Food and Drink since 1800, SCH Cheung

Tags: ingredients, food and drink, China, Chinese food, Chinese diet, Hong Kong, Sichuan cuisine, Social function, food in China, southern cuisine, regional elements, Jiangsu cuisine, international cuisine, Beijing cuisine, culinary skills, individuals, Cantonese cuisine, kinds of food, Chinese traditions, Chinese population, foodways, Open Door policy, market economy, Chinese government, Yale University Press
Content: Food and Drink since 1800 Sidney C.H. Cheung It is widely known that Chinese food and drink is a complex mix of regional elements including a wide range of ingredients and culinary skills, and is considered a system of knowledge not only inherited from the past but also determined by socio-political changes in different eras. Great differences can be found between northern and southern ingredients and culinary skills, even though there have been common characteristics shared among food and drink in various regions through internal migration of the population and importation of cooking elements from elsewhere in the world. Regarding the regional variations, Chinese food has been commonly classified into four major regional cuisines, in terms of east, west, north and south (Anderson 1988; Simoons 1991). The northern cuisine, which is famous for its cooking skills, is represented by the early establishment of Shangdong cuisine which influenced the Imperial Court cuisine as well as the later Beijing cuisine; western cuisine is represented by Sichuan cuisine, which is hot and spicy; eastern cuisine, which emphasizes on the cutting skills, is represented by the Jiangsu cuisine which influenced the Shanghai cuisine established in the 1920s when Shanghai became the modern financial center in the new China; and Southern cuisine is represented by Guangdong cuisine, with an emphasis upon freshness. On top of this four-region classification, other classifications are also commonly used, such as the eight-region tradition including Shandong, Hunan, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangsu, Fujian, and Guangdong cuisines, and the ten-region tradition that includes Beijing and Shanhai. Social function Eating and drinking always carry some kind of social functions such as enhancing human relationships among relatives and friends, and China is no exception. These activities can be formal festive meals for family and lineage members, ceremonial banquet for relatives and friends in emotional sharing, feast for building up business partnerships and social networks, etc. Therefore, on the one hand, the intake of food and drink is a basic physical need for human activity; on the other hand, relevant
consumption aspects serve an important social function in the formation and strengthening of human relations. One of the best examples of the social function of food in China would be puhn choi (basin food) which is a festive food commonly prepared in ancestor worship rites and wedding banquets among the indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong's New Territories. Usually prepared in the kitchen of the ancestral hall, it is the main and usually only dish served in the meal. All ingredients are served together in one basin from which everyone at the table eats communally. This dish usually comprises layers of inexpensive, local ingredients such as dried pig skin, dried eel, dried squid, radish, tofu skin, mushroom and pork stewed in soy bean paste. According to James Watson, this basin food has been served as banquet food in many local single-surname villages in Hong Kong's New Territories, marking corresponding ethnic boundaries, and its dietary practice is an indicator of equality and commonness (Watson 1987). Regarding the changes in the post-Qing era, in the 1920s, Shanghai cuisine began to emerge as Shanghai became the prominent financial and trading hub of the modern China; Guangzhou did indeed undergo a similar experience in bringing in various regional dishes in nearby areas and was later consider the core place for Cantonese cuisine. Western food in China should be counted as Russian food which got its popularity in Shanghai in the 1920s and became the major western food in Hong Kong soon after the World War II. The recent rapid growth of fast food should not be ignored either. Just comparing the total revenue of fast Food Industry in 2002 and 2007, the growth has been about triple in five years. Major foreign fast food chains have taken hold in China, such as McDonald's which was firstly established there in 1990, while the first Kentucky Fried Chicken was established in 1987; there are many local fast food chains of different business scales as well. Apart from the traditional drinks such as yellow wine, distilled wine, tea and medicine herbal drinks, several imported drinks are also socially significant. For example, beer and soft drinks are no doubt two of the major items. With the importation of German technology, Tsingtao Brewery was founded in 1903 and has developed into one of the largest beer production lines in China; while soft drinks are more recent. Others such as coffee, chocolate and grape wine are becoming more important drinks in people's social lives.
Socio-political change Over the last two centuries, modern Chinese food and drink have gradually evolved to what they are now as Chinese traditions of culinary skills and diets have been continuously inherited from the past while new ingredients and skills were imported as well as introduced. Apart from local ingredients, Chinese regional cuisine has also depended on ingredients from overseas such as sea cucumber, bird's nest, abalone, fish maw, shark fin, etc. Eating exotic and rare food does not only show the inclusiveness of Chinese diet but also how food and drink can contribute to status maintenance through social interactions such as eating and drinking in groups. Expensive ingredients in Chinese foodways, such as dried sea cucumber, were influenced by the network of Chinese trade which was mostly developed since the Song Dynasty, in ceramics as well as cooking utensils. Chinese trading for luxury food items precedes Western colonial, mercantile contacts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century and trading monopoly of luxury seafood had never fallen outside of the Chinese hands (Dai 2002). In particular, the varieties in Chinese foodways cannot be studied apart from the Asia-wide network of the Chinese population. In other words, the Chinese diaspora around the world, especially during the past five centuries in East and SouthEast Asia, has contributed to the spread and indigenization of Chinese foodways worldwide. For example, many kinds of spices that are commonly used in Chinese cooking come from different parts of Southeast Asia, including clove and nutmeg. Therefore, transnational trade development, migration and forms of transport all pose challenges to traditional concepts of foodways and its production and consumption should not be overlooked in the changing global context during the last two centuries. Another aspect for the understanding of the spread of Chinese food could be seen in Travel writings of westerners visiting China in the nineteenth century. It became prominent around the time when Nanjing Treaty was signed, Chinese food and drink became more well-known in overseas, as there were more episodes about what and how Chinese people ate and drank (Roberts 2002). Hong Kong provides a good example regarding what kinds of food and drink are available among the Chinese majority, and the ways in which dietary change reflects the cultural construction of people's social lives. On the one hand, it is common to find classical Chinese norms and traditions regarding how to choose food in various environments and circumstances, the most popular ideas being the hot/cold dualism
