On the table, beggar's chicken 叫化鸡 or 乞丐鸡 looks like any herbal chicken, which it basically is.
According to Chinese folk lore, during the Qing Dynasty 清朝, a starving beggar stole a chicken from a farm. To hide his loot, the beggar dug a hole and buried the chicken deep in mud.
After nightfall, under the cover of darkness, the beggar dug up the mud caked chicken, tossed it onto a pile of burning twigs and branches, and fell asleep.
When he woke up, the beggar retrieved the mud encased chicken from the smothering heap. The hungry beggar broke open the clay pod and a puff of freshly baked chicken aroma escaped into the air.
Fate has it that the Emperor was passing by and caught a whiff of the alluring aroma. The King sat down to eat with the beggar and he liked the chicken so much that he added it to the Palace menu.
Hence, the accidental chef's recipe is preserved for posterity. Now, anyone can have
Now, the legend of the beggar and the King is re-enacted at Ban Heong Seng restaurant in Johor Bahru everyday. Customers happily help dig up the beggar's chicken from the bed of red hot charcoal.
Ban Heong Seng is the only place I know of that offers this unique dish not far from where we live. We are fortunate that it is in JB, so near to Singapore (10 minutes drive from JB CIQ) :-D The only other beggar's chicken place I know and had visited is in Ijok, and that is far away, north of Kuala Lumpur (in Kuala Selangor).
Ban Heong Seng's owner Mr Tan who has been making "beggar food" for 25 years, explained that each beggar chicken takes about 8 hours to bake in the charcoal bed, hence the need to call ahead to book (tel: 016-757-1887 or 07-237-5194).
The bags behind are charcoal. The charcoal bed is kept perpetually at a constant temperature range, so it takes expertise and lots of tender loving care to keep the fires burning, churning out those beggar's chicken.
Here comes our beggar's food :-D
A sight that makes every guest at Ban Heong Seng salivate.
Breaking the clay pod in the Emperor's presence, the way it was done since Qing Dynasty days. The sentimental fool in me still feels that this is a privilege. How long more will the coals burn? I hope a long, long time more.
I love to see how Mr Tan expertly pulls away that wax paper, leaving the chicken, it's natural juices and pool of sauce on the plate. It's like a little table trick to get the party going ;-D
The plump chicken was so tender that I am sure we can pull it apart with two fingers if it was not piping hot. Inside the chicken, there was a whole bunch of herbs like dang gui 当归, wolf berries 枸杞, red dates 紅棗 etc. The familial aroma of traditional Chinese herbs filled the air.
Though I am no big fan of herbal chicken, most people I know liked this succulent bird.
Personally, I prefer the duck 叫化鸭 than the chicken. Whereas the chicken's natural flavours got drown in the herbs, the duck's own more assertive flavours were not so easily overwhelmed. I also like duck meat's soft fibrous texture. Ban Heong Seng also cooked the duck with a sloshing amount of savoury sweet sauce.
I like the pork knuckle version 補佛手 better than the chicken too.
Plenty of bouncy gummy skin, jello fat and meat baked till the fibres barely hold together. The porcine flavours and natural taste of skin and fat kept the herbal flavours in balance.
"Oyster Rice" 枕头饭 which is glutinous rice with pork, mushroom, dried shrimps, dried oysters, cashew etc wrapped in lotus leaf and baked beggar style. Slightly nutty and firm, especially if you expect glutinous rice to be sticky and soft.
Ban Heong Seng has several interesting side dishes to go with the beggar's fare.
Ban Heong Seng's signature "Country Fish" 家乡鱼.
Quite interesting, the flesh is extracted, mixed with seasoning and made into a paste. It is stuffed back into the fish with the skin like a sleeve. The boneless "fish" is then deep fried, cut into fish cake style slices and served.
Tastes and feels like regular fish cake but a bit on the dry and salty side. Nice novelty which in JB, you can only get in Ban Heong Seng.
"Winter Melon Soup" 冬瓜汤 is a melon with it's core and seeds scooped out and filled with herbs, white fungus, red dates, goji berries etc. The melon is cooked by steaming, resulting in a naturally sweet soup with subtle herbal taste. The sweet pulp is soft and infused with herbal flavours.
->> Kudos to Mr Tan and family for keeping this centuries old tradition alive. They deserve our support. Enjoy delicious food and keep traditions burning bright. Why not have a
Ban Heong Seng operates from an old single storey bungalow. There are only 5 tables maximum. There are limited parking lots inside the compound and more along the narrow street outside.
Restaurant name: Ban Heong Seng 万香城 (call 016-757-1887 or 07-237-5194 to book 1 day in advance as the dishes need to be prepared hours ahead of serving)
Address: 34-B, Jalan Skudai, Batu 3¼, off Jalan Tahar, Johor Bahru
GPS: 1.483683,103.721548 / 1°29'01.3"N 103°43'17.6"E
Hours: Call 016-757-1887 or 07-237-5194 to pre-arrange lunch or dinner
Date visited: 9 Mar 2012, 21 May 2014
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