The History of Chinese cuisine is sometimes, in China, traced back to the time of Peking Man and his use of fire, i.e., the invention of "cuisine" some 400,000 years ago. More humble accounts of the history still take the beginning back to the Chinese stone age, where the cultivation of rice and the production of noodles, both typical representatives of Chinese cuisine as we know it today, are known from archeological findings.
Over the centuries, as new techniques and food stuff were imported and/or invented, the Chinese cuisine as we know it gradually evolved, e.g. the use of chopsticks as eating utensils, another of the hallmarks of Chinese cuisine, goes back at least to the Zhou Dynasty; stir-fried dishes became popular during the Tang Dynasty; while most "famous dishes" as found today, were invented only during the Qing Dynasty or the early years of the Republic of China.
The Great Cuisines
Not long after the expansion of the Chinese empire during the Qin and Han Dynasties, Chinese writers noted the great differences in culinary practices between people from different parts of the realm. These differences, following to a great extent the varying climate and availability of food sources in China, could be very local in nature but where early on systematized in lists of Chinese cuisines, the four most well-known being:
- The North and South Cuisines, the earlist distinction, and one that is still much used today even as the food culture of North and South China of course have developed much since the distinction was first made.
- The Four Schools, being Lu, Chuan, Yang and Yue. Often translated as the cuisines of Shandong, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Guangdong, these distinctions, in use no later than the Ming Dynasty, in fact covered much more ground than the present-days provinces.
- The Eight Schools, adding to the four above, include the cuisines of the provinces Hunan, Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang.
- The Ten Schools, adding to the eight above, include the cuisines of Beijing and Shanghai.
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Introduction | History | Regional Cuisine