Chapter 09, Part 2 – Shine Bright at the Royal Lover’s Banquet
A few days later, the yearly Qiqiao Festival approached.
There was a poem that went:
As the beads of starlight wanes,
For the Seventh of the Seventh,
Palace maids busily sew.
Every year on the 7th day of the 7th month, it was the one time for Herd Boy and Weaver Girl to see each other over the swallow bridge. The imperial palace was in the middle of preparing for this festival via temple offerings and other Qiqiao related activities.
On this day, the emperor had decided to hold a showy family reunion feast. Inviting the empress as well as all the concubines in the palace, and the princess as well. There was also an imperial order to the imperial kitchens to prepare some innovative dishes for this year’s celebration.
This really troubled the imperial chefs. Normally, the only thing they serve around here were high grade meat: chicken, ducks, fish and all sorts of other delicacies of the land and the sea. To the point that the whole imperial family were sick of it, so, how could this be good?
A herd of men crowded around me, throwing pleading gazes like sad puppies. The truth was, I really could not bear their desperate eyes. There was really no choice. I have to take the initiative for this one.
“How about we invent a few dishes on our own, and throw in some common folk dishes for variety? Since they are sick of rare delicacies, we can use this to reset their taste buds. I’ll lead, you guys can assist me.”
Thanks to this little matter, I received the gratitude of the great chefs of the great chefs of the imperial kitchens. Almost to the point where they would tearfully hug my thighs.
They have regularly seen me cook, and knew my abilities. Though it was a little forced, but I agreed to help them. And now there were tears and snot all mingled together on the faces around me.
I pointed out that now was not the time to be grateful yet. It was the time to create dishes. At that, the whole of the imperial kitchen became super busy.
I interrogated them about the general taste and preferences of the emperor, the empress as well as the imperial concubines and the princess. With these different tastes in mind, I sent out to make simple but charming folk dishes.
First, the appetizers: Curried Potatoes with assorted other cold vegetable; Chinese Toon with Tofu topped with spicy Chinese cabbage leaves wrapped in carrot threads; as well as Steamed Mushroom with various seasoning featuring sliced shiitake mushrooms and fresh enoki mushrooms.
7 hot dishes: Five Flavoured Stir Fry made with green peppers, red peppers, pineapples, beef tenderloin and onions; Manchurian Wild Rice Stem Omelette; Spicy Shredded Chicken; Wild Mushroom Hotpot in Thick Soup; Fresh Shrimp Stir Fried in Green Tea; Stir Fried Chinese Stem Lettuce with Wild Onions; and finally an appropriately grand and luxurious Black Chicken Soup with snow clams and red lotus to match the occasion.
By now the banquet out at the Imperial Garden had begun. Brightly coloured lanterns were lit, looking very brilliant against the night sky.
There was still one more newly invented dish left, but it had to be served at just the right time. One second too late and it would be ruined.
I had gotten of some first class beef, back muscle portion that had been cut at the best angle for best texture and maximum absorption of a specially prepared marinade. I got the other chefs to find me a metal grilling plate, which was properly scrubbed clean and now heating up on a charcoal fire. The plate was then greased with just a touch of oil.
When the grill plate was hot enough, the marinated cuts of meat were placed on the grilling plate. There was a sudden hissing sound and the smell of sizzling meat began to permeate into all four corners of the garden. With a swipe of my cooking spade, I quickly flipped the meat over, a splash of wine ignited a flame that burst upwards beautifully into the night sky.
A tight flip of the right shovel and the still flaming meat were sent soaring into the air. The fiery spectacle was like a curving fire wheel that landed neatly into the middle of my left cooking shovel.
With quick cutting motions the slices of beef became bite size pieces. A specially prepared black pepper sauce was drizzled on top and garnished with crisp green scallions and finely sliced red pepper.
Not daring to delay, I scooped the meat off the grilling pan and onto a finely carved serving tray, and covered it with a lid. Grabbing a cup of red wine, I begged the serving eunuch to let me personally serve this dish in order to best display its characteristic so as not to offend the Dragon’s Eye (emperor), which would benefit none of us. After a brief consultation, they agreed.
Right now the palace women had surrounded the emperor at the banquet and were chatting and joking cheerfully together. The emperor seemed very pleased with tonight’s new dishes. The atmosphere was very good. I quickened my pace, taking three steps with every two, still afraid of missing the critical time.
“This servant is Song Xiran from the Imperial Kitchens, greetings to the emperor, greetings to all Niang Niangs, and greetings to the princess. This one has a new dish, which this lowly one needs to personally complete. This one does not dare to delay one second more, and dares not disturb the emperor, Niang Niangs or the princess. Would everyone please forgive this lowly one.”
“Rise, you may present this dish, whatever it is.” The emperor did not question my presence, his mood seemed very good.
I carried the tray of sliced beef and placed it on the table before the emperor. I took off the cover carefully, blue flames still danced on the meat. This was good, there’s still time. I picked up the cup of wine and slowly poured it over the bite sized beef. The dying flames suddenly shot up and began to sway in the wind like a troupe of strange Persian dancers.
When the emperor and his concubines tasted the dish, I took the opportunity to raise my head and cast a quick glance over everyone. While searching for some sign of the princess, and found someone else staring closely at me.
That searching gaze did not belong to the princess, instead, it came from Concubine Li Fei, Su Yue Ran.
She was sitting next to the emperor, lightly nibbling at my dish. As before, her eyes still has that lovely, bewitching, seductive, soul stealing gaze. Our eyes met, and she languidly raised her chopsticks with a piece of sliced beef at the tip and slowly, ever so slowly slipped it into her mouth. A corner of her lips quirk up into a witchy smile.
This Li Fei was just too daring. Doing such a thing at such a large banquet, isn’t she even a little bit afraid of the emperor bringing punishment down on her head? Anyway, I’m afraid, so I quickly pretended not to see anything, and immediately looked down.
Once the emperor and the concubines tried the grilled beef, the praises kept pouring in. The Dragon’s Eye even bestowed a generous praise.
“What do you call this dish?” The emperor asked.
“In reply to emperor, this dish is called the Blue Lady Flame Steak .”
“Good, this dish you made is not bad. Come, reward~” The emperor looked really happy.
I returned thanks to the grand dragon’s grace, and slowly backed away from the banquet area.
Curried Potatoes – An excellent starting dish, potatoes are common people food, but curries are made from different (very expensive) spices that came from a land far, far away (India), and thus suitable for royal family.
Chinese Toon with Tofu – Served in fancy styles for the imperial family.
Five Flavoured Stir Fry
Manchurian Wild Rice Stem Omelette
Spicy Shredded Chicken
Wild Mushroom Hotpot in Thick Soup
Fresh Shrimp Stir Fried in Green Tea – Ren Yue from Here Comes the Lady Chef would love this dish.
Stir Fried Chinese Stem Lettuce with Wild Onions – Looks a lot like an old lettuce that has been allowed to grow too much, lol.
Black Chicken Soup – Black chickens are tiny compared to regular chickens, and are usually three times as expensive.
 Blue Lady Flame Steak – If she really manages to make blue flames appear on the grilled meat, I’d be surprised. Blue flames are super hot, but hey, this is fiction.