Chinese Culinary History
The Chinese nation has a civilized history of 5,000 years and Chinese cuisine has evolved over time. Its culinary techniques, preparation, serving and appreciation of food have been developed to the highest level. Cooking has occupied an important position in Chinese culture throughout its history. Chinese culture considers cooking an art and a science.As early as the 7th century B.C. Chinese cuisine began to be separated as Southern and Northern cuisines. In general, the southern dishes emphasize freshness and tenderness. Northern dishes, due to its colder climate, have more fat and garlic which is offset with vinegar. During the period of the Tang (618-907 A.D.) and the Song(960-1279 A.D.) dynasties, people went in a great deal for nutritional medical value of different plants: fungus(mushrooms), herbs, vegetables. At this time "medicinal food" for prevention and cure of diseases, for overall health became important.
Confucius dreamed about and fussed about food. He emphasized the art of cooking and enjoyment of life. He showed people how they could cultivate their palate and delight their senses. The art of cooking encompassed more than food. Culinary etiquette, social sharing of food, presentation and combining of tastes and textures was important in this school.
He established culinary standards and proper table etiquette. Most of these are still considered to be the standards of today. The tradition of cutting foods into bite size pieces during preparation and not at the table is unique to the Chinese culture (so one did not need any knives on the table).
The art of food was also in the eating. Sharing food with friends and family is an important part of Chinese culinary tradition. To the Chinese, food and friends are inseparable. A gathering without food is considered incomplete and improper. Confucius described that enjoyment of food as one of the beautiful and gentle things which contribute to the peace and harmony of society.
Confucius taught that while maintaining the itegrity of the individual food it is important to blend taste and textures and the use of condiments to give the palette the whole experience. He also stressed the use of color and aroma in the presentation of the dish.
Most certainly Confucianism helped elevate cooking from a daily and repetitive task to a satisfying art form.
Taoism emerged in 500 B.C. and shaped Chinese cuisine by emphasizing the need to study the life giving properties of food. Taoism studied the effects (both physical and psychological) of foods and prepared dishes. It concerned itself with the nourishment of the body, prevention of disease and the search for longevity.
Over the centuries the Chinese have studied plants, roots, herbs, fungus and seeds to find their healthful properties. They discovered their medicinal value and how not to destroy this value during cooking. They explored seasonal cooking and understood the elements found in each ingredient.
Their contributions have resulted in Chinese cuisine embracing lots of vegetables, grains, herbs and cooking with little fat. Traditional Chinese cuisine is low-calorie and low-fat. Food is cooked using poly-unsaturated oils, and milk, cream, butter and cheese are avoided. Meats are used as flavorings and condiments and seasonings are used to satisfy the taste buds.
Chopsticks play an important role in Chinese food culture. Chopsticks are called "Kuaizi" in Chinese and were called "Zhu" in ancient times (see the characters above). Chinese people have been using kuaizi as one of the main tableware for more than 3,000 years.
It was recorded in Liji (The Book of Rites) that chopsticks were used in the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC - 1100 BC). It was mentioned in Shiji (the Chinese history book) by Sima Qian (about 145 BC) that Zhou, the last king of the Shang Dynasty (around 1100 BC), used ivory chopsticks. Experts believe the history of wood or bamboo chopsticks can be dated to about 1,000 years earlier than ivory chopsticks. Bronze chopsticks were invented in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 BC - 771 BC). Lacquer chopsticks from the Western Han (206 BC - 24 AD) were discovered in Mawangdui, China. Gold and silver chopsticks became popular in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). It was believed that silver chopsticks could detect poisons in food.
Chopsticks can be classified into five groups based on the materials used to make them, i.e., wood, metal, bone, stone and compound chopsticks. Bamboo and wood chopsticks are the most popular ones used in Chinese homes.
There are a few things to avoid when using chopsticks. Chinese people usually don't beat their bowls while eating, since the behavior used to be practiced by beggars. Also don't insert chopsticks in a bowl upright because it is a custom exclusively used in sacrifice.