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Ancient Chinese food
  • Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC and is considered the founder of Taoism, said, 'Governing a great nation is much like cooking a small fish'. What he meant was, in order to govern successfully, one required just the right adjustments and seasonings. This metaphorical allusion to food illustrates quite clearly how important getting the right combination has always been in Chinese cuisine.
  • Foods of Ancient China
    Agriculture has played an important role in China's history. The political, economical, social and ideological developments in China revolve around and are influenced by agricultural practices in the ancient period, subsequently, agricultural produce became the staple of the ancient Chinese.

    Rice
    Archaeological findings indicate that rice was the first grain cultivated in China, at least 3000 to 4000 years ago. The earliest records of rice plantings in China (and the world), seeds of long-grained, non-glutinous rice were discovered from the Neolithic ruins at Hemudu in Yuyao, Zhejiang Province in the 1970s. Hence, the traditional Chinese culture is also referred to as the 'rice culture'. Inscriptions on the bronze vessels used as rice containers during the western Zhou Dynasty (1100 BC To 771 BC) show that rice had become extremely important during that time. With the growing developments in agriculture, rice cultivation started affecting Chinese economy positively, and it started gaining a revered position in the form of daily diet, sacrifice to gods, brewing it into wine and preparing different rice dishes that went on to become traditional dishes at Chinese festivities. Poor people could not afford meat and fruits. It was only during occasions that they managed to have meat on their rice.

    Tea
    Tea is said to be growing in China from as early as 3000 BC, or even before. People in China had started brewing tea since such an early period, that it is referred to as it traditional beverage.

    Wheat
    Wheat was not a native grain of China. It was around 1500 BC, during the Shang Dynasty, that people in China first ate wheat. It was brought from West Asia. Wheat was boiled like millet to make the cream of wheat.

    Fruits
    Orange, lemon, peach and apricot were available in abundance and hence find mention in ancient Chinese food history. Anise and ginger are also native to China.

    Meat
    People in China first started eating domesticated chicken around 5500 BC, which originally came from Thailand. Between 4000 and 3000 BC, pork made way as a delicacy. Sheep and cattle, came from West Asia during 4000 BC. Since meat was expensive, it could not be afforded by the poor. Buddhists did not eat meat. Hence, as a source of protein, people started using tofu and bean-curd around 1000 AD in the reign of the Sung Dynasty.

    Millet Wine and Noodles
    These two food products became popular during the Han Dynasty. Millet wine gained popularity over tea during this time. Around 100 AD, people began to make long noodles out of wheat and rice.

    Porridge
    As recorded by Marco Polo, in his writings, people in China started eating porridge made out of boiled millet in milk during the time of Kublai Khan, around 1200 AD.