French president kicks off visit

By Sun Shangwu/Ye Jun/ (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-26 06:30

Chirac dines on La Cuisine Chinoise, savours favourite dishes of emperors

When the leader of a gourmet nation visits a country whose cuisine is a global favourite, it is no surprise that fine dining is on the menu.

Last night, French President Jacques Chirac showed off his chopsticks skills when he tucked into the capital's signature dish Peking roast duck, washed down by a French burgundy.

The French leader also savoured wan dou huang (sweet pea pudding) and yun dou juan (mashed kidney bean rolls) both traditional Beijing snacks which Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors loved.

The dining venue was Tiandi (Heaven and Earth) restaurant, which is popular among diplomats for its authentic cooking style.

Red sandalwood furniture, classical Chinese paintings and imperial-style lamps add traditional flavour.

The view from Chirac's dinner table was fit for a king. The second-floor balcony overlooks Huang Shi Cheng to the north, where Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasty emperors stored their royal archives. Opposite the street of Nanchizi, where Tiandi is located, is Tai Miao, the Royal Ancestral Temple.

Four Chinese chefs worked together to present six cold dishes, a soup, six hot dishes, three desserts and a fruit platter, representing cuisines from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Jiangsu.

"We designed the dishes to be tempting in terms of colour, fragrance, taste and shape; and wanted the president to try some original and traditional Chinese foods," revealed Yu Li, executive chef.

Yu, who has travelled to France, said: "the French like multiple tastes. They appreciate tasty and, sometimes, rich foods."

Among the dishes served yesterday were Peking roast duck, quick-fried king prawn, hot and sour squid's roe soup with coriander and seasonal stir-fried hairy crab roe with French toast.

Unlike many other foreigners visiting China, who prefer their dishes served on separate plates, the French used the one plate for a dish, eating just like Chinese do.

Before the president dined at 7:50 pm, he joined his fellow countrymen and women at the Peninsula Hotel for a reception. More than 30 chefs worked for 72 hours to prepare 12,000 appetizers for the 1,500 guests.

Guests paid 1,500 yuan (US$187.5) for the privilege and all hotel staff were sent to the in-house Learning and Development Centre for a refresher course for the night.

It is the fourth time Chirac has stayed at The Peninsula Beijing, the five-star hotel also favoured by former US President George Bush, father of the current American leader.

The hotel's presidential suite which has a private elevator was opened in 2004 and ranked among world's best by Architectural Digest magazine. President Chirac was the first guest after it opened.