Once exclusively imperial, the dragon dish is suitable for any descendant

According to a well-known saying in Zhongxiang city, Hubei province, “It can be never called a banquet without a dragon.” But those seeking a mythical beast on the menu need not worry about procuring some hard-to-source dragon’s eggs. The phrase refers to a famous imperial platter—the “coiled dragon” dish (蟠龙菜)—that alludes, in more ways than one, to one of China’s most famous emblems.

The legendary snake-like creature with four legs has been regarded since the 1970s as a national totem—you’ll find it today in everything from book titles to news headlines to “Descendants of the Dragon,” a famous anthem written by Hou Dejian from Taiwan, which eulogizes Han people as the natural progeny of this powerfully fearsome beast. Prior to this, though, the dragon had been the exclusive symbolic preserve of China’s rulers. All of which means, if a dish is named after a dragon, it had better not be ordinary.

Zhongxiang lays claims to the origin of a dish whose most striking feature is what the locals call “eating meat without seeing it.” This Daoist-sounding axiom makes the recipe sound suitably mysterious, but the secret is actually very simple: To prepare, pork and fish need to be finely chopped and mixed together into a paste, then wrapped in an egg omelet. Thus, when it is served, you can only see the omelet, with the meaty goodness hidden inside.

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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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