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A CHINESE STATE BANQUET.
pigeons' eggs, after which we had sharks' fins and sea-crabs. Then, in order as I write them, the following dishes were served : Steamed cakes, ham pie, vermicelli, stewed sharks' fins, baked white pigeons, stewed chicken, lotus seeds, pea-soup, ham in honey, radish-cakes, date-cakes, a sucking pig served whole, a fat duck, ham, perch, meat pies, confectionery, the bellies of fat fish, roast mutton, pears in honey, soles of pigeons' feet, wild ducks, thorn-apple jelly, egg-balls, steamed white rolls, lotus-seed soup, fruit with vegetables, roast chicken, Mongolian mushrooms, sliced flag bulbs, fried egg-plant, salted shrimps, orange tarts, crystal-cakes, prune juice, biche de mer, fresh ham with white sauce, fresh ham with red sauce, ham with squash, and almonds with bean curd. In all there were seventy courses.
The custom in China is not to give you a bill of fare, over which you can meditate, and out of which, if the dinner has any resources whatever, compose a minor dinner of your own. A servant comes to each table and lays down a slip of red teabox paper
inscribed with Chinese characters. This is the name of the dish. Each table was covered with dishes, which remained there during the dinner-dishes of everything except bread-sweetmeats and cakes predominating. The courses are brought in bowls and set down in the middle of the table. Your Chinese friend, whose politeness is unvarying, always helps you before he helps himself. He dives his two chopsticks into the smoking bowl and lugs out a savory morsel and drops it on your plate. Then he helps himself, frequently not troubling the plate, but eating directly from the bowl. If the dish is a dainty, sharks' fins or bird's-nest soup, all the Chinese go to work at the same bowl and with the same chopsticks, silver and ivory, which are not changed during the entire dinner, but do service for fish and fowl and sweetmeats. Between each course were cigars or pipes. The high Chinamen had pipe-bearers with them, and as each course was ended they would take a whiff. But the cigars came as a relief to the smoking members of the party, for they could sit and look on and enjoy the spectacle, and have the opera sensation of looking at something new and strange. The cigars, too, were an excuse for not eating, and at a Chinese dinner an excuse for not eating is welcome. There is no reason in the world why you should not eat a Chinese dinner, except that you are not accustomed to it. You come to the table with a depraved appetite. Corn bread and pigs' feet and corned beef have done their work upon you, and a good dinner most probably means a mound of beef overspread with potatoes. Of course such a training unfits you for the niceties, the delicate touches of a Chinese dinner. Then I am sure you do not like sweetmeats. That is a taste belonging to earlier and happier days—to the days of innocence and hope, before you ever heard of truffles and champagne. You would rather fight a duel than eat one of those heaps of candied preparations which our Chinese
friends gobble up like children. But there is where our Chinese friends, with their healthy child-bred tastes, have the advantage of us, and why it is that your incapacity to enjoy your dinner is the result of an appetite deadened by civilization.
But whatever the reason, the fact is that a cigar is a blessing, and enables you to turn your dinner into an entertainment, to look on and be yourself amused, just as an hour ago you
were amusing the crowd
The one thing which gave the dinner a touch of poetry was the bird's-nest soup.
The fact that the Chinese have found a soup in the nest of a bird is one of the achievements of their civilization. Take any school of half-grown children and ask them about the manners of the Chinese, and there is not an
A CHINESE MAIDEN.
BIRD'S-NEST SOUP AND SHARKS FINS.
