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History of Buddha Jumps over the Wall. Most Extravagant Soup from Fujian China 佛跳牆

Buddha Jumps over the Wall is a luxurious soup from Fujian province of China. (Image credit Wikipedia)

According to legend, Buddha Jumps over the Wall was created by a Qing dynasty scholar travelling in Fujian. The scholar carried his food in a wine jar and would heat it up over wood fire to eat. (Image credit Wikipedia)

One day, the scholar was just outside a monastery when he was heating up his jar of food.

The aroma from the scholar's soup drifted over the walls of the monastery while monks were meditating inside. The aroma was so alluring that one of the monks who couldn't resist the temptation, jumped over the wall to taste the soup. Hence the name, Buddha Jumps over the Wall. (Image credit Wikipedia)
This origin of the dish cannot be verified and this story is likely to be merely metaphorical, alluding that the dish is so delicious that even vegetarian monks will not be able to resist it.
Another legend attribute the dish to the wife of a minor Fujian official during the reign of Guangxu Emperor 光绪帝 (1875 to 1908). The official invited the Fujian governor (his boss) to his home for dinner. The official's wife prepared a special soup which greatly impressed the Fujian governor.

The governor ordered his own chef to learn the recipe and cook the dish. The chef prepared the dish, tweaking it slightly, using more exotic seafood and less meat. This exquisite dish became popular with the elite and poets even wrote about it.

Up to that time, the popular dish still had no name. In one poem, it was described that the dish smells so great, it would entice a monk to jump over the wall for it. Hence, people started calling it Buddha Jumps over the Wall.

Another possibility is the name 佛跳牆 came from one of various names coined for the dish such as 福寿全 (Full of Blessings & Longevity). 佛跳牆 and 福寿全 sound alike in Fuzhou language - eventually the name 佛跳牆 persisted to this day.

There are also other creation legends. Whatever it might be, the origins of Buddha Jumps over the Wall (like many dishes) remain in the realm of myths. Nevertheless, all the legends date its creation to the late Qing dynasty, so it is a relatively young dish of around 100 plus years old.

When the dish appeared in Korea in the 1980s, some Korean buddhists opposed it as the name "Buddha Jumps over the Wall" is considered insulting to Buddhism.

Buddha Jumps over the Wall is considered the king of Fujian or Min cuisine. The recipe of Buddha Jumps over the Wall like so many Chinese dishes is loaded with symbolism and meaning.

The soup dish is made with 18 ingredients alluding to the Eighteen Arhats 十八羅漢. Eight ingredients are used to make the rich soup and another 10 ingredients as the food. (Image credit Wikipedia)

The soup dish takes 3 days to prepare.

Day One, prepare the "white" soup 白汤 base. Ingredients:

Pork trotter
Pig skin
Pork (lean meat)
Pork loin rib
Chicken feet
Fried fish

These ingredients are slow boiled till they disintegrate and dissolve. The soup is stirred continuously to help break the ingredients down and also to prevent burning (total time required is around 10 hours).

The resulting soup with all the residual tissues is filtered through a cotton cloth sieve. This is the "white" soup.

Day Two

Shaoxing wine is added to the cloudy "white" soup 白汤 and flambéed. The result is "clear" soup 清汤.

The "clear" soup is allowed to chill and coagulate. The top greasy layer is skimmed off with a flat ladle.

The remaining liquid is "gold" soup 金汤. The gold soup has a collagen rich heavy body that feels slick gummy tacky on the lips. The soup's rich flavour is fine tuned with fish sauce umami and dark soy sauce.

This gold soup is the heart of the Buddha Jump over the Wall dish. This gold soup is the star and the other ingredients that follow are just the supporting cast (no matter how expensive they may be).

Day Three

Boil the 10 remaining (supporting cast) ingredients in the gold soup:

Sea cucumber
Fish maw
Pork tendon
Quill egg

All these ingredients are prepared and cooked separately. They are then put into a wine jar, arranged in layers. The gold soup then fills the jar with all these ingredients inside and everything is boiled again to balance and fuse the flavours.

Buddha Jumps over the Wall is still often served in traditional individual Chinese wine jars. (Image credit Wikipedia)

Over the years, there are many variations of Buddha Jumps over the Wall from region to region and from chef to chef. Commercial versions are often highly simplified.

Different ingredients came and went with the changing times. There were once shark fins, deer tendon, and even bear paws.

In 70s to 90s, Buddha Jumps over the Wall was a popular Chinese New Year reunion dinner dish. But in recent years, it has been increasingly displaced by steam boat (hot pot) and poon choi (pen cai).

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