Beggar’s Chicken: the Legend Behind the Dish
Crack goes the hammer as it gently chips the clay exterior off one of the most interesting dishes at Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake. With its odd, rock-like appearance, Beggar’s Chicken may not look like a show-stopper when it first arrives at the table prior to opening, but guests of Jin Sha restaurant eagerly await one thing—chicken with meat so tender that it slips off the bones.
There isn’t a better place to order Beggar’s Chicken than in Hangzhou, where it is thought to have originated. Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, a hungry beggar stole a chicken from a rural farm. The farmer caught wind of the crime and chased the beggar down to a riverbank. To hide his loot, the beggar buried the chicken in mud. Later that evening, the beggar returned to the river, lit twigs on fire and set the mud-soaked chicken directly on top of the flame. The result? A tight clay crust formed over the chicken. When cracked open, the feathers fell right off to reveal aromatic, tender meat.
The Emperor, who happened to be passing through, stopped to dine with the beggar and declared this dish so delicious that it was added to the Imperial Court menu. And, rather than keep his new-found dish a secret, the beggar rose from poverty by selling Beggar’s Chicken to local villagers.
At Jin Sha Beggar’s Chicken is stuffed with pork belly, cured ham, ginseng and shitake mushrooms. The whole chicken is marinated and carefully wrapped in a combination of lotus leaves and cellophane wrap. A thin layer of non-toxic clay coats the entire package prior to baking for three hours. The chicken is then ceremoniously cracked open in front of guests.
With its emphasis on private dining, the stylish Jin Sha restaurant is a perfect place to enjoy a special shared dish like Beggar’s Chicken. Order it for a family gathering, business meeting or to enjoy with friends along with other local Hangzhou, Shanghainese and Cantonese favorites. Just don’t forget to order this labor-intensive dish five hours in advance of your reservation.