A chicken is seasoned, wrapped in lotus leaves and slowly baked in clay. Legend has it that this delicacy, of humble, obscure origins came to existence by chance. A beggar had stolen a chicken and ran away. In order to avoid being caught red-handed, he dug a hole in the ground near the river, where he hid the chicken. Later, when he returned for it, the chicken was covered in mud. The man didn’t have utensils to clean and prepare the chicken, so after cooking, the mud became clay. A new dish was born.
I tried this now traditional Chinese dish with my friend Dai at one of Beijing’s finest restaurants, Made in China, on the ground floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel. Although we didn’t have a reservation (and it is recommended), we were able to get a table near the bar. The chicken takes a little while to prepare, so we talked over a cup of liu bao black tea and for snack we were offered orange-infused melon and pickled white beans.
When the chicken arrives, the ceremony begins: the waitress brings the piping-hot, clay-covered chicken on a little trolley, and prepares it in front of you. Dai did the honours of breaking off the clay with a huge wooden hammer, she hit hard a few times. Then, with ample dexterity and speed, the waitress breaks off the rest of the clay, under which there is a double wrapping of wax paper and lotus leaves. Once all that wrapping is cleared, the chicken is revealed!
It has been cooking at a low temperature for a long time, stuffed with pickled mustard greens, pork and chestnuts and marinated in a blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar and secret spices. In a perfect combination of pungent, spicy, aromatic goodness, the chicken is so tender that it melts in your mouth.
Made in China’s menu you will find as well: old-fashioned Peking duck; imperial-style braised shark’s fin soup and double-boiled bird’s nest with Yun’nan ham. Made in China’s wine list includes reds and whites from France, Italy, Spain and the New World, as well as Chinese wines and liqueurs. If you really want to splurge, why not pair your abalone with a 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rotschild, at RMB 99,999 per bottle.’
Made in China is also renowned for its wonderful deserts. We were tempted by an original selection of Western ice-cream with an Oriental touch. The delicate sweetness of osmanthus milk and the slight alcoholic tang of wu liang ye chocolate are a perfect match. Other deserts include: Banana chocolate spring rolls with jasmine tea sauce; milk-caramel- stuffed sesame puffs with pu’er-tea-flavoured chocolate fudge; and hawthorn jelly and date cake.
Within 10 minutes’ taxi drive from the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen square, Made in China is a perfect choice for indulgence after a visit to Beijing’s main tourist attractions.
Interested in learning more about China’s cuisine? Take a look at China for Foodies, a delightfully delicious tour throughout the country.