Explore the ever-changing taste of China

author:Qilu one point
□ by Ming Sheng

After reading Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, it can be seen that in 15th-century European paintings, most of the banquet tables were only wine and bread, and lamb was faintly visible. Until the Middle Ages, Europeans ate very simply. In fact, the same is true in ancient China, in the "Han Xizai Night Banquet Map", the diet of the upper class is also relatively simple, and the so-called "Huatian Wine Land" and "Wine Pool Meat Forest" in ancient times did not have a few dishes. The desire for deliciousness is endless, and food culture is constantly changing, but many details have not been recorded. Scholar Zhang Jing's book "A History of China on the Table" attempts to find out the ins and outs of some Chinese foods and dishes based on clues in the literature.

Explore the ever-changing taste of China
Confucius loved to eat sliced raw meat

Depending on the cooking method, the appearance and taste of the ingredients will be completely different. So, how did people in the Confucius era cook and eat the same ingredients?

There is a saying in the Analects that "you don't get tired of eating, and you don't get tired of being fine." Fish or meat is finely chopped and dipped in vinegar, which is the same way as sashimi is eaten in Japan today. Modern China, except for a very small number of areas, basically does not eat raw fish and raw meat. Dishes that do not have raw food in formal Chinese food, and sashimi is popular in Japanese restaurants in big cities, but it is a new phenomenon that only appeared after the 90s of the 20th century. But in the Spring and Autumn period, raw food was a very common thing, and Confucius also liked to eat sliced raw meat. According to the Book of Rites, the condiments of "Kuan" are seasoned with green onions in spring, mustard in autumn, and sauce for eating raw venison.

Modern people eat too much delicious food, so they rack their brains and eat in different ways. If you are tired of eating braised rice, boiled water, steamed, fried, smoked, and skewers, you will feel that eating raw sashimi is very fresh. But from the standpoint of the ancients, the perception will change.

Before the invention of iron, cooking rice and vegetables was a troublesome task. At that time, the pots and pans were all pottery, and there was no choice but to boil and steam. This is because pottery does not transfer heat well, heating is time-consuming, and people do not care about cooking cooked food during the busy agricultural period or wartime. Whether it's meat or fish, it's simple and feasible to cut it fine and eat it raw, and it will form a habit over time. However, after the popularization of ironware, China's raw eating culture disappeared rapidly, which shows from the side that raw eating habits are affected by tableware restrictions and are a last resort.

In fact, the oldest and commonly used cooking method in China is "boiling", and the oldest dish is "soup". No matter what kind of meat, most of the ancients cooked it thoroughly and stewed it into soup to drink, a dietary habit that dates back to the Yin Shang period. The length of time for cooking this cooking method varies greatly, and the same is cooked, whether it is slightly cooked, or it takes a long time to cook through, the resulting dishes vary greatly. To make meat dishes, take gravy after cooking, or cut the meat first, and then eat it with the soup, the eating method is different dishes.

Until the Spring and Autumn period, the main cooking method of dishes was still the way to cook them into soups or soups. However, there are also various types of soups and soups, from soups made mainly to meat to soups made only with vegetables. It is recorded in the Book of Rites and Internal Rules: "Soup, from the princes down, to the common people." It shows that soup or soup is widely eaten by people from the rulers to the common people, and there is no difference in status.

In addition, there was a practice of "steaming" at that time. In the homes of princes and nobles, meat was cooked using "ding" as cooking utensils, and then the meat was put into a cooking utensil called "甑" with a small hole in the bottom, and finally placed on the "kettle" or "pipe" to steam.

When making fish or meat dishes, the ancients also often used cooking methods such as "grilling". The roasting method is divided into "cannon", "burnt", "seared" and so on. "Cannon" is to sauté the meat with mud and roast, "burnt" is to roast, and "seared" is to roast directly on the fire. In ancient times, these roasting methods may have been exquisite, but the details of their operation have been lost.

