間的《江南节次照常膳底档》的真實記載。皇帝要在一日兩餐內攝取所需營養 (分別自清晨六至八時的早餐, 以及在正午至下午二時的晚餐); 而藥膳則用予刺激腸胃運動, 腎臟功能及胃口培養; 起著減低內熱, 化痰, 滋養身體, 以及最重要的延長壽命之用。
自滿清滅亡後, 紫禁城中門大開, 御膳飲食亦由宮內傳到平民手中。 而由最少108道菜及44道甜點所成組成的滿漢全席, 需要三整天才能完成, 可以說是中國最傳統而仍然流傳至今的宮廷料理。
Let us travel back to 289 years ago in the Qing dynasty in China. This is on the 1th of October, 1723 at around 2p.m in Yangxin Hall, Emperor Qianlong is about to have a dinner consisted of 15 courses including hot pots of bird’s nest, chicken, duck, lamb, pork and deer’s tail; traditional Manchu dishes such as roast livestock and smoked meat, serve with wines. Fifth-teen bodyguards are bringing out the dishes sequentially, which freshly came out of the imperial kitchen, and summoning each of the dish names. After having the dishes prepared on the delicate lacquer table according to the menu that the emperor ordered, a eunuch immediately puts a small silver plate into each dish to make sure that none of the food is poisoned. But this is not enough; he has to taste all the dishes to assure the purity of the food before the emperor touches them. Then the dinner begins.
Different colours of plates are laying orderly on the table where everybody in the hall knows their own plate: Royal Family members go to the red plates; Civil and military officials go to the green plates and the rest of them go to common plates. The dishes on the table are the most exquisite and restrict. Each dish should not be just a simple mixture but a reasonable blending; it is very important that the whole meal consist of five cereals with five flavours namely: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and spicy in order to reach “harmony”, which comes priorly in Chinese philosophy.
This is not a fictional story. This is however based on a real record “the archived imperial diets of the Qing Palace General Office of Internal Affairs” from Qing dynasty. The Emperor absorb all the nutrition he needs in only two meals a day (breakfast at 6-8a.m and dinner from 12-2p.m), where the daily foods (including medicinal foods )were used to stimulate the stomach, kidneys, and appetite; reduce internal heat; reduce phlegm; nourish the body; and most importantly, prolong life.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, imperial cuisine was handed down to public. The original Manchu-Han Banquet, which consists of at least 108 hot dishes and 44 deserts and requires 3 days to finish the entire meal, can arguably be the best representative of the Chinese Imperial court cuisine circulating until today.
By Jennifer Chan