Beggar’s Chicken (Jiao Hua Ji)

beggar's chicken

Beggar’s Chicken, known as 叫花鸡 (Jiào Huā Jī) in Chinese, is a traditional delicacy hailing from Changshu City in Jiangsu Province. This culinary masterpiece involves a meticulous process, beginning with marinating the chicken in a flavorful sauce. The marinated chicken is then carefully wrapped in layers of lotus leaves, pig fat netting, and yellow clay. The final touch involves slow-cooking the package in a wood-fired pit until it reaches perfection. Upon opening the clay shell, a delightful aroma fills the air, and the chicken inside is revealed to be tender, succulent, and uniquely flavorful. For an enhanced dining experience, it is often enjoyed with scallions, and sweet bean sauce.

Legend has it that Beggar’s Chicken has a historical connection with the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang. During a military campaign, Zhu Yuanzhang faced defeat and found himself running for three days and nights with pursuers hot on his trail. Exhausted and hungry, he stumbled upon a fire with a heap of clay nearby. A beggar, cooking a chicken in the fire, explained that he was preparing a special dish for a great king. Curious, Zhu Yuanzhang inquired further. The beggar opened the clay to reveal the delicious aroma emanating from the perfectly cooked chicken. Zhu Yuanzhang, impressed by the dish, tasted it and praised its exquisite flavor. From that day forward, Zhu Yuanzhang’s fortunes turned, and he eventually became the emperor. In gratitude, he honored the chicken by naming it “富贵鸡” (Fù Guì Jī), meaning “Rich and Noble Chicken.”

Another tale involves Emperor Qianlong during his visit to Jiangnan. Accidentally stranded in the wilderness, he was offered Beggar’s Chicken by a kind beggar who thought highly of it. Impressed by the delectable taste, Qianlong inquired about the dish’s name. The beggar, feeling shy about the name “Beggar’s Chicken,” creatively referred to it as “富贵鸡” (Rich and Noble Chicken). Qianlong, enamored with the dish, praised it lavishly. As a result, the name “富贵鸡” stuck, further elevating the status of Beggar’s Chicken.

This culinary masterpiece has transcended its humble origins to become a symbol of rich flavors and cultural significance. Its preparation, tied to historical anecdotes, adds a layer of intrigue to the dining experience, making Beggar’s Chicken not only a delicious dish but also a tale of triumph and royalty.

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