A Short History of Chinese Cuisine

Posted on 13 August 2014

Off the top of your head, what are three things you often think of when you hear Chinese food? I will go first.

Chopsticks. Noodles. And Chinese ceramics.

Now, your turn.


Done? No matter what we all come up with, they are likely pale reflection of the diverse, sophisticated and authentic cuisine of China.

Chinese Cuisine History

Spanning thousands of years, Chinese cuisine has one of the world’s marvellous culinary cultures. Its inventiveness and variety are indisputable. The most influential cooking styles in China were Cantonese, Shandong, Sichuan, and Huaiyang cuisines.

Dishes from these regions stood out in taste, texture, aroma, and aesthetics. Varying ingredients, cooking techniques, people’s lifestyle, geography, and climate made the style of each province (or region) absolutely distinctive.

If you think traditional Chinese foods are about chop suey and fortune cooking, you are mistaken. Both are modified or invented American-Chinese dishes, designed to please US customers. To understand what is real Chinese cuisine, take a peek at China’s kitchens of the past. In order to present the history of Chinese cuisine, we will need to use China’s dynasties for convenience.

Chinese Cuisine Newcastle NSW

Food and their Preparation in Various Dynasties

Grains (fan) and meat or vegetable dish (cai) make up a typical Chinese dish. Rice (e.g. porridge, steamed, or fried) was Southern China’s dominant food. Meanwhile, wheat (e.g. dumpling, stuffed buns, or steamed buns) was the staple of the North. This is due to geography, preference and influence of neighbouring countries.

Han Dynasty

During the early part of this period, noodles made usually from wheat dough or millet were the staple food of common folks. Excavated at the Northwestern part of China in 2005 was a 4000 year-old bowl of noodles made of millet. This is the earliest noodle ever found – implying that Asians and not Europeans were the first to invent this famous dish.

Tang Dynasty

Chinese people explored all possible sources of food for diet diversity and good health. This led to their discovery and fondness of eating exotic dishes. During this period, the drinking of tea became popular among all social classes. Chinese also began to trade with Persia, Korea, and other neighbouring countries. Though most people ate just about anything during this period, cows or bulls were off-limits. Historians assert that this is likely due to religious and cultural beliefs held by most people during this period.

Song Dynasty

Economic and social progress marked this period, which resulted to cosmopolitanism. This resulted to the proliferation of restaurants serving special Chinese delicacies. In previous dynasties, only emperors and those close to them could eat sophisticated meals. Yet during this dynasty, even the common folks could enjoy great meals.

During Song dynasty, well-off Chinese got to choose food from a menu. This had not occurred elsewhere in the world – not even in Europe – during the same period. Eateries or restaurants at Song dynasty featured dishes that represent the unique cooking styles of each region in China. Excellent cooks used a wide array of techniques to extract the most flavours, aroma and texture from fresh ingredients. All these efforts led to the production of choicest Chinese foods we know and enjoy today.

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The Chinese Gourmets’ Notes

To show their appreciation and admiration of spectacular Chinese dishes, Song dynasty gourmets wrote a great deal about Chinese gastronomy. According to tradition, Chinese gourmets judged food based on the aroma, presentation, palatability, and texture.

Aside from these factors, a perfect Chinese meal must have the balance famous Four Natures and Five Tastes. Four natures refer to the hot, the warm, the cool, and the cold while Five tastes refer to pungent, sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.

Fortunately you do not have to go to China to experience their mouth-watering dishes. These characteristics are present in authentic Chinese foods served among the best Asian bistros at Newcastle. If you sample delicacies at Steven’s Asian Kitchen, they will absolutely acquaint you to the savoury and distinct flavours of real Chinese cuisine.

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