Chinese cuisine, one of the oldest in the world (French cuisine being another), is known for its harmony of taste. Read on for tasty tidbits on the history of Chinese cuisine.

History Of Chinese Food

China proudly wears the crown of the oldest civilization of the world, continuing to make history every day. Quite possibly the next economic superpower, China has risen like a phoenix after decades of communism. China is also one of the top travel destinations in the world today and is almost like an epic adventure. Every bit and piece of China has a tale to tell, making it a country with the most idiosyncratic culture well preserved for generations to come. Bringing the Olympics torch home in 2008, China marketed itself aggressively, giving the rest of the world a better notion about their forward-thinking dynamism. Nowhere else but in China can you find two starkly differing worlds: like the one in Shanghai which shimmers with the zest and spirit of youthfulness, and the other reminiscent of the culture of the ancient world engulfed in serene silences of distant Tibetan monasteries.
Gifted by nature with some of the best panoramic views, China is highly alluring to the romantically inclined. Ignoring people in China is virtually impossible; you find them everywhere, holding their head high with a conspicuous sense of pride glimmering on their faces across every street and corner. What is at the centre of it all, however, is a delightful Chinese meal.  A plethora of mouthwatering Chinese dishes add an almost immeasurable richness to Chinese culture.

"Heaven loves the man who eats well" - who else can say this than the Chinese, true epicureans who live to eat by giving due respect and love to food? Besides a rich cultural heritage, cuisine is also very much an integral part of China. This intricate cuisine filled with aromatic seasonings and sauces is a huge hit among connoisseurs of good food. Chinese cuisine has undergone great modifications before achieving popularity in its modern version. Dig into the article below to gorge on the unbelievable history of Chinese food.

Chinese Cuisine History
A study of the culture of any nation is incomplete without an understanding of its cuisine. Hence a good study of Chinese culinary techniques and an actual preparation of some of those dishes prove every word true beyond doubt about its legacy. The proud custodians of a 5000 year civilization, the Chinese have honed their culinary skills through several ages, new adaptations and unsteady changes. Chinese cuisine has managed to withstand every test of time with flying colors. No wonder the Chinese are proud of their culinary skills. One such basic Chinese kitchen technique is steaming – used way before the advent of the first dynasty. With the lapse of time, through foreign trade, many foreign ingredients easily marched all the way into the imperial kitchens of China; and the Chinese excelled in blending it with the traditional cuisine, turning up some out of the world cuisine.

Historians reveal that Chinese cuisine divided itself into Northern and Sothern cuisines as early as the 7th century B.C. While the southern dishes highlight freshness and softness in their dishes, the Northern cuisines, partly because of their cooler climate include a lot of fat and garlic, with vinegar, creating the right balance. It was during the era of the Tang (618 -907 A.D.) and Song (960-1279 A.D.) rules that the Chinese learned to value different plants like mushrooms, herbs and vegetables for their nutritional benefits, all later becoming an inseparable part of Chinese cuisine in general. 

The Chinese believed in curing diseases with medicinal food. For them, food was the answer to everything. No wonder food, as well as its preparation, has gained itself a status nothing short of an art form in China. The rich and poor appreciate delicious and nutritious food with a common passion.

But the culinary skills of the Chinese, highly evident in their cuisine, were skillfully sophisticated over the ages. As legend goes, Chinese cuisine has an imperial element in it. Ever since there were emperors and palaces, there was royal food that served the purpose of feeding the regal gentry, including the mistresses of the emperors. In order to get those stately delights, emperors turned no stone unturned and kept the best of the cooks in the royal kitchen. This tradition was carried ahead by every successor. Imperial cuisine proudly exhibited each dynasty’s unique flavours. Chinese cuisine marks its origins to the Shang Dynasty, which was introduced by Yi Yin, the first Prime Minister of the dynasty. Yi Yin, taking a cue from the past, was a cook before becoming a Prime Minister. Believe it or not, many a political leader has been a cook. Even the founder of Chinese cuisine – Peng Zu – was himself a chef to Emperor Yao around the beginning of the 21st century B.C. At that time cooks actively participated in politics, enthroning and dethroning many leaders. 

Confucianism and Taoism spread two different schools of thought that influenced not only the political and economic history of China but also the art of cooking. Confucius lent great import to the artistic and social aspects of food. Carrying forward that philosophy, the Chinese nearly always come together even today with food featuring prominently at such meets. Apart from this, the Chinese do not appreciate the use of a knife on a dining table, and cut the meat and vegetables into bit-sized pieces before it reaches the table, unlike some other cultures. Chopsticks also became a part of their table habits by that time. Confucius upheld the need of a unified dish with a proper blend of ingredients and flavors. He was adamant about his preaching on harmony even in the culinary domain. He even promulgated the effectiveness of well-presented food, taking note of the texture, color and decoration of the food. Above all, he believed in the philosophy "live to eat" rather than "eat to live".

However, Tao, who represented the other side of Chinese cuisine, was more into the nutritional benefits and dietary aspects of food as well as cookery. It was Taoists who gave prominence to the medicinal benefits of each Chinese food item. From time immemorial, the Chinese have been well-acquainted with the life-giving properties of food, be it roots, fungus, herbs or plants. Taoists also educated the world on how over-cooking can bring harm to the nutritional value of food and how flavorings have medicinal properties, too.

The development of modern Chinese cuisine can be attributed to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.). Next were the Manchus who ruled China, bringing peace and prosperity to the kingdom. With time, Manchus became more Chinese than even the natives, but later degenerated with their imperial feasts. The food that those gourmands binged on inspired the modern form of Chinese cuisine to a large extent. 

It is an interesting coincidence that the culinary philosophies and the methods, at times, of both the French and Chinese cuisines seem so alike, for e.g., a fresh black truffle of the French can easily remind one of the fermented Chinese black beans! But Chinese cuisine dwells on a plethora of ingredients and methods that cannot be equaled by any other culture, rice being one of the main ones. It is no exaggeration to say that without rice there is no Chinese cuisine. Noodles are another thing for which Chinese cuisine is known for across the globe. Noodles, an essential part of Chinese cuisine for about 2000 years, are also supposed to have entranced the Italians when Marco Polo returned to Italy after his Chinese expedition. Tea, originally taken by the Chinese for its medicinal properties, has today been accorded a status fit for a national treasure, and later became a necessary part of Chinese cuisine.

It is nothing but the sheer love for good food, a rich tradition of openness and the fearlessness in experimentation that paved the way for Chinese cuisine into the hall of eternal culinary fame. The Chinese show their love and respect for food by taking utmost care in balancing the ingredients, flavors and presentation, appealing to more senses than just that of taste; a classic case of ‘correct blend of seasoning and saucing’, as the saying goes! Everything from the size of the vegetables to the way it is presented, along with the fragrance, matters a great deal in Chinese cuisine. 

A bowl of Chinese culinary art is a blend of antiquity, ethnicity and a glorious cultural heritage. The fine expression of Chinese culinary art has successfully lived through many a war, famine and catastrophe and continues to tantalize our senses.

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