Sanbei Chicken (literally, three-cup chicken) is a centuries-old dish of Fujian and Jiangxi Provinces. As the name indicates, the dish is not cooked with water or soup but three cups of seasonings: a cup of sweetened rice wine, a cup of oil and a cup of soy sauce.
There is a well-known tale about the origin of this dish. Wen Tianxiang, a national hero, was captured and jailed at the end of the Southern Song Dynasty. At first people thought he had been executed, and a 70-year-old lady carried a chicken and a pot of wine to Wen’s jail to offer sacrifice to the departed. To her surprise, Wen was still alive, and she began to regret not having brought cooked chicken for him. The jailer on duty at the time had a soft spot for Wen and helped the old lady to cook the chicken above a slow fire with three cups of wine. The dish was Wen’s last meal before his execution. So it was that from that day of December 9th onward in the Chinese lunar calendar, the jailer cooked the same dish every year to commemorate the hero’s death. As the story spread throughout Jiangxi and Fujian, the three cups of wine were replaced by a cup of rice wine, a cup of soy sauce and a cup of sesame oil.