The Four Great Beauties of China – Xi Shi (西施), Wang Zhaojun (王昭君), Yang Guifei (杨贵妃) and Diao Chan (貂蝉) – were undoubtedly feasts for the eyes back in the olden days of China. Their legendary beauty had inspired many a poet to pen poems of them. Now, their beauty has become a source of inspiration for a culinary feast.
This year, Jiang Nan Chun of Four Seasons Hotel brings back its Food in Literature series with a menu themed around these four renowned beauties from ancient China. Available only for a limited period, the “Four Beauties” menu (priced at $148++ per person) entails five courses intricately crafted to encapsulate the essence of the tales surrounding the four beauties.
It was a dining experience that was not only gastronomical, but lyrical as well. As I relished each of the sublime dishes, restaurant manager Ng Chong Kim took us on a literary expedition by telling us stories about the four beauties and how the restaurant translated the legends into the culinary delights before my eyes.
The journey started off with the “Scent of the Heavenly Beauties Combination Platter”. The platter comprises four items, each representing one beauty – “Chilled Cherry Tomato with Lychee Martini Water” for Yang Guifei, “Deep-fried Shrimp Paste with Minced Mushroom Pipa Beancurd” for Wang Zhaojun, “Chilled Foie Gras with Oscietra Caviar” for Diao Chan, and “Steamed Seafood Dumpling” for Xi Shi.
The starter set the tone for the meal. The enchantment continued with the second dish “Dance of the Double-Boiled Soup”. Tang Dynasty imperial concubine Yang Guifei was said to have a love for fragrant baths and dewy lychees. Executive chef Alan Chan realized Yang Guifei’s love for these two items in the form of this signature double-boiled abalone soup with calipash, denrobe and chicken. The clear yet richly flavoured soup is said to be a favourite of a particular political family in Singapore.
Few scents in the world stir my senses like the way truffles do. The next dish, “Aquatic Reflections of Beauty Fish Poetry”, was enough to send me to heaven with the generous toppings of shaved black truffles. This dish of steamed Atlantic Cod stuffed with wild mushrooms in superior broth might not be the prettiest of all, but it was probably the most intoxicating to me.
The restaurant got inspiration for the dish from the description of Xi Shi’s beauty being so mesmerising that fishes would sink themselves lower into the lake in shyness. The rice paper in the broth symbolises the silk dresses Xi Shi washed by the lake while the woodiness of the truffles represents her humble beginnings.
The fourth course “Song of Lingering Memories Pipa Chicken” embodies Wang Zhaojun’s love for the pipa, a Chinese musical instrument. Wang Zhaojun of Western Han Dynasty was probably the most famous political bride in Chinese history. She was revered for her self-sacrificing attribute as she was gifted at 16 years old to the nomadic Hun King, and later forced to get remarried to his son after the Hun King’s death. The dish’s smoked French spring chicken in a way is symbolic of a phoenix, drawing parallels between the phoenix’s death in fire and Wang Zhaojun’s noble sacrifices.
The dessert, “Dangerous Liason Dessert”, features a duo of stuffed egg puff pastry with almond cream, and superior bird’s nest with sesame pudding. The tantalising flavours of this dish are likened to the game of intrigue played by Diao Chan, who was written about in literary classic ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ on how she made use of her beauty to drive a wedge between a brutal warlord and his son.
Till the very end, I remained entranced by both the storytelling and the pure opulent goodness of the food. Who would have thought that eating can be such a poetic experience?
The “Four Beauties” menu is available at Jiang Nan Chun of Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore till 31 Jan 2015.
Jiang Nan Chun
Four Seasons Hotel
190 Orchard Boulevard
Tel: +65 6831 7220
Email: [email protected]
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