Preservation and Development of Dietary Culture in China.
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Works on Dietary culture were included in various historical documents, with monographs on diet appearing very early. The Chronicles q the Han Dynasty recorded pre-Qin cuisine. Scores of works on diet and cuisine were produced in the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties periods and before. One of these is the voluminous Food Book of prince Huainan involving 130 essays. The experiences collected in these works now can be found in many other books, though most originals were missing.
Apart from the above works, many articles and essays on diet can be obtained from the works of various schools of thought in the period from the Qin to the Han Dynasty and other works which need to be further screened and edited. Of these, the Monthly Ordinances for the four Classes of People and Important Arts for People’s Welfare devote most space to the cuisine of north China.
Important Arts for People’s Welfare is an encyclopedia on the whole process of food production, cooking and preservation, involving the growing of grain crops, fruits and melons and vegetables, and the raising of poultry animal husbandry, and fishery. It includes the cooking skills of minority ethnic groups in the north. It collects many works on diet that had been missing. The collection introduces materials from various schools of thought and about 140 ancient classics and documents as well as 30 or more ballads and folk songs. Many scattered or missing works were thus discovered and passed down to posterity.
Before the book's publication, many of the works on diet had been produced only with the nobility in mind. Important Arts takes note of the daily needs of ordinary people, containing average and lower-quality food as well as delicacies such as barbecued suckling pig. The book also provides many methods of preserving food such as underground storage, sealing, drying and the use of salt.
After the Tang and Song dynasties, the south became developed and agricultural exchange between north and south increased. Traditional Northern cooking techniques were transferred to the south, but adapted to local conditions, creating various new styles. As a result, more and more works on Southern styles of food appeared. A Collection of Southern Styles written by Liu Xun of the Tang Dynasty recorded the products, dietary customs and lifestyles in the south. The book followed the example of Important Arts for People's Welfare, covering various aspects of food materials, the making of special food, tableware, dietary customs, as well as food processing, cooking skills, and how to eat the food in the south.
Fresh Food of Mountain Dwellers has written by Lin Hong of the Southern Song Dynasty records food materials and processing methods prevailing in mountain areas. It particularly discusses vegetables and cooking methods, introducing more than 40 ways of cooking in addition to the cooking ways for other eatables and wild herbs and animals found in the mountains. Instant boiled-rabbit meat, a course of food, was first introduced in the book. Later, instant-boiled mutton was also introduced.
A Book of Bamboo Shoots by Zan Ning, an eminent monk of the Northern Song Dynasty, is a monograph on the gathering and ways of cooking Bamboo shoots. It first gives an introduction to the use of Bamboo for medicinal purposes, and then the cooking method, stressing the necessity of boiling Bamboo shoot without taking off its shells so as to have its "original flavor." He also in troduces how to preserve Bamboo shoots.
The Dietary System of the Hall of Yun lan by Ni Zan, a rich recluse of the late Yuan and early Ming period, introduces the Dietary customs and ways of Wuxi, his hometown and the birthplace of Jiangsu-style cooking. These works of mountain dwellers and recluses provide many valuable materials and documents on vegetarian diet and diet therapy.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, land annexation became a serious problem. Natural disasters occurred frequently, causing famine and homelessness. In order to solve the problem of starvation, a number of intellectuals produced works on disaster relief, discussing a number of ways of gathering and cooking edible wild herbs and materials. The most famous of these is Herbs for Famine Relief by Zhu Su, a member of the Ming ruling house. To help people in their selection of wild herbs to avoid being poisoned, Zhu collects in his book several hundred herbs and plants with illustrations. He even showed the edible parts of the plants and how to use them. Li Shizhen in his Compendium of Materia Medica also gives explanations of how to distinguish many harmful herbs from safe ones. All these works are valuable references for us to develop wild plant resources.
The dishes described in The Book of Songs, the earliest collection of poetry in China, and the Elegies of Chu, are worthy of a grand feast. Many folk songs and ballads in The Book of Songs directly reflect the sources of food and the Dietary customs of ordinary people at the time, while the Elegies of Chu reflects the Dietary customs of the people in the State of Chu. Flowers were first introduced as food in ancient times, as reflected in some lines in/a" Sao (The Lament), a long poem of patriotism by the great poet Qu Yuan of the Warring States Period.
