Qi Guo Ji (Steam Pot Chicken 汽锅鸡)
What is it?
Qi guo ji, which means steam-pot chicken, is from Yunnan Province. What’s so special is that the soup is served in a qi guo, a ceramic container with a tapered cone (shaped like a chimney) in the middle. The pot is then set on top of a large saucepan over boiling water. After the ingredients – Chicken, dried dates, ginger, spring onion and a bit of rice wine but no water – are put in the pot, steam will travel through the chimney into the pot and condense under the lid, then fall into the pot. The cooking process results in a very clear broth while the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. It’s reckoned that locals came up with the idea of cooking the food in a qi guo because much of the province is on a plateau about 2,000 metres above sea level, and the altitude affects the boiling point of water. Steam, however, is not affected.
Why is it famous?
The dish became popular in Southern Yunnan during the Qing Dynasty. According to local folklore, in Jianshui, a city famous for pottery production, a craftsman named Yang Li invented a unique steaming pot with a small chimney in the middle. The chimney helps circulate the steam inside the pot, cooking the chicken while sealing the flavours inside. Many reckon it is the design of the pot that gives the intense flavour of the broth. Interestingly, Chinese don’t recommend drinking chicken soup during a cold, because the chicken is said to trap the illness inside the body.
Yunnan is also famous for pu’er tea. The wild leaves, preferably from ancient trees in the jungle, are first dried in the sun before they are allowed to ferment over weeks, months, years or even decades. It is believed that the rich variety of landscapes in Yunnan, from jungle-covered hillside to snow-capped mountains is what gives pu’er tea its unique taste. It is believed that pu’er tea can lower cholesterol, cure hangovers and trim away body fat.
Where to eat it?
There is no better place in Beijing for authentic Yunnan food than the Yunteng restaurant, housed in Yunnan province’s “capital representative office”, Building 7, Donghuashi Beili, Dongqu, Chongwen District in Beijing; Tel: 86-10-6711-3322.
Middle 8th Restaurant also serves some of the most traditional Yunnan cuisine: 1 Sanlitun Zhongjie, Chaoyang District in Beijing; Tel: 86-10-6413-0629.
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