In 1984, China Central Television
and Food Magazine jointly held an invitation tournament which attracted
more than 2900 cuisine elites from around China. In the tournament, Li's
second daughter, who had learned diligently from his father, won the gold
medal, and Li Family Dishes was all of a sudden on the front-page. Encouraged
by all the journalists and the neighbourhoods, Li Family Restaurant opened
in the middle of the deep Hutong (lane) of Yangfang.
Gourmandism, as explained by
professor Li, is mostly elaborated here. The processing will be daintily
case-sensitive and complicated. Hotels or luxurious restaurants, because
of their enormous size, could not take care painstaking to the very details.
No one except his daughters are believed by Professor Li to have the authentic
tour de force of Li Family Dishes, and no intention has ever been considered
to expand beyond the family. Professor Li said that every dish from Li
Family would be prepared for a long time. For example, in a normal restaurant
ordering a dish of fish will take no more than 30 minutes, yet in Li family
this will be utterly impossible. Professor Li and his daughters will have
to take time to dig out the fish gill, to pull out the thin blood line
from inside its backbone and take all the efforts to make it the style
for the particularly named dish. Normally it will take at least two hours
to prepare one dish and one table dishes will take the whole family plus
the helpers one whole day to accomplish. That is the story why Li Family
only have dozen kinds of set menus available.
per cent of Li Family dishes, as said by Professor Li, are imperial flavored,
and the rest are styles from homes of celebrities in Qing dynasty, so
called authentic Beijing food. Most featured on the list of Li Family
Dishes are " Stir-fried Sliced Pork ", " First Rank Pork ", " Clear Soup
Greens ", " Sauted Saulty Varieties ", " Fried Carrot Sauce " and etc.
It is named imperial flavored food instead of imperial food, as it is
prepared in the way like in the imperial kitchen, yet some condiments
as favored then are no where to locate today, and the replaces could not
provide exactly the same authentic imperial taste. Namely the wine used
for the imperial kitchen was the special Shaoxin wine hoarded in bodega
for over one hundred years and had been sugarized like honey. But the
Shaoxin wine sold in our supermarket is no longer the same taste. And
Li Family has to make do with the yellow wine on the shelf. Take also
for example the " Fried Carrot Sauce ". It was one of the four greatest
imperial sauces and a fry combination of dried tiny carrot, tender beans,
dried toufu, shredded onion, ginger, yellow sauce and chopped carrot.
In the days of Empress Dowager Cixi (1860-1907) carrots used for cooking
was red, yet the ones we could find nowadays in the market are all yellow
or tangerine called " foreign carrot ", taste of which is definitely in
some way different from that of the red ones. Nothing man-made will be
used in the kitchen of Li Family like MSG. " In addition, tomato is forbidden
in the cooking, as traditional Chinese dishes have nothing like tomato,
and the use of it would make the whole dishes taste like western food."
said Professor Li.
Professor Li is fluent with
English and his wife, also a professor, speaks very good Japanese. Foreign
guests could always enjoy the couple's great skill both in their food
and their language. Since all meals are prepared upon booking, no restaurant
sign is posted outside the entrance to make sure that no passers-by might
be mistakenly stepping inside for food only to find there is no seat.
Strangely enough, though the fame of Li Family becomes more and more widespread
among foreigners, few Chinese have the knowledge of it. " Foreigners will
be always the one to pay the bill whenever they come in with Chinese.
" said Professor Li.
Seeing is believing. One day
came one American with his doubtful eyes at the narrow space. Frowning
at the simple decorations in the room,he asked " Has there ever been any
American coming here for dinner ? " " Do you count Bill Gates as an American
? " retorted Professor Li, making the visitor a little bit awkward. The
Thank-you letters from Microsoft and IMB all bear the same compliments
to Professor Li for the chance to taste the miraculous Chinese dishes.
Li's Family Dishes Restaurant Menu
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