Fast Food

Beggar’s Chicken

Ancient chicken recipe from Hangzhou

Beggar’s Chicken

What is it?

Don’t be fooled by the name, the dish is anything but poor; in fact some Chinese restaurants list it under the more auspicious “Emperor’s Chicken” title.

The recipe varies, but starts with a whole chicken, which is stuffed with onion, ginger, Chinese black mushrooms, pickled cabbage, and other preserved vegetables.

The chicken is then wrapped in huge lotus leaves, and packed in mud that’s mixed with Shaoxing wine and salt water. The classic recipe calls for six pounds of mud.

After baking in a steady heat for three to four hours, the chef usually presents the mud pile and cracks it open before the guests, unveiling the succulent meat and wonderful aroma.

After hours of stewing inside the lotus leaves, the meat is tender and juicy; it falls easily off the bone.

Sounds like a dish with a dash of history…

It certainly is, although food historians are split on its origins. Most seem to think that it hails either from Hangzhou or Changsu, two cities along the Yangtze River near Shanghai.

According to popular folklore, a beggar stole a chicken from a farm. As he began to build a fire he heard the sound of horses approaching. Fearing capture, he wrapped the bird in lotus leaves and buried it in the mud near the fire.

When he finally unearthed it hours later, he was delighted to discover he had cooked up a delicious dish.

Is it seasonal?

No, the dish can be eaten year-round. Pair it up with a bottle of aged Huadiao, Chinese port.

What do you need to know before ordering?

Due to the lengthy cooking process, restaurants will require that you pre-order it. In most circumstances you need to give at least a day’s notice.

And the best place to eat it?

Louwailo in Hangzhou, 30 Gushan Road, Solitary Island (+86571 8796968); or if you happen to travel to Hong Kong, Tien Heung Lau offers some of the finest Hangzhou cuisine, 18C Austin Avenue, Kowloon (+852 26622414); Lung King Heen in Hong Kong’s Four Seasons also serves it up, but calls it “Fortune Chicken”.

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