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This disagreeable custom would seem to be tolerated all over Asia, where it is considered as much a matter of course as coughing or sneezing. The curious part of the history is, that any ideas of civility or politeness should be attached to that which in England or France would be so differently received. “ At length,” adds our author, we adjourned to the next room to take tea, -the indispensable commencement and close of all visits and ceremonies among the Chinese. According to custom, the servants presented it in porcelain cups, each of which was covered with a saucer-like top, which confines and prevents the aroma from evaporating. The boiling water had been poured over a few of the leaves, collected at the bottom of the cup; and the infusion, to which no sugar is ever added in China, exhaled a delicious fragrant odour, of which the best teas carried to Europe can scarcely give an idea.”
It is remarkable that the grape, although abundant, is not used in this country for the production of wine, which is fermented from rice, but nevertheless resembles some of our weaker white wines, both in colour and flavour. The rice is soaked in water, with some other ingredients, for a considerable number of days. The liquor is then boiled, after which it is allowed to ferment, and subsequently drawn off clear from the bottom, to be put up in earthen jars, not unlike the amphoræ of the ancients still remaining to us. The residue is used in the distillation of a very strong spirit, little inferior in strength to pure alcohol, which they sometimes introduce in an extremely small cup at the close of their dinners. When good, it resembles strong whiskey both in its colourless appearance, and its smoky flavour. The Tartars are said still to preserve a remnant of their pastoral state, in their predilection for a strong liquor which is distilled from mutton. One of
the soups, too, presented at the imperial feast, conferred on the last British embassy at Tien-tsin, was said to be composed of mare's milk and blood !
The Chinese are little addicted to drinking plain water, which in a considerable portion of the country is extremely bad. On the Peking river, several of the persons in the embassies suffered severely from its use, by which they were afflicted with dysenteries and other unpleasant symptoms. It was generally of a milky colour, and though cleared in some measure by being stirred with a bamboo, in the cleft of which a piece of alum had been stuck as a precipitate, it always retained a portion of its noxious qualities. It may fairly be surmised, that the badness of the water occasioned the first introduction, and subsequently the universal use, of tea as an article of drink. Notwithstanding their general repugnance to eating and drinking what is cold, none understand better than the Chinese of the north the use of ice during hot weather. Near to Peking, in the month of August, and when the thermometer stood above 80°, we constantly saw people carrying about supplies of this article of luxury. Two large lumps, whose solid thickness proved the lowness of the temperature which produced them, were suspended in shallow baskets at opposite ends of a pole, carried across the shoulders. Every vender of fruit at a stall either sold it in lumps, or used it in cooling his goods; and the embassy was liberally supplied with ice for cooling wine. The mode of preserving it through the summer is the usualone, of depositing the ice at a sufficient depth in the ground, surrounding it with straw or other nonconducting substance, and draining off the wet.
The Chinese cookery has a much nearer resemblance to the French than the English, in the general use of ragouts and made-dishes, rather than plain articles of diet, as well as in the liberal introduction of vege
FOOD AND DRINK,
tables into every preparation of meat. of the wealthy, as might be expected, run very much in the direction of sensual pleasures, among which the gastronomic hold a conspicuous place. Some of the articles, however, which they esteem as delicacies, would have few attractions for a European. Among others the larvæ of the sphinx-moth, as well as a grub which is bred in the sugar-cane,are much relished. Their dishes are frequently cooked with the oil extracted from the ricinus, which yields the castor-oil of medicine ; but as it is used by them in the fresh state, and with some peculiar preparation, it has neither the strong detergent properties, nor the detestable taste by which this oil is known in Europe.
The general prevalence of Budhism among the population is perhaps one of the reasons that beef is scarcely ever used by them; though the multitudes of bullocks killed annually, for the use of the European shipping, prove that their religious scruples cannot be very strong. It must, however, be observed, that some absurd prejudices and maxims, not to say positive laws, have always existed against an extended consumption of flesh food. There are, accordingly, no people in the world that consume so little butcher's meat, or so much fish and vegetables. The rivers and coasts of this country are profusely productive of fish and the people exercise the greatest ingenuity in catching them. Carp and mullet were observed by the last embassy in all the towns bordering on the route from Peking. It would be a mistake to suppose that the extension of cultivation had rendered game scarce. There are abundance of wooded hills and mountains as well as lakes, about which wild fowl, pheasants, red-legged partridges, and snipes, are plentiful. Wild geese are seen on the Canton river during winter in large flocks, as well as teal and wild ducks;
and the woodcock is sometimes, though rarely, to be procured.
The most universal vegetable food in the empire, next to rice, is the Pě-tsae, a species of brassica, which derives its name (white-cabbage) from being partially blanche
as celery is with us. By our embassies it was frequently used as a salad, and when fresh is little inferior to lettuce, which it greatly resembles as a plant. The most celebrated place for its production is the neighbourhood of T'ien-tsin, where the soil is a loose, sandy alluvium. From thence it is conveyed, either in the fresh state, or salted, to all parts of the country. They are said to preserve it fresh, either by planting in wet sand, or by burying it deep in the ground; and it is a popular remark, that the nine gates of Peking are blocked during the autumnal season with the vehicles bringing in the pe-tsae. Besides this vegetable, the northern provinces consume millet and the oil of sesamum, as general articles of diet. Many of the cottagers were observed to possess the means of independent support, in the patches of cultivation which surrounded their huts, being supplied in many cases with a small and simple mill, worked by an ass, for the expression of the sesamum-oil. The vegetable oils which are used to the southward are ob tained from the Camellia oleijera, and the Arachis hypogæa, as well as the Ricinus.
As the embassies approached the south, the most common vegetables in use appeared to be the Solanum melongena, several species of gourds and cucumbers, the sweet potatoe, and one or two species of kidney-bean, of which in some cases they boil the young plants. Peas, too, which were introduced by the Dutch factory for their own use, appear someümes at Chinese dinners in stews, being generally
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eaten in the pod, while this is young and tender. Near Macao the potatoe has become very common, but it does not spread so rapidly as might have been expected; for, after twenty years since its first introduction, this vegetable is far from being either plentiful or cheap at Canton, only eighty miles distant from the former place. Nothing, indeed, will ever supersede rice as the staple article of diet among the Chinese populace, whose predilection for it may be gathered from what Mr. Gutzlaff says in his journal: “Rice being very cheap in Siam, every (Chinese) sailor had provided a bag or two as a present to his family. In fact, the chief thing they wish and work for is rice: their domestic accounts are entirely regulated by the quantity of rice consumed; their meals according to the number of bowls of it boiled; and their exertions according to the quantity wanted. Every substitute for this favourite food is considered meagre, and indicative of the greatest wretchedness. When they cannot obtain a sufficient quantity to satisfy their appetites, they supply the deficiency with an equal weight of water*. Inquiring whether the western barbarians eat rice, and finding me slow to give them an answer, they exclaimed, Oh! the sterile regions of barbarians, which produce not the necessaries of life. Strange that the inhabitants have not long ago died of hunger!' I endeavoured to show them that we had substitutes for rice which were equal, if not superior, to it; but all to no purpose; and they still maintained that it is rice only which can properly sustain the life of a human being."
If the rich should appear to be fantastic in the selection of their diet, the poor are no less indiscriminate in the supply of theirs. They will, in fact, eat nearly every thing that comes in their way; and
* Making a sort of gruel of the rice.