For most people at that time, the daily dishes were mostly soup dishes. Soups can be made into a dish even if the amount of meat is small, and other ingredients are added. And if you grill it, you can't cook it without a certain amount of meat. In addition, soup dishes can also be made with marinated meat, and grilled with fresh meat.

There were already dumplings in the Tang Dynasty

Modern dumplings can be roughly divided into three categories: dumplings, steamed dumplings and fried dumplings, which are divided according to their cooking methods. In Japan, gyoza are generally similar in appearance, regardless of the type of gyoza. In China, however, the shape and content of dumplings vary greatly depending on the region. Most people have the impression that gyoza is half-moon-shaped, but in rural areas of Tohoku, there are also cylindrical gyoza like spring rolls. The same half-moon shaped dumplings, there is also a difference between pleated and unpleated. In the north, most dumplings are pleated, while unpleated dumplings can often be seen in areas south of the Yangtze River.

When was dumplings invented? This question is not yet answered. "History of China on the Table" pointed out that dumplings will not be produced overnight, but must have developed gradually in a long historical process. Whether it is the origin or improvement of food, some are consciously done, and some are the result of accident. "Originally, there was not only one origin, it was produced in many attempts."

However, it is an indisputable fact that dumplings already existed in the Tang Dynasty. In the 80s of the 20th century, the Astana ancient tomb complex located in the Turpan Basin of Xinjiang was newly discovered. In September 1986, a new tomb was discovered at the local construction site. From September 22 to October 2, archaeologists conducted surveys and unearthed eight ancient tombs. From a tomb, 8 dumplings were found in a bowl. There are one or two dumplings in each bowl, 5.7 cm long and 2.4 cm wide. Documents from the 12th year of Gao Changyanhe (613) were also found in the same tomb, which shows that the tomb was a tomb of the late Sui and early Tang dynasties. There is no text describing the name of the food in the tomb, and these dumplings are now called "the oldest surviving dumplings".

On June 24, 2004, the "Food Matching Ware - Chinese Eating Ware Exhibition" sponsored by the National Museum of China, Guangzhou Municipal Tourism Bureau, Guangzhou Municipal Bureau of Culture and Guangzhou Municipal Bureau of Commerce was exhibited at the Museum of the Nanyue King Mausoleum of the Western Han Dynasty in Guangzhou. Among the many valuable displays are these dumplings, which were originally pale yellow and have turned black in color due to severe calcification. According to the museum staff, the filling in the middle of the dumplings is meat filling, because the local climate is dry, basically no rain, the moisture is quickly absorbed after burial, the filling and skin are not rotten, so it can be preserved to this day. In short, this is very strong evidence that dumplings already existed in the Tang Dynasty.

However, are the "dumplings" unearthed in the Turpan Basin steamed dumplings or dumplings? Just looking at the photos can't tell for sure. According to the introduction of the Turpan Museum, its size is "about 4.7 cm long and 2.4 cm wide", and the size data is smaller than the record on the excavation report mentioned earlier. Zhang Jing believes that according to common sense, due to drying, the size of the dumplings at the time of discovery should shrink somewhat compared to the time of production, so that the dumplings are smaller than the current dumplings. Dumplings are usually smaller than steamed dumplings, so he thinks that the dumplings unearthed are more likely to be dumplings.

Although dumplings already existed in the Tang Dynasty, according to Zhang Jing's investigation, the word "dumplings" did not appear in the works of many Tang Dynasty poets such as Meng Haoran, Li Bai, Du Fu, Wang Wei, Han Yu, and Bai Juyi. There are two possible reasons for this. First, the name of dumplings at that time was a common name, which did not coincide with the rhythm of poetry and was difficult to use in the context of poetry. Another reason is the regional nature of the food, that is, dumplings already exist in Turpan and other regions, but they have not yet spread to the cultural center Chang'an and the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River.

