Buddha Jumps over the Wall at Lee Do Reastaurant in Singapore.
In two weeks' time the Chinese Lunar New Year will be celebrated by the Chinese all over the world be it big or small in scale. To some a bowl of mee sua is good enough celebration. to some there must be no less than three or four huge meals. And one of the dishes must be Buddha Jumps over the Wall.
One of the most famous dishes in a good Chinese restaurant this dish 佛跳墻 is Foochow in origin.
According to most Chinese food historian it originated in the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Daoguang who ruled China from 1820 to 1850.
But there are also many other very interesting stories about this dish.
The first story relates about a group of beggars who went begging everywhere with their elms bowl. At the end of the day, they would put all the food they had collected into a big pot.
One day, a rice merchant smelt the nice aroma of food as he was walking on the street. He found that the inviting smell came from a broken pot which had Chinese wine and leftover food cooking in it. This rice merchant then realised what he could do with the mixing of various ingredients and wine, and Buddha Jumps Over the Wall was thus invented.
In the olden days, the Fujian people had a tradition called 试厨 (shi chu) which literally means a cooking tryout. According to this tradition, a new bride had to be in her new home on the wedding day, return to her own family on the second day of marriage, and on the third day return to her new home. The challenge on the third day was that the new bride would have to demonstrate her culinary skills to her new family. It was the litmus test of a new bride's capability to run a household.
There was once a very pampered girl who didn't know how to cook, thus she was very anxious about the upcoming shi chu as she was about to be married. Her worried mother decided to help her by wrapping the household's best ingredients individually in lotus leaves, and instructing her repeatedly on how to go about cooking the food she had packed. But the bride forgot all her mother's instructions in her state of nervousness the day before she was to cook!
At night, she went into the kitchen and unwrapped all the packs of food that her mother had packed. She laid everything on the table and had no clue where to start. Just as she was at her wits end, she heard her mother- and father-in-law walking in the direction of the kitchen. As the new bride was afraid they would pick on her for messing up the kitchen, she hurriedly dumped all the food into a wine vessel that was sitting beside the table. She then used the lotus leaves that were used to wrap the food to cover the mouth of the wine vessel, and left the vessel on a stove that still had some remaining embers. Daunted by the thought of the task that lay ahead of her, she quietly slipped back to her parents' home.
The next day, this new daughter-in-law was nowhere to be seen when the guests arrived. The parents-in-law went to the kitchen and found the wine vessel on the stove, and to their surprise, it was warm! On opening the lid of the wine vessel, the nice smell of the simmering food filled the place. The guests loved the dish and it soon became known as Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.
Another story goes that the dish originated in the reign of Emperor GuangXu of the Qing Dynasty who ruled from 1875 to 1908. A government official in Fuzhou hosted a banquet and invited a minister called Zhou Lian. One of the government official's servants was a very good cook and she put the chicken, duck and pork to cook together with Shaoxing wine. When Zhou Lian tasted the dish, he couldn't stop singing its praises. He then told his house cook Zheng ChunFa to learn how to make the dish. Zheng got the recipe but modified it by using more seafood and less meat and named it 坛烧八宝 (A Stove's Eight Treasures).
Apparently, 坛烧八宝 was later known as 福寿全 (Abundance of Luck and Longevity) and eventually 佛跳墻. There's yet another story about how 福寿全 became 佛跳墻. When the dish became famous as a delicacy, many famous literary men came from afar to have a taste of the dish. After eating a sumptuous and delicious meal, the sated men would often break out in song and poetry, one of which was 坛启荤香飘四邻，佛闻弃神跳墙来. This is to say that the aroma of the food was so wonderful that even Buddha would be tempted by the food of the mortal world. Another story goes that the nice smells permeated the walls to the temple next door such that even the monks were tempted into disregarding the rules of the tonsure and asked to be invited to the feast.
There are 18 main ingredients and twenty-odd types of seasonings that go into making the dish. The main ingredients include chicken, duck, pig stomach, pig trotters, tendons, Chinese ham, chicken and duck stomach, shark's fin, sea cucumber, abalone, dried scallops, fish maw, pigeon egg, Chinese mushroom, Chinese bamboo etc.
You can leave out the shark's fin if you feel that sharks should not be hunted for its fins. The dish will taste just as good.
There is also a vegetarian version of this dish.
I must say this dish has plenty of food for thought!! Happy Chinese New Year!