Wu Yong celebrated his 63rd birthday earlier this week. It took him all of sixty-three years to work out that his mother is thirty five years older than him. A few weeks ago during a Saturday lunch with his mother, their conversation somehow included the topic about great soups they have enjoyed. When asked by Wu Yong’s wife, his mother said she had never tried the soup named Buddha Jumps Over The Wall. “Neither did your Pa,” Wu Yong’s mother said to him. His Mrs later said privately to him that they should arrange to enjoy the dish together with his mother soon. Encouraged by her thoughtfulness, Wu Yong proceeded to enquire about the dish for his birthday party. He wanted it to be a special occasion this year as time waits for no one; his mother is 98 (or 99 in lunar years), with a century beckoning and the promise of a letter from the Queen. Apparently, legend has it that a Tang Dynasty scholar was cooking a pot of soup one day and the fragrance was so intoxicating to a meditating monk on the other side of the wall that it disrupted his focus on his breathing. Instead, he was taking deep breaths, enjoying the sweetness of the air that was beginning to give him hunger pangs. That he jumped over the wall to find out what the temptation was showed that he was eager to succumb to it. When Daniel Wong of Empress Restaurant quoted the cost of the dish for a table of twelve, he half-expected Wu Yong to recoil in horror at the price. But Wu Yong, who is a little hard of hearing sometimes, misheard and believed the price was quite reasonable. He left Daniel agape with incredulity when he said, “Yes, we will have it! Even the Buddha would jump over the wall to have it, why not me?” The Empress’ seduction had again triumphed over the ill-disciplined Wu Yong who has yet to understand that his brother-in-law’s favourite saying “A fool and his money are easily parted” was actually meant for him. But, Wu Yong just like the monk, had already succumbed to the temptation. He wanted the soup, and was adamant the price would be no barrier for his mother to enjoy something even a Buddha would fall for.
A friend of Wu Yong’s who had the privilege to enjoy such a dish some forty years ago said, “Ah, it is overrated and overpriced, no big deal. I was not even full from it.” Wu Yong was tempted to tell her that if she wanted to be full, just eat plain rice. Instead, all he said was, “It’s a delicacy fit for an emperor, not a staple food!”
Verdict: Wu Yong had three bowls of Buddha Jumps Over The Wall! It was so good he did not have words to describe the ecstasy he felt. It was an explosion of sorts. That sensation lasted right throughout the three-hour meal. “And when we bade farewell, I was almost drunk not from the five bottles of fine red wine we drank but from the pleasures of the sensational soup,” Wu Yong said. No wonder Buddha jumped over the wall.
So, what is this dish that could tempt a Buddha? Here is the recipe, from the taste Wu Yong described to me.
Soup ingredients A:
- Black chicken
- Chicken feet
- Pig’s stomach
- Pork tendons
- Pork bones
Soup ingredients B:
- Jinhua ham
- 24 large dried scallops
- bamboo shoots
- Shitake mushrooms
- Dried Fish maw (soaked in water)
- 12 whole Dried Abalone (soaked in water)
- Dried Sea cucumbers (soaked in water)
- Sharks fin – ethically sourced (soaked in water)
- 24 Quail eggs
- Shaoxing rice wine (added last – could smell the fragrance)
- Soy sauce
- Rock sugar
Wu Yong smacked his lips after slowly relishing his third bowl of soup. He was the last one at the table to finish his final portion. “That’s it, folks! I can happily call it a night now!” he announced with gleeful satisfaction. A guest, Mr L, took him seriously and excused himself from the table. He went over to the restaurant manager, Dan, on the pretext to ask for another bottle of wine but deviously, he ordered his favourite dish, the devilishly delicious Cantonese roast duck – “the best ducks are right here” Mr L proclaimed. The Empress is famed also for their tea-smoked duck. Little did Mr L know that a world of flavours was about to descend on their table! The next dish to arrive was a deep-fried Australian rock lobster with yee-mein in Cantonese style. The lobster 龙 Lóng dragon, meaning the Emperor and long unbroken noodles are a symbol for royalty and longevity in Chinese culture.
The Cantonese roast duck was presented next – it was so succulent and enticing that Mr L could not wait for photos to be taken of it first. The meaty duck came along with the other dishes specially planned by Daniel Wong for this occasion. The Seafood birdsnest was another superb dish. Despite the name, there is no bird or fowl in it. The nest was simply delicious, made from deep-fried taro and filled with an assortment of fresh seafood. Importantly for Wu Yong, it included his favourites, Gulf Spencer King Prawns and seared deep sea scallops. The braised pork hock was melt-in-the-mouth super tender. The feast was finely balanced with a couple of vegetarian dishes – mixed mushrooms with broccolini, and snow peas with fresh lotus roots. Daniel knew the grilled wild-caught snapper with chilli sauce was never going to be rejected by Wu Yong, who made known long ago to The Empress staff that he was a seafood fanatic. Daniel was up early to secure the fish from the markets that morning. The fresh snapper, although deep-fried, was moist yet firm; its sweet juicy flesh crowned by crispy skin readily tore off the bone in big chunks.
For dessert, The Empress’ young chef, Xiao Bai, surprised the party with a refreshing serve of tropical fruits. For the record, there was no complaint about the presence of the ‘King of Fruits’ – some may regard the durian as the smelliest fruit in the world, but the part-goers could not get enough of this most revered fruit. It certainly was a treasure to enjoy.
It may have been Wu Yong’s birthday but it was not lost on him that it was also his mother’s ‘Labour Day’ 63 years ago. So, it was quite appropriate that he handed her a dozen red roses freshly cut from the garden. The wine flowed freely throughout the night and the laughter was only interrupted by the “Wow’s and Oooh’s” and spontaneous claps as each dish was introduced by Dan. But, like all good things in life, the happy gathering of friends and family had to come to an end when Wu Yong realised they were the last ones left in the restaurant. The diners asked for Xiao Bai to come out from his kitchen and heartily applauded him for a wonderful achievement. Wu Yong poured him a glass of red wine and thanked him profusely for a fantastic meal. It must be mentioned also that Dan looked after the party-goers like they were his best friends. He is a great asset to the restaurant, settling well in his role as the restaurant manager. It is no easy feat to fill Michelle Wong’s very big shoes. Congratulations to the Wong family. To Michelle, Daniel, Eric and Ronald, Wu Yong toasted a heartfelt thankyou for the wonderful feasts that the Wong family consistently produces from their restaurant. Indeed, The Empress will continue to impress, hopefully for many more years to come!