What is in common between zucchini and Xanadu? Both start with a Z, even though the latter is written with an X. This is not Marco Polo’s fault; he had spelled it Ciandu anyway. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins of what used to be a summer capital of Kublai Khan, the first Yuan Emperor, are called Shangdu. Everybody knows that Marco Polo visited China at the end or 13th century and was warmly welcomed by the Chinese Emperor. Just as other things known to everybody, this is not exactly true.
The famous Venetian traveler did visit the Emperor’s summer capital, Xanadu, and was welcomed, but the Emperor Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, was Mongolian, rather than Chinese, and the country at that time was a part of a huge Mongolian Empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean the the Black Sea. Contrary to his bloodthirsty grandfather, Kublai Khan eschewed nomadic lifestyle, settled down and started building. As a Great Khagan of the Mongolian Empire, he had the finest architect of his times rebuild a small city called Kaiping (“open and flat”), made it his capital and named it Xanadu (“upper capital”). Here is Marco Polo’s description of it (from The Travels of Marco Polo, Book 1, Chapter 61):
And when you have ridden three days from the city last mentioned, between north-east and north, you come to a city called Chandu, which was built by the Khan now reigning. There is at this place a very fine marble palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.
Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks, which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion.
Moreover at a spot in the Park where there is a charming wood he has another Palace built of cane, of which I must give you a description. It is gilt all over, and most elaborately finished inside. It is stayed on gilt and lacquered columns, on each of which is a dragon all gilt, the tail of which is attached to the column whilst the head supports the architrave, and the claws likewise are stretched out right and left to support the architrave. The roof, like the rest, is formed of canes, covered with a varnish so strong and excellent that no amount of rain will rot them. These canes are a good 3 palms in girth, and from 10 to 15 paces in length. They are cut across at each knot, and then the pieces are split so as to form from each two hollow tiles, and with these the house is roofed; only every such tile of cane has to be nailed down to prevent the wind from lifting it. In short, the whole Palace is built of these canes, which I may mention serve also for a great variety of other useful purposes. The construction of the Palace is so devised that it can be taken down and put up again with great celerity; and it can all be taken to pieces and removed whithersoever the Emperor may command. When erected, it is braced against mishaps from the wind by more than 200 cords of silk.
The Khan abides at this Park of his, dwelling sometimes in the Marble Palace and sometimes in the Cane Palace for three months of the year, to wit, June, July and August; preferring this residence because it is by no means hot; in fact it is a very cool place. When the 28th day of [the Moon of] August arrives he takes his departure, and the Cane Palace is taken to pieces.
For strategic reasons Kublai Khan moved his throne to the former Chinese capital Zhōngdū (“middle capital”) and renamed it Khanbaliq or Daidu. Yet his heart belonged to his summer capital, Xanadu, which justly became a universal symbol of opulence. Unfortunately, after his death the Chinese Ming dynasty captured and sacked both capitals. Revenge against the Mongolian conquerors was viciously taken on their beloved summer capital; Xanadu was torched, its name reverted to Kaiping, and the place stayed abandoned for several hundred years. Daidu was later restored; it is now Beijing, the capital of People’s Republic of China. This is how Toghon Temur Khan, known as “the Sage Khan,” the great-grandson of Kublai Khan and the last of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, laments the loss of both capitals (from “Altan Tobchi,” The Golden Summary, 17th century Mongolian chronicle):
My Daidu, straight and wonderfully made of various jewels of different kinds
My Yellow Steppe of Xanadu, the summer residence of ancient Khans.
My cool and pleasant Kaiping Xanadu…
My eight-sided white stupa made of various precious objects.
My City of Daidu made of the nine jewels
Where I sat holding the reputation of the Great Nation…
My precious Daidu, from where I surveyed and observed
The Mongols of every place.
My city with no winter residence to spend the winter
My summer residence of Kaiping Xanadu
My pleasant Yellow Steppe…
I have lost it all – to China.
The Sage Khan, the reincarnation of all bodhisattvas,
By the destiny willed by Khan Tengri (King Heaven) has lost dear Daidu,
Lost the Golden Palace of the Wise Khan (Kublai), who is the reincarnation of all the gods,
Who is the golden seed of Genghis Khan the son of Khan Tengri (King Heaven).
The white stupa (Buddhist shrine) still stands in Beijing, but the Golden Palace of Kublai Khan is gone, together with his famous legendary summer capital. In 1614, the English clergyman Samuel Purchas published Purchas his Pilgrimes – or Relations of the world and the Religions observed in all ages and places discovered, from the Creation unto this Present. This book contained a brief description of Shangdu, based on the early description of Marco Polo:
In Xandu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing sixteen miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumpuous house of pleasure, which may be moved from place to place.
Almost two hundred years later, the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, founder of Romantic movement in literature, was reading about Shangdu (Xanadu) in Purchas his Pilgrimes, fell asleep, and had an opium-inspired dream. As Coleridge himself describes it, “all the images rose up before him as things with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved” (Coleridge, Christabel, Kubla Khan, and the Pains of Sleep, 1816). I am quite sure most of you, Beautiful People, would recognize these lines:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Based on the imagery in this famous poem, Xanadu became associated with unparalleled splendor and opulence, including not only architecture and décor, but also the Emperor’s table which always featured soups. It was Kublai Khan’s Court Chef Hunou who collected soup recipes in a book, placing special emphasis on creamy summer soups served at the summer capital.
The music I chose for this slide show is called Salute to a New Beginning, and with this delicately delicious zucchini soup, reminiscent of luxurious Xanadu, I wish all of you, Beautiful People, a splendid New Year, a healthy and safe New Beginning!
Meanwhile, you can enjoy one of many influences of Xanadu on pop culture, a famous eponymous musical starring Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton John:
- 1 medium size zucchini, chunked
- 1 medium size yellow zucchini (summer squash), chunked
- 1 leek, white part only, sliced
- 1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
- 1 can (14 oz) extra thick coconut cream
- 1 tablespoon (alternatively, 1 cube) of soup powder
- 1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Roughly chop ends of both zucchini
- Sauté in Instant Pot for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Alternatively, use frying pan misted with oil. Remove, put aside.
- Place chunks of zucchini and leek slices in Instant Pot, cover with water. Add the rest of ingredients, except basil. Cook on Manual setting, Medium strength for 20 minutes. Alternatively, use 4 quart soup pot. Remove, let cool slightly.
- Add basil, blend to creamy consistency (I use immersion blender), adding water gradually to 4 quarts.
- Return to Instant Pot, cook on Manual setting, Medium strength for 5 minutes.
- Served garnished with sautéed zucchini ends and basil leaves.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.