6

votes

What do you know about traditional southern Chinese cuisine?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created April 20, 2011 at 5:51 AM

I know quite a few folks here are interested in traditional foodways, so I thought I would turn to you all with this question.

Modern Chinese cuisine is full of vegetable oils, wheat flour (in soy sauce, sauces, and people are eating way more breads), and, increasingly, sugar.

We know all of these things were either very rare or completely unavailable until fairly recently, but I want to know more details. Such as:

What were the most common staple foods before white rice became so cheap? Here in southeastern China I suspect taro and other root veggies.

Were the original soy sauce and rice wine wheat-free? I'm almost certain they were, but I have no real evidence to point to other than that white flower was clearly a luxury item until recently.

When did rapeseed oil become common? This is considered the "traditional" oil by many here, because it's what older folks often use. But I suspect this is also a fairly recent introduction. I'm sure lard was much more common, and I'm guessing there was more stewing, steaming, boiling, etc.

Has tofu always been as common as it is now? I suspect no, as extracting soy milk and processing it would have been quite labor-intensive.

Thanks!

9ac8a7b68cf079b22de42b703e466e64

(787)

on December 02, 2011
at 06:42 AM

Just a side note. Koji is used to make sake.

A15af22bd729ec030e8f47d1189b6eaf

(774)

on June 14, 2011
at 04:57 AM

Nope, white rice is the refined & therefore more rare kind. In Feudal Japan it was so valuable that Samurai & Gouvernment officials were paid with specified amounts of white rice.

1da74185531d6d4c7182fb9ee417f97f

(10904)

on April 20, 2011
at 08:07 PM

I believe rapeseed was also used traditionally in some parts of India as well.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2011
at 06:42 PM

I believe it was used in very small amounts as a flavor/fallback. I know that mustard oil is still used and that's high in erucic acid. But then again, we can't assume all traditions are optimal.

E2b9c679315c7c9c7265783dde89f350

(1303)

on April 20, 2011
at 06:30 PM

I've found medieval recipes that call for rapeseed oil- but so far they all appear to be for during Lent. Haven't found anything indicating that it was commonly used during any other time.

91487fa364848b52aad94002266aebc9

(76)

on April 20, 2011
at 04:50 PM

And also: http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/china/food/ which by the way completely contradicts what I thought I knew. Free information - worth every penny you paid! :}

91487fa364848b52aad94002266aebc9

(76)

on April 20, 2011
at 04:37 PM

Uh - that was an awkward but overly informative link, sorry. The point of the "five grains" is that rice was not, as is commonly and erroneously supposed by non-Chinese, always the single important food in Chinese cuisine. In Northern China, rice was a latecomer, and never fully displaced its competitor grains which were, depending on what you read, either millet or wheat (or both).

91487fa364848b52aad94002266aebc9

(76)

on April 20, 2011
at 04:34 PM

I remember from Chinese class learning about the "five grains": http://books.google.com/books?id=FgtFxedkgbcC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=China+grains+millet+rice+sorghum+wheat+five&source=bl&ots=V5H2m-UBLb&sig=mHCY2Nl0d_0DF9qPaUyIyGUkpzA&hl=en&ei=vwqvTf-IEseTtweW0oDaAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAw

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3 Answers

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on April 20, 2011
at 04:59 PM

I will have to check this out but I suspect that coconut oil may have been used a lot in Southern China. Like Dveej, points out rice is the staple grain in the South, where as wheat has traditionally been the staple in the North. Think of all the buns and dumplings (baozi and jiaozi) you get in the north. People in the South are a lot shorter than people in the North. When you get up to places like Harbin, people can be quite tall which indicates to me that traditionally there was greater access to meat in the North. When you start going into places like Mongolia, you would start to feel completely at home as a Paleo. People eat lots of meat there traditionally.

0
Bd4be59f5bcfafc3d834d1ec8765eb9e

(336)

on April 21, 2011
at 09:09 AM

I've read rice consumption dates back to 7000 BC and domesticated rice around 5000 BC. Soy sauce was used, as far as I know, at least as far back as the Han Dynasty (200 BC).

From Wikipedia:

Traditional soy sauces are made by mixing soybeans and grain with cultures such as Aspergillus oryzae and other related microorganisms and yeasts. The resulting substance is called "koji" (note that the term "koji" is used both for the mixture of soybeans, wheat, and mold; as well as for only the mold). In older times, the koji was then fermented naturally in giant urns and under the sun, which was believed to contribute additional flavors. Today, the koji is generally placed in a "muro" which is a temperature and humidity controlled incubation chamber.[10]

Some soy sauces made in the Japanese way or styled after them contain about fifty percent wheat

EDIT: Millet and brown rice I think was more common among the poor in asian cultures. White rice thought of as a clean food and brown rice as a dirty food.

A15af22bd729ec030e8f47d1189b6eaf

(774)

on June 14, 2011
at 04:57 AM

Nope, white rice is the refined & therefore more rare kind. In Feudal Japan it was so valuable that Samurai & Gouvernment officials were paid with specified amounts of white rice.

9ac8a7b68cf079b22de42b703e466e64

(787)

on December 02, 2011
at 06:42 AM

Just a side note. Koji is used to make sake.

0
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2011
at 06:15 PM

I encountered the idea that rapeseed oil was an ancient traditional oil in Sweden too. It is- for lubrication and lamps. Widespread use of it for cooking didn't occur until after 1974, when Canadian researchers were able to selectively breed a variety low in Erucic acid, which is poisonous.

E2b9c679315c7c9c7265783dde89f350

(1303)

on April 20, 2011
at 06:30 PM

I've found medieval recipes that call for rapeseed oil- but so far they all appear to be for during Lent. Haven't found anything indicating that it was commonly used during any other time.

1da74185531d6d4c7182fb9ee417f97f

(10904)

on April 20, 2011
at 08:07 PM

I believe rapeseed was also used traditionally in some parts of India as well.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2011
at 06:42 PM

I believe it was used in very small amounts as a flavor/fallback. I know that mustard oil is still used and that's high in erucic acid. But then again, we can't assume all traditions are optimal.

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