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Imperial Food in the Qing Dynasty

2016-01-08 10:01:22Share:

  The imperial food served within the walls of the Forbidden City by the Qing Dynasty had an important effect on Chinese dietetic culture. Using the traditional diet of the Manchu ethnic group as its foundation, the best of the Chinese dietetic culture, mainly foods of the Han ethnic group, were assimilated to develop the dietetic culture of the Qing Palace. Even today this cuisine is important to people at home and abroad.



  The “Imperial Kitchen”, a special organization within the Qing Palace, was responsible for the emperor’s meals. It was located south of the Yangxin Hall (Hall of Mental Tranquillity), where the emperor lived and handled political affairs.


  The Imperial Kitchen was managed by the General Office of internal Affairs, an office directed by several ministers personally appointed by the emperor.


  The Imperial Kitchen had a director, deputy and assistant directors, manager, executive manager, and clerks to handle the emperor’s daily meals, employing more than 200 officials, cooks and eunuchs. The empress had both an internal and an external kitchen, and the Empress Dowager had a special external kitchen. The dauphine and his son got special kitchens after they were married.


  For good luck, the Royal Family used the terms yong shan (use the meal), Chuan shan (pass the meal), or jin shan (advance the meal) instead of chi fan (eat the meal) when they ate. They did this because the Chinese character shan (meaning meal) have the same pronunciation as another character for Shan (meaning kindness) and they wanted to imply a close friendship with the people. The word “fan” has the same sound as another Chinese character that means “rebellion,” so it was considered unlucky. Moreover, the Royal Family wanted to stress their difference from the common people, their supreme authority, and their extravagant lifestyle.



  Within the Forbidden City the emperor’s meals were divided into two categories: The regular meals he took every day and his large banquets and occasional feasts.


  In its early years, the Qing Dynasty had a tea kitchen (for tea with milk), a clear tea kitchen (for plain tea), and meal kitchens. The tea kitchen and clear tea kitchen were special places for making milk tea and clear tea. The meal kitchens were distributed throughout the palace and usually made the dishes as well as the porridges and cooked wheat food.


  There was a special bakery for making pastries, cakes, and other baked foods. There was an internal and an external bakery. The internal bakery made staple foods for the emperor and his family; the external bakery prepared all rice and wheat foods for the banquets, feasts, and sacrificial rites. Both bakeries were under the palace Secretariat of the Office of Administration.


  During the rule of Emperor Qianlong (1736 - 1795), the imperial tea and meal kitchens were divided into the Internal Kitchen and the External Kitchen.


  The Internal Kitchen had departments for meat dishes, vegetables, roasting, baking, and rice cooking. The meat department cooked all delicacies from land and sea: domesticated animals. Poultry, wild fowl, and dishes like roast pig, roast duck, and roast chicken. The bakery made cakes and pastries; and the rice-cooking department prepared cooked rice and porridges.


  In addition, the Imperial Kitchen had a meat supply department, inner house, vegetable house, and dried – meat house to guarantee its daily supply of raw materials. Each kitchen (including the tea kitchens) had its own dinnerware storehouse where all variety of gold, silver, jade, tin, Bronze, copper, and porcelain ware was kept for use at any time.


  The External kitchen prepared the palace banquets, feasts, and sacrificial rites.


  The Yuanmingyuan Imperial Garden, the Summer Palace, and the Imperial Palace for Short Stays in Jihol also had imperial kitchens.


  The Qing Palace imperial meals formed an important part if the royal family’s daily life. The rites for the meals, the number of people, and the use, cost, variety, and quality of sumptuous courses at each meal were the greatest of all the dynasties in China.

The Imperial Gardens