Archeological evidence confirms that rice was the first grain that ancient farmers in China cultivated , right along the Yang-tse River as early as about 5000 BC. Just like we do today, the ancient Chinese boiled their rice in water or transformed it into wine. Since prehistory, rice wine was a popular feature of Chinese cuisine and eating habits. In this article, you will learn more about the ancient eating habits of the Chinese.
Rice was not the only thing that ancient Chinese ate, as the much cooler and drier climate of northern China did not allow rice to grow in the region. Therefore, people in the north found other items to eat and cook, such as sorghum and wild millet. In 4500 BC, evidence shows that the inhabitants of northern China were farming millet, which they boiled and prepared in the same manner as porridge.
Growing wild in China, tea became an important beverage in China and around 3000 BC, drinking tea was a popular practice , a habit that quickly spread to all parts of China.
Wheat , another staple of China didn’t come into play until the Shang Dynasty in 1500 BC, as it took longer to reach the country. This is when we see Chinese northerners first start to incorporate wheat into their diets. It was not a native crop of China and people relied on West Asia for its supply. The wheat was boiled like millet and served in the same manner as the Cream of Wheat of today.
The southern Chinese of the ancient world mostly ate rice, while the diet of northerners primarily consisted of millet, wheat, and sorghum. If you were poor, your diet rarely strayed from the above-mentioned grains because you needed money to buy or grow your own vegetables to accompany your rice dishes. Native to China, soybeans played an important role in early Chinese cuisine. The Chinese also enjoyed oranges, lemons, peaches, cucumbers, and apricots. They would flavor their dishes with native seasonings, such as ginger and anise (licorice flavor).
When a special event arrived in ancient China, small pieces of meat were added to their rice dishes. In 5500 BC, the use of domesticated chicken was a practice that originally started in Thailand. Pork was native to China and was introduced into the early Chinese diet around 4000 or 3000 BC. However, sheep and cattle did not thrive in early China. Around 4000 BC, dishes started to use these meats , thanks to West Asian influence.
Meat was quite expensive in early China. It was also against the beliefs of Buddhists, who did not eat meat or dishes including meat by-products. An alternative was needed and tofu filled the void. Around 1000 AD, the people of the Sung Dynasty supped on bean curd dishes in order to receive their daily fill of protein.
Cooking in early China was hindered due to a lack of large forests, which would normally produce the fuel needed to cook food. To compensate, the Chinese cut their food up into very small pieces so that a small fire was sufficient enough to prepare a meal.
The Han Dynasty, established around 100 AD, saw the popularity of millet wine rise , even surpassing tea as the favored beverage of choice. At the start of the Han Dynasty, the Chinese also began turning their wheat and rice into long noodles.