Many men of letters in the Han Dynasty showed an interest in food and drink in their poems and essays. In his Ode to the Capital of Shu, Yang Xiong lists various varieties of food and cooking ways common in the Sichuan Basin. Mei Cheng in his writings also recorded the quantity of food being supplied to the imperial court of the Han Dynasty. One of the three menus handed down from the Han period can be Seen in Mei's Qi Fa (Seven Matters of Universal Concern).
From the Tang Dynasty down to the Qing, many men of letters were versed in the art of cooking. They were not only gourmets, but also produced delicacies themselves, leaving many menus and cookbooks.
The Song Dynasty writer Su Dongpo happily admitted that he was a gourmand, referring to himself as an "old glutton" who hoped to eat delicacies prepared by the most famous cooks. He had risen and fallen in officialdom and suffered much frustration. Fie traveled to almost every corner of the country, enjoying the different flavors of each. Wherever he went, he paid close attention to the cooking methods of the local famous cooks. This formed the basis of his culinary books such as Classic of Wine, Cold Dishes of Huangzhou, and Prose Poems of the Old Glutton. He became a skillful cook himself and created many delicious dishes, the most famous being stewed pork. It was usual in the Song Dynasty to undercook pork, but Su found that overcooked pork not only tasted good but also was easy to digest. He advised that "simmering the meat with less water would make it taste good so long as it is done to a turn." He often entertained his guests and friends with this course, hence the name of "Dongpo Pork." The dish is still famous in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces today.
Lu You, a Song Dynasty poet, was the opposite of Su, being a great lover of vegetarian food. He hardly had meat during his last years and scores of his poems praised vegetarian food. His staple materials were grains of various kinds and he was particularly fond of porridge. In ancient times, there were various kinds of highly nutritious and flavorsome porridge.
Li Yu, a playwright of the late Ming and early Qing period, made a theoretical study of food in general. He emphasized "freshness" so as not to lose any of the flavor of the food. According to him, the most delicious food should be cooked without adding any other materials. Bamboo shoots, for example, when cooked with other ingredients and spices, might taste good, but their original natural flavor would be lost. This he considered to be a great mistake. Fish should be cooked while still fresh and boiled simply in pure water or used to make soup. Grass carp, however, could be cooked with other ingredients. Li had a deep abhorrence of eating rare and treasured birds and animals.
Yuan Mei, a man of letters of the Qing period, also studied cooking. His Menu from the Garden of Leisure is divided into 14 parts including "directives for food," "prohibited food," "fresh seafood," "fresh river food," "special animal food," "miscellaneous animal food," "poultry, aquatic and scaled food," "vegetarian food," "side dishes," "pastries," and "rice and porridges."
Chinese culinary Culture regards cooking as an elegant art, seeking for a perfect unity of color, smell, taste and appearance. Food is considered to be a work of art, and the artistic scheme and design of painting, sculpture, music and dance, even poetry and prose are applied to the making of food. The aim is to produce delicious food with a beautiful pattern, bright color, and fantastic design, even an enchanting name.
From the above discussion, we may See that Dietary culture as a part of traditional Chinese culture includes the following features:
First, it is the product of the development of agriculture in China. It not only requires nutritive food to support man's livelihood, but also to guarantee man's health with easily digestive and absorbable food. Therefore, it is scientific.
Second, two tendencies have always existed in Chinese dietary culture. One is the delicacies much sought after by nobility and the rich, the other is the everyday food of ordinary people. Since ancient times, people of insight have advocated that suitability and frugality are the two most Important principles in cooking, and this is the mainstream of Chinese dietary culture.
Finally, Chinese Dietary culture can communicate with other forms of art, thus making it a genuine art winning a high reputation at home and abroad. With its diverse flavors, its complicated and magical techniques, and the combination of appearance and taste, Chinese food Culture has become a colorful art form, redolent with a strong sense of aesthetics and artistic appreciation.
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