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Individual plating once prevalent in ancient times

By Wang Xiaoyu | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-02 10:05
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Historical records and paintings suggest that serving chopsticks and individual plating-dining habits reminiscent of the West-was the norm in ancient China.

Xiao Fang, a folklore professor at Beijing Normal University, said that Chinese people used to eat individual portions of food from the Neolithic period to the Three Kingdoms (220-280).

"Simple food ingredients were cooked together in a pot and served in small pottery bowls to each person," Xiao said in an interview with People's Daily.

Jiang Junxian, president of the China Cuisine Association, said the contemporary definition of a formal banquet usually conjures up images of crowds congregating around a circular table and making frequent toasts.

But during the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-771 BC), a typical banquet involved attendees sitting upright and at a distance from each other while taking separate portions of food.

Such scenes were recorded in Records of the Grand Historians, or Shi Ji, compiled during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), as well as in a mural drawing dating back to the same period. The mural drawing depicted dignitaries watching a dance performance while seating spaced-out and dining during a feast.

A landmark shift occurred during the Three Kingdoms, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties (220-581) when nomads from North China began to move south and spread the habits of gathering around a stove to share food and eat together, Jiang said.

Since then, individual plating and communal dining have coexisted in the country.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the practice of hosts and guests sharing meals and picking food for each other as a token of closeness was gradually institutionalized. It has since become the mainstream dining manner in China.

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