Littell's Living Age/Volume 144/Issue 1865/A Chinese Banquet

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Littell's Living Age by Jules Verne
Volume 144, Issue 1865 : A Chinese Banquet

As a substitute for table-napkins, every one was supplied with a considerable number of squares of paper figured over in various devices. The chairs arranged round the table were made with marble backs, not so luxurious, perhaps, but more suitable to the climate than the padded lounges in general use elsewhere. Nothing could be more perfect, or served in better style, than the entire banquet. The bignon of the district, as if aware that he was catering for connoisseurs, seemed to have been anxious to surpass himself in the preparation of the many dishes that crowded the menu. For the first course were handed sugared cakes, caviare, fried grasshoppers, dried fruits, and Ning-Po oysters. Then followed successively, at short intervals, ducks’, pigeons’, and peewits’ eggs poached, swallows’ nests with mashed eggs, fricassees of ginseng, stewed sturgeons’ gills, whales’ sinews with sweet sauce, fresh-water tadpoles, fried crabs’ spawn, sparrows’ gizzards, sheep’s eyes stuffed with garlic, radishes in milk flavored with apricot-kernels, matelotes of holithurias, bamboo sprouts in syrup, and sweet salads. The last course consisted of pineapples from Singapore, earth-nuts, salted almonds, savory mangoes, the white, fleshy fruits of the long-yen, the pulpy fruits of the lit-chee, chestnuts, and preserved oranges from Canton. After the dessert rice was served, which the guests raised to their mouths with little chop-sticks according to the custom of their country. Three hours were spent over the banquet. When it was ended, and at the time when, according to European usage, salvers of rose-water are frequently handed round, the waiting-maids brought napkins steeped in warm water, which all the company rubbed over their faces apparently with great satisfaction. The next stage of the entertainment was an hour’s lounge, to be occupied in listening to music. A group of players and singers entered, all pretty young girls, neatly and modestly attired. Their performance, however, could scarcely have been more inharmonious; it was hardly better than a series of yells, howls, and screeches, without rhythm and without time. The instruments were a worthy accompaniment to the chorus: wretched violins, of which the strings kept entangling the bows; harsh guitars covered with snake-skins; shrill clarionets, and harmoniums all out of tune, like diminutive portable pianos. The girls had been conducted into the room by a man who acted as leader of the Charivari. Having handed a programme to the host, and received in return a permission to perform what he chose, he made his orchestra strike up, "The Bouquet of Ten Flowers," a piece at that time enjoying a vast popularity in the fashionable world. This was followed by other pieces of similar character, and at the close of the performances the troop, already handsomely paid, were enthusiastically applauded, and allowed to depart and gain fresh laurels from other audiences. After the concert was over the party rose from their seats, and having interchanged a few ceremonious sentences, passed to another table. Here were laid six covered cups, each embossed with a portrait of Bôdhid-harama, the celebrated Buddhist monk, standing on his legendary wheel. The cups were already full of boiling water, and each member of the party was provided with a pinch of tea, which he put into the cup, without sugar, and at once drank off the infusion. And what tea it was! Europeans would have exclaimed in wonder at its flavor, but these connoisseurs sipped it slowly, with the air of men who duly appreciated its quality. They were all men of the upper class, handsomely attired in hunchaols, a kind of thin shirt, macooals, or short tunics, and haols, long coats buttoned at the side. On their feet were yellow slippers, and openwork socks, met by silk breeches that were fastened round the waist by tasselled scarves; on their chests they wore a kind of stomacher, elaborately embroidered in silk. Elegant fans dangled from their girdles.