From 1751 to 1784, Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) of the Qing Dynasty made six tours to southern China via the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Various descriptions of the emperor on these tours come to us from official historical records and unofficial histories: some say he ordered the building of dykes and dams that brought great benefit to future generations; some say he fell in love with the fine scenery of southern China, whilst others say he was debauched and extravagant.

During Qianlong's fifth southern trip in 1780, the governor of today's Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces arranged a welcome banquet for him. After the feast was served, Qianlong squinted and sneered, "The same old dishes! We are wasting our time and resources with the stuff. Where is the southern flavor?"

The governor knew the emperor wanted to be adventurous and sample something new, and immediately passed the message to the kitchen staff. A senior cook with an apparently well-thought-out plan said "just leave it to me." He chose a dozen ingredients from land and sea, all widely found in the water-rich south, including ham, sea cucumber, chicken breasts, fish, bamboo shoots, dried scallops and shrimp, and made them into a bowl of hotchpotch soup.

When it was brought onto the table and the emperor reached for it, everyone had his heart in the throat. They breathed a sigh of relief when Qianlong's face beamed with delight on the first sip. Exclaiming in wonder, the emperor ordered the cook to be called over, and asked for the dish's name. "It is yet to be named, my lord," the chef said. "Your Majesty is the most blessed person in the world, so I tried to put all the delicacies into one dish and bring about the best flavors of them. That's how I was inspired to create this course." The remarks apparently pleased the monarch, who laughed and said: "As it is made of an assortment of ingredients, let's call it quanjiafu (happy family gathering)." Since then this hotchpotch has spread far and wide in the nation, and is often prepared for family banquets as a token of family union.  

To prepare this dish, first fillet the sea cucumber and sleeve-fish and scald them. Shape the minced pork, starch and seasoning into meatballs and fry. Slice the fish skin and fish lips. Coat the shrimps in starch and fry. Scald the snow peas and shred the shallots and ginger.  

Heat the oil in a wok, stir-fry the shallots and ginger slices, then add the soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, sugar, sea cucumber, sleeve-fish, fish skin, fish lips, shrimp, meatballs, gravy and stew. After the soup boils, leave the pot to simmer for some time before turning up the heat again. Put in the snow peas, mushrooms and last of all the starch to thicken the soup. This dish is rich in color and strong in flavor and is recommended as a main course at a feast.