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Yuan Dynasty Foods
Food in History
Fall Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(3) page(s): 33
Before the Yuan, there were many dynasties, this
one beginning in 1279 CE. it was before the Liao Dynasty
(916 - 125 CE), the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE), the Five
Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (902 - 979 CE), the
Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), and one known as the Sui
Dynasty (581 - 618 CE).
Looking even further back, Chinese agriculture began
about 8000 BCE, even then the main meat was probably
pigs raised in family yards. Dogs may have been
domesticated about two thousand years later, foxtail
and panic millet were popular, certainly by 4000 BCE.
The Book of Songs mentions wheat and barley as the
only two foreign foods in China then, even has some
recipes for them. In those day, Chinese knew cattle,
sheep, and goats, but where they came from was not
Basil, coriander, and fennel were popular herbs in
those early days as were many different nuts, fruits, and
vegetables. Foods we read about did include walnuts,
pomegranate, and others. They may have come from
the Middle East earlier. One whose arrival we know for
sure was watermelon, coming to China by 900 CE. In
different sources we note different dates, and different
places they originated.
The Western World, adopts rice and millet from Asia,
they had apricots, cabbages, plums, soy and other
beans, and persimmons, too; in later years. Grapes
went to China, onions and related bulbs were already
there, where from or if indigenous, we know not.
By the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), many foods went
from China to the West including white fleshed peaches,
oranges, black-eyed peas, fluffy white chickens, carp
and other gold-colored fish, and the Pekin duck. The
years for each are reported variously in assorted
sources with little consensus.
One of the first dynasties in China was from the 21st
to the 16th centuries BCE. The Shang came after it,
probably from then through the 14th centuries. The
Zhou Dynasty, most often dated as 1045 - 221 BCE does
include carrots coming from Afghanistan to China, as
did broad beans; and both went to the West from there.
The Chinese were and still are great food borrowers.
We learn about some foods from two Chinese books,
the Yinshan Zengyao (1) and Huihui Yanfang (2). The
first or (1) was a diet manual published before the 14th
century BCE mentioning two hundred and forty-two
plants and animals known when published including
cow, horse, sheep, goat, donkey, and dog.
The second (2), written by Hu Sihui, said to be China’s
court nutritionist and of either Chinese or Turkic
heritage, mentions fewer foods, but has ninety-five
recipes. Seventy-two of them use lamb or mutton,
many use a starch, and sixteen are for breads, eleven
are Chinese and one is Indian, many using ginger,
Chinese radishes, beans, and/or nut pastes, they
may have come from Middle Eastern countries. His
volume mentions sixty-seven foods, many are herbs,
seventeen are Chinese, and many do have medicinal
uses, seven are from Southeast Asia, and seventeen
are not delineated as to where from.
Little is known about how much China knew or was
impacted by the comings or goings of these foods.
This book mentions there is a great influx of plants
coming to China, not where they came from or later
went to. Perhaps they moved one way or another by
During and after this, seventy Western food
plants grew and were used in China. A dozen
mentioned in Volume (2) as were two Western birds
coming to China, the turkey and the Muscovy duck.
During these times and thereafter, many Chinese
restaurants open in bigger towns world-wide. Now,
there are more Chinese restaurants world-wide than
ever before with hardly a single reasonable-sized
town without at least one.
Written materials, in short supply in the early years,
may included items lost that did have exist. Some
were mentioned, but as there probably was much