Unveiling a Masterpiece

The unwrapping of each layer is part of an elaborate culinary ceremony.

**1. **The dark shell of mud enclosing beggar's chicken doesn't shatter; it's so thick that the first blow of the mallet, wielded by the guest of honor, makes only a small hole in the crust.

**2. **The waiter finishes the job, covering the shell with a large napkin, then whacking away until it crumbles into dusty chunks.

**3. **Next, he removes the napkin and peels back a layer of sandpaper (used at the Man Wah as further insulation) to expose fine leaves of juice-soaked newsprint.

**4. **Beneath the newspaper, a layer of lotus leaves is revealed, cloaking the chicken and lending the dish an earthy aroma, redolent of tea.

**5. **The debris of mud and paper is taken away, leaving a handsome dome, wrapped in the veined lotus leaves.

**6. **With fork and spoon, the waiter expertly winds back the leaves, releasing a spice-scented steam from the moist, succulent chicken.

**7. **In the final step before presentation of the dish, all the cartilage and bones are removed, leaving only a rich mixture of chicken and its vegetable stuffing.

**8. **The finished dish, worthy of the time and trouble it took to produce, may now be enjoyed with nothing more than a pair of chopsticks.