Dining out on family secrets

tasty March 14, 2013 00:00

By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The N

4,411 Viewed

The dishes served to royalty during the days of Confucius are revived for a modern-day feast at Shang Palace

The teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius are reflected in the way many Asians think but Master Kong, as he was also known, also influenced the Asian tummy, with the cuisine that originated from his family mansion giving rise to a selection of recipes much appreciated by emperors and politicians alike.

Now Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Bangkok is offering ordinary folk the opportunity to experience the Kong family menu.

Five chefs and a team of servers from the soon-to-open Shangri-La Hotel in Qufu are now in Bangkok preparing a la carte and banquet menus for both lunch and dinner. Qufu, located in south-west of Shandong Province in mainland China, is the birthplace of the famous Chinese philosopher and the dishes are based on the food prepared by cooks at the Confucius Mansion to entertain emperors and royalty.

Over the years, Kong family cuisine has evolved into its unique style and while it is based on the Shandong regional Lu cooking style, it also borrows from Huaiyang cuisine and encompasses characteristics of both the north and the south of China. The creative presentation of skilfully combined ingredients expresses the four most important elements in the art of Chinese cooking; colour, aroma, flavour and texture. The name of each dish alludes to an auspicious meaning.

Entering through the carved, gilded archway of Shang Palace, diners are greeted by a giant Happy Buddha surrounded by five “children” statues. A stunning red and gold decor with classic Chinese furniture, rich artwork and fine woodcarving and calligraphy contribute to the rich ambience, which brings to mind an old Hong Kong teahouse

On my visit, I was first served the Six Art Cold Appetisers that are named after the six arts that Confucius promoted: rites, music, archery, chariot racing, calligraphy and mathematics. To perpetuate this strong direction, the leaders of Qufu established the Confucius Research Society, engaging the best chefs to study the origins of the Kong family cuisine and the traditional preparation methods used.

Calligraphy is a scallop skirt and lettuce salad (Bt370), Mathematics are represented by baby celery with sesame and olive oil (Bt610), Chariot Racing is a sea whelk jelly salad (Bt1,280), Archery is spiced duck tongues (Bt760), Music is jelly fish salad (Bt220) and Rites is made up of spiced beef shanks (Bt880).

Next up was Kong Mansion’s Three Ingredients Soup (Bt190) artistically served in a terra cotta pot. The three ingredients are chicken, duck and pig trotters and the cooking and simmering processes used to make the soup have to be repeated three times, hence the name. As this soup represents mastery of the soup-making skill, it’s said that those chefs who were not trained at the Confucius Culinary School would never know the special |techniques required.

For me, the most |tempting dish was Braised Eight Seafood Treasures in Superior Broth (Bt1,200) with its tender texture and depth of flavour. The soup is served in earthenware and combines sea cucumber, soft pork tendons, abalone, conpoy and fish maw along with three other ingredients.

In the harvest season, the Confucius Mansion used all kinds of crops from its harvest both as fresh ingredients and for seasonings and condiments, to be enjoyed with pancakes made with coarse cereals. The evidence can be found in the Farm-style Pancakes Served with Four Kinds of Condiments (Bt360). Like the Thai miang kham in which a combination of finely chopped crispy coconut, cubed lemon, shallot, ginger, dried shrimp are wrapped in cha plu leaves, here the thin corn pancakes are filled with yellow bean paste, salted fish and egg and spring onion stalks then topped with a sticky sauce.

Lu Wall’s Hidden Collection (Bt660) is designed to tell the history of Emperor Qin Shi Quang’s reign, an era that saw the burning of scholarly books. Confucius’ ninth generation descendent Kong Fu hid the precious books in the walls of the Confucius Family Mansion before going into hiding. In 154 BC, when the emperor Lu Gong expanded the palace, he discovered the sacred books in the walls The dish reflects that story through prawns in a wrapping of thin, hand-pulled vermicelli that are deep-fried to a crispy finish.

Equally tempting are Deep-fried Snapper with Crispy Skin (Bt760) and Braised Pork Ribs Stuffed with Spring Onion Stalk (Bt860). For the latter, the meat is slowly braised and the bone is replaced with a spring onion stalk before being deep-fried. The meal ends with Gingko Poetry Rites (Bt270), a mixture of steamed snow pears, gingko and dates in syrup.


Pearls of wisdom

Qufu’s Kong Family Cuisine is available at Shang Palace of ShangriLa Bangkok until tomorrow for both lunch and dinner. Diners can choose an a la carte menu or banquet menu sets for tables of six, eight or 10 persons price at Bt18,150, Bt35,060 and Bt49,880 respectively.

Shang Palace is open daily from 11.30am to 10.30pm. Call (02) 236 9952, (02) 236 7777 extensions 62056 or email restaurants.slbk@shangrila.com.