Red Mansions banquet [Photo/yznews.com.cn]
In Yangzhou, diners get a taste of the cuisines described in the literary classic A Dream of Red Mansions, complete with the right ambience.
Cuisine masters of Yangzhou have recreated food recorded in A Dream of Red Mansions, one of the four most important ancient Chinese novels. Scholars believe the lives of big families described in the novel are based on the author Cao Xueqin's own life in Yangzhou.
The 300-year-old food style called the Red Mansions Banquet is served at Yangzhou State Guesthouse in the Huaiyang culinary capital of Yangzhou.
At Yangzhou State Guesthouse, not only does the meal bring back memories of a lifestyle that is three centuries old, but also the entire ambience of the guesthouse projects nostalgia. A musician plays the guqin, a very soothing ancient stringed instrument, while waitresses clad in ancient Chinese gowns serve beautiful, delicate dishes in a colorfully decorated room.
Guests get to try tasty and thoughtfully named dishes, such as "red-robed shrimp", "eight treasure" bean sauce, and "emerald" shaomai (a type of dumpling).
A waitress will tell you the red robed shrimp is a favorite of Jia Baoyu, the male protagonist in the novel, and the purple ginger sprout is the favorite of Lin Daiyu, the female protagonist.
Several of the dishes are named after roles in the classic novel. Qingwen bun has a special stuffing of bean curd. It is named after Qingwen, Jia Baoyu's servant girl and close friend who has a strong personality. A crisp cake with turnip stuffing is named after Taijun, Jia Baoyu's grandmother, because it has black sesame on top, resembling the hairstyle of elderly women in ancient China.
One delightful thing about Huaiyang cuisine is that the dishes may look simple but they're tasty because of the complicated cooking methods. For example, dazhu gansi, water-boiled bean curd slices, and yangchunmian, or plain noodle with shrimp sauce, and pieces of green onion.