La viande en Chine: imaginaire et usages culinaires

Françoise SABBAN

fr Anthropozoologica 18 - Pages 79-90

Published on 01 May 1994

This article is a part of the thematic issue Animals in Chinese culture

Meat in China: imaginary and Chinese cooking

In Ancient China, meat was considered as a worthy food as well as a marginal one. Raw meat was the common fare of the savage man, as he is represented in Chinese mythology. Cooked and eaten with cooked cereals, it was a delicacy especially reserved for the elite of the civilised world. The ritual books of the 3rd and 4th centuries B. C. contain many informations on the way the best pieces of meat were selected, cooked and seasoned. We find in these texts the beginning of a real art of nutrition and gastronomy which gives animal products a central place in a vast combinatory system where meats are allied to vegetal elements, the resulting dishes being tasty and perfectly healthy. According to the recommendations of the philosophers and physicians, such dishes were meant to accompany cereal foods and had to be consumed in moderate quantities. But competing with this food system, another conception of nutrition and gastronomy, privileging the role of vegetal products in the diet, existed at the same time. Called su and adopted later on in a more radical form by the buddhists, it gave nevertheless a symbolic place to meat. "False" meat was artificially produced from soja bean, gluten or other plants, and having the appearance and the taste of ordinary meat products, they had to be cooked the same way. From that treatment of meat products, we can guess the particular status of meat and the specific role of the cook in Chinese cuisine. Meat as a basic ingredient of the culinary process is a product issued from Nature and caracterised by a bad smell. Once this terrible smell is eliminated, the meat becomes an easy working substance, on which the chef can practise his knowledge and talent. Only the chef can give birth to the tastes and he is the necessary medium whose activity allows the meat dishes to have access to civilized world.


China, Meat, Cuisine, Gastronomy, Dietetics.

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