Li Family: Culinary Heritage

Beijing's Exclusive Restaurant Preserves the Secrets of China’s Imperial Cuisine

The sumptuous dishes and austere traditional interiors of the Li Family Restaurant in Beijing are captured by photographer Eric Gregory Powell. Famed for serving the most orthodox Imperial Palace cuisine found anywhere in China, the feted institution has a clientele ranging from heads of state and ambassadors to celebrities like Bill Gates, Mick Jagger, the Clintons and action star Jackie Chan. Located in a modest house on a narrow alley minutes away from China's political heartland in the Zhongnanhai area of Beijing's Xicheng district, the restaurant requires a minimum of four days notice for bookings due to the length of time many of its specialties take to prepare. The Li family preserved Qing dynasty recipes dating back hundreds of years from the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, after Li Shanlin, grandson of Empress Dowager Cixi’s personal cook, memorized 300 of them before they were destroyed by the Red Guards. The recipes stayed secret until 1984, when Shanlin’s daughter Li Li won the China-wide National Banquet Competition and the family opened a one-table restaurant in their home. The cooking so inspired Pujie, younger brother of the last emperor, Puyi, that he penned a poem in calligraphy that now hangs on the wall: “Your food transports me back to the Imperial Palace.” Even with outposts now in Shanghai, Tianjin and Tokyo, the recipes for house rarities like steamed snow frog oil served in a thimbleful of egg custard remain tightly guarded by the clan. “Our chefs are told nothing about the complicated balancing of ingredients or sauces,” says Li Aiyin, who runs the Beijing eatery.
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Conversations (2)

  • ralfjritter
    Does this mean this is authentic Manchu food as opposed to Han cuisine?
    • Posted By ralfjritter
    • June 15, 2012 at 3:32PM
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  • MatterOfDress
    Far more luxurious than the fare at the takeout spot around the way.
    • Posted By MatterOfDress
    • May 09, 2012 at 12:50AM
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