Royal cuisine is not only preciously made, but also implies special meanings. As the top leader of a country, emperors cherished the state won by their ancestors. Thus, they innovated the food their ancestors ate during war times into imperial court dishes so that their descendants could remember the experience. Thus, some dishes with special flavors and meanings became the traditional food of imperial court cuisine.
The four great sauce dishes in Fangshan Restaurant tell such a story.
Fried sauce with cucumber is the diet of Manchu people all year round. They eat lettuce with the sauce to go with their main foods. The habit is said to be related with Nurhaci, Emperor Taizu of the Qing Dynasty, during his war for state power. Because of the ongoing wars and the lack of salt in the army, the power of his army was greatly reduced. Then, they collected soybean sauce for soldiers. In field operations, soldiers could eat the sauce together with potherbs. The raw sauce and potherbs greatly increased the power of Nurhaci’s army. After the Manchu army entered Beijing and seized power, the emperor established an unwritten regulation to commemorate the hardship of their ancestors. Raw sauce with lettuce was an essential dish for the emperors. Later, the dish also became popular among common people. Even today in some parts in north China, raw sauce with lettuce is still a seasonal dish in spring and summer. Meanwhile, it has special flavor and nutrition incomparable to cooked dishes. After Empress Dowager Cixi held the court from behind the scenes, the imperial chefs were afraid that raw sauce with lettuce would ruin Cixi’s health. In order to keep their jobs and avoid violating the ancestor’s regulation, they invented some dishes with only a little sauce. These dishes later became the famous great sauce dishes in the imperial court, namely fried sauce with cucumbers, fried sauce with filberts, fried sauce with peas and fried sauce with carrots.