Going way, way back to our Mid-Autumn Festival family celebration, Hitman and I had dinner with my parents and relatives at Suhang Restaurant. It was his first time for Shanghainese food. The draw for me was that my uncle had pre-ordered the Beggar’s Chicken and I was excited to see and try it. I hadn’t known where to go for Beggar’s Chicken in Vancouver (in this case, Richmond) prior to this dinner.
When I told Hitman about it, I basically said that it’s traditionally wrapped in dirt…now that got him intrigued! If you want to read more about the origins of this dish we’ve included at the end of this post our own Legend of the Beggar’s Chicken based on variations of the story we’ve cobbled together.
I don’t have the prices for the dishes below as they were special order items; if you want to try them for yourself be sure to phone in your order in advance.
Anyways, as with most dinners with Uncle G, we start with a cold appetizer platter that consisted of (clockwise from bottom) Smoked Beef Shank, Sesame Oil Ma Lang Tao, Pork Terrine, Mushroom Bean Curd Wrap, and Fava Beans in the middle.
My favorite is always the ma lang tao, a green leafy vegetable mixed with tofu.
The main event arrived like a lump of coal. This is the Beggar’s Chicken. They say traditionally it’s wrapped in clay. The version here is just wrapped in dough. After the spectacle, it was taken back into the kitchen to be “cracked open”. Now that I think about it, this is probably a prop. Hitman disagrees, “If they just let the thing burn anyway, what’s the point of recycling it? Definitely not for the looks!” He obviously doesn’t realize just how wily we Chinese can be 😉
Then they brought the chicken back out. It was cooked in lotus leaves and stuffed with glutinous rice, chestnuts, and more edamame beans.
The chicken was very moist and the rice was chewy and fluffy, and had absorbed the flavors of the chicken very well. I didn’t care much for the chestnuts.
For dessert we ordered my mom’s favorite. It’s basically deep-fried egg whites stuffed with red bean paste and banana. I always like it when they make it authentic by using pink sugar instead of plain white.
It’s very light and spongy. You always have to order this in advance because they can’t use old oil for it. Hitman enjoyed this too as it’s his first time having this. Since then he’s had it a few times and still likes it.
The Legend of the Beggar’s Chicken
Once upon a time (during the Qing dynasty) in Changshu, Jiangsu province, there lived a poor beggar. The beggar was hungry and was forced to steal a chicken from a local farmer to feed his growling belly. The farmer he stole it from was hot on his heels after a narrow escape, so he couldn’t just cook it on an open fire as he feared that the aroma from the chicken would attract unwanted attention.
So the conniving beggar, finding himself on the banks of a river, decided to coat the chicken in clay and bury it in a hole in the ground to avoid detection. Later he built a fire and set the chicken on it with the idea that the clay would keep the scent of the chicken from wafting out during the cooking process. This idea worked even better than the beggar expected, locking in the flavour and making for the tastiest chicken he had ever eaten.
As he was eating a traveling nobleman passed and seeing the how much the beggar was enjoying the chicken, the noble demanded a piece to try. The nobleman was so impressed he inquired on the cooking method, and brought the knowledge with him to the Imperial Court where Emperor Qianlong took an immediate liking to the dish.
From the Imperial Court the recipe spread across China as a dish for rich and poor alike to enjoy, and from there to the far reaches of the modern world, all the way to little ol’ Richmond, BC!
If you want to try the original clay version it can still be had to this day in Changshu city: