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History of Food Culture in China

by: Rongguang Zhao

New York NY: SCPG Publishing Corporation 2015, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-1-938318-16-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3) page(s): 22

Not a cookbook, there are no recipes in the fourteen chapters. They discuss China’s long history and love affair with their cuisine. This has existed since the Xia Dynasty circa the 21st to the 16th centuries BCE. Many interactions with Asian nations and those further afield are discussed as are the world’s many religions along the Silk Road, their foods, fancies, and fallacies. These are part of the thinking of this cuisine.

Broad connections with the international community expand China's food culture from prehistoric times. Mentioned are many plant-based foods and notions, small animals, burnt debris, and other finds from Neolithic times when people ate small and big animals, consumed millet and rice, hemp, roots, barley, beans, wheat, and more. Learn about them from traditional foods to celebrations, festivals, daily etiquette and their origins, seating arrangements, daily and banquet meals, cooking techniques, their tea and wine cultures, ceremonies, their spices and seasonings, sauces, and sweets, also chopsticks and much history.

The last chapters are about perfections of this cuisine, food and medicine as one of them, cultural exchanges on the Silk Road from Buddhist merchants to missionaries, gastronomic theories, foods to and from the rest of the world, emigres running restaurants or in restaurant-related businesses.

Included is information about traditional Chinese food and cooking methods, medicinal diets, culinary and dining etiquette, food exchanges with other nations, and more. This volume, written by a well-known Chinese food scholar was translated by Gangliu Wang and Aimee Yiran Wang, and is one that should be read by all scholars.

Do not miss a single page from the three in the introduction that begin “As early as 3,000 years ago, the Chinese left a written text about the five grains for nourishment, five fruits for assistance, five meats for benefit, and five vegetables” to the last pages about dinner tables of the masses, women and household meals, and the growing popularity of modern Chinese chow. This book overviews China’s history and food culture; and it is a ‘must read!’

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