Chinese and Japanese Cuisines

Broadly, the world of eating may be divided into the three great systems: European, Chinese and Japanese. Each has been influenced by the other, though perhaps in an indirect and intangible way. The oldest, if not the best, is, of course, the Chinese, of which one of Charles Lamb's famous essays on Roasted Pig is a good illustration. There is an historic relation between the Chinese and European foods, as there is between the Chinese and Japanese. Marco Polo, visiting China in 1257, must have introduced into Peking something of the Italian culinary art, and taken back to Europe much of the Chinese cuisine. The Roman Empire, just before its downfall, had attained its zenith in luxurious eating. Indeed some persons are inclined to think that the great Empire went into decay through too much luxurious eating. There is little doubt that Rome had taken the best from Persia, which in its turn had been enriched by importations from China. It was this Roman cuisine representing the best cooking of the age, that came to France, spreading from there to the rest of Europe.

On the other hand, Japan received the first food envoy from China, along with her Buddhist preachers, in the 6th or 7th century. Of course, Japan had her own splendid native materials--its delicious rice, and its innumerable "auspicious" pro. ducts of mountain and sea. But her culinary art, at the dawn of history, was in a primitive state. The Chinese who had already attained a high plane of material civilization, could, therefore, influence the almost virgin field of Japan's inexhaustible fine materials, so that it took but little time to develop in this country both a taste and an art of food. In the classic Engishiki, published in the reign of Daigo Tenno ( 8 99)- 930), mention is made of Soy, Miso, Tōfu--highly-developed food stuffs which came without doubt from China. It is a notable fact that all these foods have been not only greatly improved since their acclimatization in Japan but have become, as has miso, all but extinct in the land of their origin. On the other hand, China herself has taken much of the land and sea products of Japan, as she is still doing, to prepare the so-called Chinese food. The debt is mutual.

Japan also knew something of European cookery, centuries before the Meiji era, of which the most conspicuous evidence is what we call "Nagasaki cuisine." Nagasaki, needless to say, was the first city in Japan to engage in foreign trade, and even during the centuries of national seclusion, enforced by the Tokugawa Government, was privileged to keep a loophole at Dejima, through which to trade with the Dutch and other European merchants. Thus came into Nagasaki something of the Dutch style of cooking. One characteristic of Nagasaki food, still kept, is in the manner of serving food upon a raised table shared by a number of eaters, instead of the orthodox Japanese style of providing a small tray, flat or raised, to each individual diner.

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