There were two forms of ancient Chinese cooking: the domestic and the ritual. In this 3000-year old poem, eating is associated with ritual and sacrifice.
The oxen and the sheep all pure
We proceed to the winter and autumnal sacrifices
Some flay the victims, some boil their flesh
Some arrange the meat, some adjust [the pieces]
The priest sacrifices inside the temple gate
They prepare the trays which are very large
Some for the roasted meats, some for the boiled.
Wives presiding are still and reverent,
Preparing numerous smaller dishes.
The guests and visitors
Present the cup and drink all round
From the Shi Jing, a book of poetry dating back to 1000BC and said to have been edited
by Confucius in the 6th century BC (Translation by James Legge)
This poem summons to the soul to return to the body, as it was believed that a person’s soul could leave his body while he was still alive, producing symptoms of illness, melancholy or madness. The poet lists some earthly attractions in an attempt to lure back the soul:
O soul, come back! Why should you go far away?
All your household have come to do you honor; all kinds of good food are ready:
Rice, broom-corn, early wheat, mixed all with yellow millet;
Bitter, salt, sour, hot and sweet: there are dishes of all flavors.
Ribs of the fatted ox cooked tender and succulent;
Sour and bitter blended in the soup of Wu;
Stewed turtle and roast kid, served up with yam sauce;
Geese cooked in sour sauce, casseroled duck, fried flesh of the great crane;
Braised chicken, seethed tortoise, high-seasoned, but not to spoil the taste;
Fried honey-cakes of rice flour and malt-sugar sweetmeats;
Jade-like wine, honey-flavored, filled the winged cups;
Ice-cooled liquor, strained of impurities, clear wine, cool and refreshing;
Here are laid out the patterned ladles, and here is sparkling wine.
From Ch’u Tz’u, The Song’s of the South, trans. D.Hawkes (Oxford, 1959)