|Steamed assorted mushroom bun (China Daily)|
There were more than 40 dishes described in great detail in A Dream of Red Mansions. Most are classics in Huaiyang cuisine, but some are delicacies that only rich and decadent families could afford. In the world of the author Cao Xueqin, himself a Bannerman aristocrat of high social standing in his better days, these were everyday dishes for the pampered lords and ladies in his novel. Look at these examples:
SCENTED AUBERGINE STRIPS (Qie Xiang)
"Lord Buddha! That's 10 chickens gone into the making of this. No wonder it tastes so good!" Poor Granny Liu was astounded by how good the eggplants tasted when she was offered some at the Jia Family mansion.
To make it, her hostess Wang Xifeng explained, you needed to harvest the aubergines at their peak in the fifth lunar month. The vegetables are skinned and cut into strips that are steamed over a pot of chicken stock. They are dried and the whole process repeated nine times until the essence of chicken has thoroughly soaked through the vegetable. Store them in tightly sealed jars and stir-fry them with slivers of meat from chicken drumsticks.
For Wang Xifeng and the Jia Family, this was a simple recipe that was everyday fare, nothing special, but for Granny Liu, it was an epicurean eye-opener.