When I first arrived in Paris, I was very surprised to see in every corner of my neighbourhood, a community of homeless people. Some have come to stay and are a permanent fixture to the landscape, making their ‘living’ from the centimes that many kind Parisians or tourists hand out to them. Some are transitory, here only for a day or two before moving on to greener pastures. The old timers I have come to recognise, like the lady with a bandaged foot who sits across the Cocteau Society. RN and I see her every morning on our to the métro at Trocadéro.
Then there is the ‘shaking man’ as RN likes to refer to him as. He can be found within the métro Trocadéro when it rains and on dry days just a few metres from the entrance of the métro, outside one of the many bistros, kneeling and shaking profusely, hat in hand, asking for a centime or two. RN was pretty impressed (by his performance) when she first came across the ‘shaking man’ but now she is just as immuned by the sight of him as the many residents of the neighbourhood.
Here is a link I found on a blog about poverty in Paris and indeed France:
Legend has it that a beggar in the Qing Dynasty fell upon a chicken due to his good luck. The stolen bird was then hidden, feathers and all, in mud found by a muddy riverbank, to be retrieved once the beggar had managed to steer clear from his pursuers. His captors allayed, the beggar then placed the mud caked chicken whole into the fire that he had made for this purpose. The fire caused the mud to form into a clay crust which cooked the chicken so well that upon breaking the crust, its feathers and bones came away and the meat was tender and juicy. The aroma emitted from the chicken attracted the attention of Qing Emperor who was travelling incognito (as all Chinese Emperors tend to do) and he stopped to dine with the beggar who kindly shared his precious loot with this stranger. Just as well as he did, because the Emperor was so impressed by the dish that he elevated the beggar’s status to that of court chef, specialising in cooking Beggar’s Chicken.
Through time, the dish has evolved to become more kingly. Inside the carcass of the chicken, one can find a filling of various ingredients from chestnuts, to shrimps to bamboo shoots, minced pork and Yunnan ham.
It takes a good 8 hours to cook this special bird. The chicken is firstly boiled to remove any impurities. This has to be done without cooking the chicken. It is then stuffed with the above ingredients mentioned and then wrapped tightly in lotus leaves, to be steamed before being encased in a non-toxic clay crust and finally baked in the oven. The baking process helps to retain the juices within the lotus leaves, thus preserving the aroma of the spices and herbs.
This was how Beggar’s Chicken is served in Shang Palace where I discovered this royal dish, courtesy of AB (MD of Shangri-La Paris) and CB, friend and fellow blogger and wife of AB. (You can find her blog in my blog roll.) Note the surgical instruments accompanying the dish.
Of course, in order to taste the tender morsels of chicken, someone had to have the honour of breaking the clay crust….. and the honour fell on……AB.
Once broken, the crust was removed piece by piece to reveal a layer of lotus leaves. This was then delicately cut open to reveal the chicken resting within it. The aroma was intoxicating, kawan kawan. I had the honour of standing next to the waitress who was in charge of the operation. Whilst she was peeling the leaves back one by one, she also explained to me where Beggar’s Chicken originated.
Beggar’s Chicken hails from the Hangzhou area in Zhejiang province. There, you will find many restaurants serving beggar’s chicken. Due to its lengthy cooking process, many restaurants ask that you pre-order the dish at least a day before.
This is what it looks like once the leaves and bones have been removed:
In researching this dish, I found many blogs teaching one how to cook it. Some recipes call for only a couple of hours cooking time. However, I believe that the flavours of the chicken is retained in slow cooking it under a low heat, as any advocate of slow cooking will tell you.
Kawan kawan, if you are ever in Paris, you must go to the Shang Palace for this dish. It is really worth it. Trust me! 🙂 But remember, you may have to call in advance if you are after this bird.
Footnote: Daddy actually cooks this chicken dish chez lui. He wraps the bird that has been marinated in a herby wine with chinese red dates, goji berries and gingko nuts in tin foil or lotus leaves, if he can find any, to be steamed on a low heat for about an hour and half. The funny thing is I never knew that it was called Beggar’s Chicken because daddy calls his dish, Herbal Steamed Chicken. lol!!!
Shang Palace, Shagri-La Paris, 10 avenue d’Iéna