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"Is ancient Chinese food more nutritious and tasty?"

Yes. I firmly believe so. Then from the perspective of ancient Chinese food culture how to make food tasty and nutritious?

Answer: The earlier stage in food preparation, the more important it is.

For example, the process of preparing vegetarian food has seven steps.

  1. Planting of seeds.
  2. Maintaining of plants.
  3. Harvesting.
  4. Storage/air-cure of harvested plants.
  5. Preparation of raw food materials: washing, steeping, picking, cutting etc.
  6. cooking
  7. presenting to table

Then earlier steps have more impact on the final food's taste and nutrition. If the raw material is not good, however you do well in later cooking it will not really work.

The place of production of food materials

The place of production of food material is very important because the first four steps of food preparation are all completed at the place of production. The taste and nutrition of raw food material is largely affected by the local production region's Fengshui, climate, land fertility, local people's heart state, production process of planting, maintaining and harvesting etc. Food material that has good featured taste must have all the above conditions being favorable.

Ancient Chinese food culture is part of traditional Chinese culture. In traditional Chinese culture's understanding, the principles of yin-yang and Five Elements govern every being in the universe including human body and plants. According to this theory, different region, climate and Fengshui are favorable to the growing of different types of plants or animals. Additionally, the Solar Term in which the harvesting is done, the harvesting time of day, the morality and heart state of people who do the harvesting etc can all affect the quality of the final food produced.

In an area where there are clean water and fertile soild, people's morality is good, and people do agriculture work with a peaceful and diligent heart at the right time in the right way, the food materials grown in this area must be tasty and nutritious.

Therefore, in ancient China, the Royal Kitchen selects each type of raw food materials from the best place of production in the whole country.

Fertility of land

The fertility of local production region's water and soil is also a basic condition to produce tasty food materials. Nothing grown in an area where the soil is infertile will taste good.

The fertility of an area of land can be consumed and damaged after a lot of people living on it for a long period of time.

For example, long time ago in the desert of Xinjiang province of China, there existed a very developed country called Loulan. The land became infertile later and was buried under sands. And the ancient Loulan country disappeared 1600 years ago. Of course, this happened also because of the deterioration of the people's morality.

About 1000 years ago, the current Shanxi province and Henan province of China were the central and most prosperous area in Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty. At that time, these areas were fertile and beautifu. However, now these areas are not as fertile as before.

State of modern food culture in comparison with ancient Chinese food culture

Modern people only observe things from the material perspective such as weight and shape etc. However, food may not taste good although it may be of big size and look nice. The taste is decided by just those elements which ancient people really understood the importance of and put efforts in.

For example, many plants are nowadays grown in greenhouse. The air, sun shine, and man-made fertilizers in greehouses will never be as good as those of natural land where there are suitable conditions.

Comparing with ancient Chinese food culture, nowadays people put less and less importance on early stages of the production of crops, fruits and vegetables. Today's food preparation is all based upon food materials produced from industrialized farms. People can only put emphasis in later steps of food preparation, cooking and seasoning etc to achieve good tastes. However you are good at cooking, you won't make the food tasty and nutritious without high quality raw food materials.

The industrial pollution has seriously damaged the water and soil in China. This makes the quality of raw food materials much worse than ancient time. So We may never be able to make food as nutritious and tasty as ancient Chinese food any more.

Literary works on ancient Chinese food culture

In ancient China, people had to hand in the best special productions of their local regions to the royal court as tribute. So the royal court kitchen had the full collection of all the best food materials produced at all parts of China. And the royal chefs were taking a leading role in ancient Chinese food culture.

However, ancient Chinese food culture has mainly got lost. What people can retrace are very limited parts from the descriptions on food culture in ancient literary works, and some records on ancient banquet etiquette etc.

For your reference of further study, the following are some of the literary works that include contents on ancient Chinese food culture.

  • "Records of etiquette" (《礼记》) by Dai De and Dai Sheng (of West Han Dynasty)

    This is a special book on the Chinese traditional etiquette. In some chapters, it talks about etiquettes for having meal or attending banquet. However, I am not sure whether the book has been translated into English.

  • "Journey to the West" (《西游记》) by Wu Cheng-en (of Ming Dynasty)

    This is one of the Four Great Masterpieces of Chinese Classic Literature. It is a recording of all the tribulations the Tang Monk experienced in his trip to India to learn and take Buddhism Scriptures. In the last chapter, it included some description of the State Banquet to receive Tang Monk's return to capital.

    Click here to read reviews of or buy "Journey to the West" from Amazon.

  • "Imperial Incense" by Princess De Ling ( of late Qing Dynasty)

    This book was written in 20th century by a female official of the Ci-xi Queen Mother of Qing Dynasty. It is about the Ci-xi Queen Mother¡¯s life. The ninth chapter is about the Royal Kitchen. It manifests the scale, luxury and complexity of Royal Court of ancient China.

    Please click here to buy the book "Imperial Incense" from Amazon.

  • "Tea Scripture" (《茶经》) by Lu Yu ( of Tang Dynasty)

    This is a renowned masterpiece of ancient Chinese Tea Culture. It includes ten articles covering tea production, instruments, boiling, serving, drinking etc.

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