answer that will not include bird's-nest soup. So when our Chinese general told us, as he read the cabalistic letters on red tea-chest paper, that the next dish was to be bird's-nest soup, we awakened to it as to the realization of a new mystery. One of the disadvantages of getting on in life is that you have fewer and fewer sensations, that you know everything, that there is no awful, joyous, rapturous mystery to be made known. Life becomes recollections, and things are not in themselves good, but only better or worse than the same things as you have seen them before. But bird's-nest soup was new-none of us had ever seen it—and to come to China without eating bird's-nest soup would be like going to Philadelphia without eating terrapin—a wanton perfidious trifling with the compensations of life. The birds' nests come from Java, Borneo, and Sumatra, and are rare and dear. My China friend told me that the dish before us would cost fifteen or twenty dollars, that the bird's nest prepared for soup was worth its weight in silver. I was glad to know this, because I had been under the impression that the Americans were the only people who turned silver into their food, and it was a consolation to know that the oldest civilization in the world is as extravagant as the youngest. The nests are the work of a species of swallow. When the bowl came on the table it was as thick as a ragout, and our Chinese friends lugged out a mess of stringy, fibrous food, about the color and consistency of good old-fashioned vermicelli. The soup certainly does not justify its fame. There was nothing disagreeable about it; it was simply tasteless. I could not detect a flavor or the suspicion of a flavor; it was only a mess of not unpleasant glutinous food that needed seasoning. I can imagine how a French cook could take a bird's-nest soup and so arrange it that an epicure would relish it. But he might do the same with turnips or asparagus without paying their weight in silver.
After we had learned the bird's-nest soup, and had, alas ! one mystery less to know in this developing world, we were attracted by sharks' fins. The fins of the shark are much prized in China. We only skirmished around this dish in a coy, inquiring manner, really not caring to go into it, but feeling that it would be an impropriety to come to a Chinese dinner and not taste sharks' fins. What would folks at home say about us? In this spirit-a spirit of duty, of doing something that had to be done, that was among other reasons why we were ten thousand miles from home on our way around the worldwe went through our Chinese dinner. The dishes that we knew were so disguised that even when they made themselves known they were beyond recognition. The dishes we did not know we experimented upon.
We discovered that the bird's-nest soup was insipid ; that sharks' fins were oily and
rancid ; that fish brain was too rich; that the preparations of whale sinews and bamboo and fish maw, mushrooms, and a whole family of the fungus species were repelling ; that the chipping of the ham and duck and pigeon into a kind of hash took away all the qualities that inspire respect for them at home, and that the fatal omission was bread. “ If you go to a Chinese dinner,” said a friend on shipboard, “be sure and take a loaf of bread in your pocket." I thought of this injunction as I was preparing to dine with the Viceroy, but had not the courage to go into a Chinese palace, like Benjamin Franklin, with a loaf of bread under my arm. If we had been dining we should have missed the bread ; but none of us went through
RETURNING FROM THE VICEROY'S.
the dinner, except the Doctor, perhaps, who viewed the entertainment from a professional point of view and went through it in a spirit of discovery. When the feast was about two-thirds over, the Viceroy, seeing that General Grant and Mr. Borie had gone beyond the possibility of dinner, proposed a walk in the garden. The remainder of the party waited until the dinner was over, It was a long and weary repast, once that the novelty passed away.
It was about half-past ten when we returned to the audience room and took leave of our hosts. The Viceroy said he would come down to the “ Ashuelot” and see the General off. But the General said he was to sail at an early hour, and so said that he would prefer not putting his Excellency to so great a trouble. Then the Viceroy said it was a custom in China to send some memento of friendship to friends; that he was sorry he could not, without violation of Chinese etiquette, entertain Mrs. Grant, and he would like to send her a specimen of Cantonese work which might serve to remind her of Canton when she came to her own home beyond the seas. The Viceroy also spoke of the pleasure and honor he had felt in receiving General Grant, and said that his welcome in Canton would be repeated throughout China. In taking leave the Viceroy asked the General to be kind to his people in the United States; “ for you have,” he said, “a hundred thousand Cantonese among you, and they are good people.” Then we entered our chairs, and amid the firing of guns, music, the cries of attendants and the waving of lanterns, we returned. The journey home through the night was weird and strange. The party was preceded by torch-bearers, and every chair carried lanterns. At regular points on the route were attendants holding torches and lanterns. The streets swung with lanterns, and the effect, the light, the narrow streets, the variety of decoration, the blended and varying colors, the doors massed with people, the dense and silent throng through which we passed, their yellow features made somber by the night-everything was new and strange and grotesque ; and when we crossed the river and came under the green trees and saw our boat in the