The Feast originated during the Qing Dynasty. At that time, there was a lot of societal tension between the Manchu and Han. For his 66th birthday, the Kangxi Emperor decided to hold a grand banquet and invited Manchu and Han officials to dine together, in hopes of creating peace between the two ethnic groups. The full details of the Feast were first recorded during the Qianlong era.
The Feast had over 300 dishes, featuring both Manchu and Han dishes. Typically the Manchu dishes were sampled before the Han dishes. Among the dishes were four sets of “Eight Delicacies” from the mountain, sea, sky and forest. The ingredients used included monkey brain, shark fin, bear’s claw and camel’s hump.
There is a specified procedure for the Feast. When the guests arrive, they would first wash their hands and face. They are served with a cup of tea and appetizers, and are free to mingle. Once the tables are set, the guests take their seats and the Feast officially begins. They would eat the fruits first, followed by four cold dishes with wine, and then four hot plates. They will drink three rounds of wine before a main course is brought out. After the main course, the guests take a break to wash their face while the tables are cleared for the next round of food. There are several more rounds of food. Rice and porridge is served in the final round to bring the Feast to an end. The guests are offered toothpicks and water to wash their faces before leaving the banquet.
The Feast was served over six meals, spanning three days. It was separated into the inner-palace and outer-palace banquets. The inner-palace banquet was reserved for only the Emperor, imperial family and top officials. Other officials attended the outer-palace banquet. All attendees had to wear full court dress and entered the dining room by order of their rank.
Nowadays, it is rare to have an authentic Manchu Han Imperial Feast since many dishes used meat from endangered species. Moreover, the recipes and cooking methods are no longer known. A typical replication of the Feast today consists of 108 dishes.