and the maintenance of a balance in the body by regulating the intake of certain foods. This is related to seasonal concerns in choosing food such as `hot' food for keeping the body warm in autumn and winter, and `cold' food for keeping it cool in spring and summer. Also, there are traditional practices related to the consumption of seasonal food as it is harvested in nature; for example, Cantonese people tend to eat fruits such as lychee and water melon in July/August, crab in September/October, snake in early autumn and other wild animals in winter, etc. In addition, the balance of hot/cold and wet/dry food in the Chinese diet tells how eating habits are related to their conceptualization of the body. Social taste Yet, there are also countless daily examples about changes in foodways during the post-war era and how traditional kinds of food have remained the same yet changed while new kinds of food have been introduced and localized in contemporary Hong Kong society. Indeed the emergence of nouvelle Cantonese cuisine served as an important indicator of the Social Construction of Hong Kong society. By the late 1970s, a visibly cosmopolitan Hong Kong with generations of western-educated citizens was firmly in place. Parallel to this post-war transformation, this modified Cantonese cuisine reflected how Hong Kong's social values were constructed. The transformation occurred in the form of nouvelle, or new, Cantonese cuisine from the late 1970s that combined exotic or expensive ingredients and western catering. This style of cuisine was characterized by the use of exotic ingredients, new recipes, adventurous cooking techniques, excellent catering service and outstanding dйcor and ambience. Nouvelle Cantonese cuisine was a taste deliberately created for and pursued by the `new rich'. This process of culinary invention may reflect broad social and cultural trends in the late 1970s along Hong Kong's increasing wealth and new middle-class aspirations to a lifestyle that is more glamorous and that stresses greater refinement. Thus, I speculate a similar change is taking place in the mainland. Historically speaking, in the 1930s, China experienced another significant industrial modernization through investment by overseas Chinese, especially telephone companies, portable water companies and several infrastructural developments. But from 1949 to 1978, China experienced a long period of unstable development due to isolation and internal ideological struggles, and the development of food and drink
was no exception. Beginning in 1978 with its Open Door policy, the Chinese government can be seen to have become less and less preoccupied with controlling the careers of individuals. At the same time, the emergence of the market economy has made individuals more eager to chase their dreams of riches. The socio-economic changes taking place along the coastal areas include increased market competition, rural entrepreneurship, foreign investment, a quasi-capitalist economy and a rapid flow of information. Today, the trend is for food items to be unusual, eye-catching and distinctive. This may indicate new ideas that lead to an `anything can be mixed', and `anything can be chosen' mentality, widely seen in the food business. It might just be curiosity, or it could also be explained as a representation of China after the economic reform since 1978 which includes traditional and modern, local and foreign for its own sake. Individual taste is surely continuously being reformulated in the existing consumer society, and ways of mixing, combining, prioritizing and re-inventing become indicators of expected identity and status. Emergence of a style emphasizing `freedom of choice' might be an approach for understanding the changing food and drink in the last several decades. As we can observe from the changing material culture during the last three decades, China became economically advanced and culturally international, individuals sought to identify themselves with society by varying means. By looking at food and cuisine as a cultural marker of the identity and status of people, international cuisine in restaurants serves to identify a means for people to compete as equals in the international arena. However, food consumed inside the home is by far more traditional and conservative, with concerns for safety, health, traditional hot/cold balance, and ritual taboos. A boundary is maintained and well defined between eating at home and outside. This negotiation between traditionalism and globalism in relation to domestic issues can be wholly observed in the case of Hong Kong society. The ingredients used are highly similar in most families, and cooking styles seldom vary from day to day. For example, boiled soup, steamed fish, fried seasonal green vegetables with small pieces of meat, and bean curd are all typical family dishes, and rice is almost always the staple food in South China. The difference between eating habits inside and outside the home is a telling one, and reflects the dichotomy of the fast-changing contemporary Chinese societies.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Anderson, Eugene. The Food of China. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. Chang, K.C., ed. Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and historical perspectives. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977. Dai, Yifeng. "Food Culture and Overseas Trade: The Trepang Trade between China and Southeast Asia during the Qing Dynasty." In D. Wu and S. Cheung, eds. The Globalization of Chinese Food. Surrey: RoutledgeCurzon, pp. 21-42, 2002. Roberts, J.A.H. China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West. London: Reaktion Books, 2002. Simoons, Frederick J. Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry. Boston: CRC Press, 1991. Watson, James L. "From the Common Pot: Feasting with Equals in Chinese Society." Anthropos 82 (1987): 389-401. Wu, David Y.H., and Sidney C.H. Cheung, eds. The Globalization of Chinese Food. Surrey: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.

SCH Cheung

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