Friday, January 20, 2012

Beggar's Chicken

Hangzhou is well-known in China for being one of the country's most beautiful cities. The city's West Lake (Xi Hu) is a major tourist draw, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like many cities in China, it has a history of several thousand years, and it holds the distinction of being the national capital for at least a few of those years (most recently in 1279), which means there is lots of history to be found if you are into that sort of thing. I came not, though, for the sights or the history, but for the food. Hangzhou has several famous dishes that are not typically street foods, such as the candied lotus root and the dongpo pork, both of which are well worth a try. If it's street food you are after, though (and I am), you will be glad to find that Hangzhou's most famous dish--beggar's chicken (叫化鸡) (Jiao Hua Ji)--resides right on the border between restaurant food and street food. Beggar's chicken has only one ingredient: a whole chicken. The magic comes in the preparation. There are three steps to preparing beggar's chicken: 1) Wrap the chicken tightly in lotus leaves; 2) Pack clay around the lotus leaves; and 3) Bake the chicken in a special oven or over an open fire.

Here's what it looks like when it's still wrapped in clay.

It sounds simple (and it is), but the result is fantastic. After cutting open the top of the package with scissors or a knife, you can dive right in with your fingers (some vendors will provide plastic gloves for this part).


The chicken is so tightly packed that none of the juices have escaped during cooking, which results in a soft, succulent flesh that pulls right away from the bone. A bit of flavor from the lotus leaves seeps in as well, giving the chicken a slightly different taste. Beggar's chicken is a little bit more expensive than your standard street food (20 - 30 Y), but it's definitely worth it. You do, after all, get a whole chicken for that price.

If you look carefully, you'll see a chicken foot I said, this is the whole chicken.


Austin said...

That looks and sounds amazing! I want a whole chicken!

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank

Love this story. Can I use your pics on my blog?



Frank Kasell said...

Hello, Brunyfie,

Absolutely! So long as you don't mind linking back to my site with the pictures.


Frank Kasell said...

Austin: Go to Hangzhou.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the pic OK. Do you have any more information on how they cooked the Beggar's Chicken? Hot coals? In an oven??



Frank Kasell said...

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure. I believe it was traditionally cooked over an open fire, but nowadays typically in a clay oven.

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