"History of China on the Table" points out that when examining the history of dumplings, do not be confused by the names of each era. The prototypes of steamed dumplings and dumplings can be traced back to "caged prison pills" and "soup prison pills" respectively, and the names of these foods in the Tang Dynasty are not clear, and it is likely that they became "wontons" or whatever. In the Song Dynasty, fried dumplings began to appear, steamed dumplings were called "jiao'er" and "jiao'er", and fried dumplings were called "jiao'er" and "jiaozi". In the Ming Dynasty, new names such as "dumpling bait" and "powder horn" appeared. In the Qing Dynasty, the same food names as modern times such as "dumplings" and "dumplings" appeared.

Interestingly, dumpling-like foods are found almost all over the world. The most famous is the Russian "Pelimeni", but there are other similar foods such as "Manti" or "Manto" in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, "Pierge" in Poland, and "Bun" in Nepal. Whether dumplings were transmitted from China to foreign regions or from foreign regions to China is still unknown, in short, there is a phenomenon of cultural transmission.

Behind the "Sweet Dreams of Yellow Sorghum"

The legendary novel "Pillow in the Pillow" of the Tang Dynasty has a story called "Handan Pillow", which later derived idioms such as "Huangliang Beautiful Dream" and "One Pillow Huangliang". Shen Jieji, the author of "Handan Pillow", is a man in the second half of the 8th century, and the protagonist Lu Sheng meets a Taoist priest in a tea shop in Handan, the capital of Zhao, borrows a pottery pillow, and takes a nap. In his dream, he experienced the ups and downs of his life, and finally became the king of a country, completing his life of standing out. But when I woke up and opened my eyes, the yellow millet rice burned on the fire before going to bed had not yet been cooked, and it turned out that only a while had passed, and the story showed the impermanence of life in the rise and fall of glory and decline.

"Sorghum rice" can be derived from many cultural topics. For example, was this food for the poor at that time, or the best food?" How does sorghum rice taste? What utensils are used to eat "sorghum rice", chopsticks or spoons? In many cases, the details of everyday food culture are difficult to read.

The stage where the story of "Handan Pillow" takes place, now Handan City, Hebei Province, is located in the Central Plains in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River Basin, the birthplace of Chinese culture. Zhang Jing described the staple food of the Central Plains as follows: When Confucius was born, "Rice in the Central Plains was the food of the rich, and 'beans' were the food of the poor... 'millet' was the best staple food and was loved by the upper class." Confucius, who was once a high-ranking official, may have eaten millet and millet as the staple food, and may have occasionally eaten a little rice, but rice cannot be a staple food." In the Tang Dynasty, after rice was popularized in the Central Plains, millet was recorded in books as "yellow millet" and was still one of the best foods.

"History of China on the Table" analyzes that during the time when Lu Sheng, the protagonist of "Handan Pillow", dreamed, although the "yellow millet rice" being cooked was millet porridge, it was not boiled in water, but cooked and steamed in a steamer, and the tea shop should be filled with the fragrance wafting from the steamer. Moreover, people at that time did not use chopsticks to eat this "yellow millet". Because people in the Tang Dynasty ate without chopsticks but with spoons, chopsticks were tableware used only to fish out the ingredients in the soup.

Some foods have continued from ancient times to the present, but more have disappeared into the darkness of history with the passage of time. A History of China at the Table is a chronological account of some interesting changes in Chinese food from the pre-Qin era to the present day. As Zhang Jing said in the foreword, "In the history of heaven and earth changes, dynastic changes, national cultural conflicts and integration, whether it is ingredients, cooking methods, or food etiquette, the Chinese's table has always been in a dynamic change." It's just that this change happens slowly, and people don't pay much attention."

The book "History of China at the Table" is very distinctive. Zhang Xuan took the records of Chinese food and cooking methods in different historical periods in historical documents, and studied the vague or contradictory or lacunate aspects of the documents. After this detailed examination, the records of food and eating in the Analects and the Book of Rites suddenly became vivid. Throughout the book, seeking "new" and "changing" is the biggest feature of Chinese diet, after all, "although dishes are the face of national culture, even radical cultural nationalists will not refuse foreign food." In reality, very few people eat only traditional dishes and never touch dishes from exotic lands".

Anchor/post-editing: Zhu Ruotong

Editor-in-chief: Wang Juan

Read on