When did chrysanthemums become a Chinese slang?

de rebus sinicis

In “Everything One Can Eat”, Waverly Root (1903-1982) repeatedly discussed foods and dishes that either originate from China or are mainly associated with China. [1] The following compilation of relevant comments does not claim to be complete.


About the Chinese cabbage and its “relative” Pak-Choy, Root writes: “[...] the former is a head cabbage with a savoy-like leaf structure, but elongated in shape and from a pale yellow to whitish color, the latter a kale with white, fleshy stems and light to deep green leaves of a soft and smooth structure. ”(p. 172). Elsewhere (p. 269) Root points out that Pak-Choy is nothing more than "white vegetables" (baicai 白菜) means.
When it comes to broccoli, Root says that it is “one of the few western vegetables” “that have been accepted by the Chinese.” Apart from the Chinese, only the Italians know how to “bring out the best in texture and aroma”. (P. 33). Spinach was mentioned in Chinese works as early as 647 AD (p. 345).
In his explanations on the sweet potato (Chinese. hongshu 紅薯) he describes a “typical” way for the early modern spread of useful plants: “China probably got the potatoes from Spanish traders who brought them from the Philippines, and Japan got them from China” (p. 350).


Root asks whether the pear does not come from China, after it was there for the time around 2100 BC. BC could be proven as grave goods. (P. 27). In contrast, the pomegranate (shiliu 石榴) in China was not made before 100 BC. Attested (p. 90). A 7th century Chinese traveler mentioned the mango (p. 230). The papaya did not reach China until the 19th century (p. 270).

The history of the jujube (shazao 沙棗) in China, Root devotes a lot of space (p. 131):

“[...] Jujubes have been cultivated in China for at least 4,000 years, and jujubes have a permanent place in classic Chinese cuisine. In the Middle Ages, one of the 'eight delicacies' of China was suckling pig with a filling of fruits, which are referred to in translations as dates. [...] "

There was a solid political reason for the renaming of the fruit of the Chinese ray pen. This was given the name Kiwi "when it was discovered that in McCarthy's America the word 'Chinese' was not much more promotional than terms like 'communist' or 'world revolution' [...] (p. 161)

Both "the large number of wild varieties" and "the large number of specific pests and diseases of the plant" that exist in southern China suggest that the sweet orange comes from this area (p. 264). Melon kernels, according to Root, were considered in China in the 2nd century BC. As a “popular snack” (p. 240).

In more detail than the occurrence of the orange in southern China, Root devotes himself to the importance of the peach for the culture (history) of China. In poetry and painting, the peach is a symbol of immortality - a typical birthday dish is called the 'peach of long life' (shoutao 壽桃). In ancient times it was also assumed "that the consumption of peaches would later save the corpse from decomposition." (P. 282)

The kumquat (p. 189 f .; Chinese jinju 金橘) dedicates a separate entry to Root. The lychee (Chinese. lizhi 荔枝), "which together with the spring roll and the enigmatic dish called chop suey [2] represents Chinese cuisine for everyone in the West" (p. 211), he mentions only en passant.


Towards the end of the 2nd century BC The walnut tree seems to have come to China. (P. 375)
According to its German name - from a botanical point of view it is one of the legumes - the peanut should also be mentioned here, which reached China in the 17th century at the earliest. (P. 62)


"The newspaper duck is not a bird, but a chimera, and the 2 CV is one of those things that even a Chinese would not eat, although it is neither a table nor an airplane." (P. 54) [3]

As this and other examples [4] show, Root also includes common prejudices in his text. About the consumption of pork he brings an observation by Owen Lattimore, which closes it with a Mongolian prejudice: "Whoever eats pork begins to become 'like the Chinese" "(p. 335).

In connection with the origin of the pheasant, Root also refers to the report by Marco Polo. (P. 71).

In addition to pork and poultry, lamb is “one of the most delicious holiday dishes” in China, especially in the north and northwest of the country (p. 200).

A particular specialty of northern Chinese cuisine is the lamb brawn, the gelatine of which is obtained from the lamb's feet. Just like the French, the Chinese are masters in using all parts of their slaughtered cattle. ”(P. 200 f.)

While tiger meat would have "disappeared from the menu since the time of the Peking people" (p. 355), the Chinese - after the "Indians" but before the Arabs - ate camel meat (p. 139). Not only in Roman antiquity - also in "ancient China" cranes were prepared for consumption (p. 177).


Both in connection with fish in general (p. 75) and with carp (p. 146), Root points out that the Chinese also farmed fish on the terraces used to irrigate the rice plants.

Rice and cereals

In connection with barley (p. 87) and millet (p. 109), Root mentions the “five sacred cultivated plants of China”: barley, rice, soybeans, wheat and millet. For northern China, Root calls wheat the "main food - mostly in the form of noodles, but also as bread." (P. 376) In southern and central China, rice is the most important food (p. 301):

French and Chinese cuisines are often compared for sophistication and ingenuity, but nothing highlights the difference between the two mentalities more strikingly than using the same metaphor: In China, a meal without rice is said to resemble a one-eyed beauty, in In France this is said of a meal without a cheese course. (P. 304)

The maize obviously came to China in the middle of the 16th century: mentioned as one of the tribute offerings in 1550, it is mentioned in a local monograph from the Henan province in 1555. (P. 223).


Root deals with some of the spices that are used in Chinese cuisine in connection with the five-spice powder, "if it is the Chinese spice, pepper or Szechuan pepper, star anise, fennel, cinnamon and cloves [...] ( and also not infrequently dried mandarin peel, although this makes it a six-spice powder) [...] "(p. 81)


Root mentions that pigeon eggs are "very popular" in China. The "'hundred' 'or" millennial "eggs in Chinese cuisine are duck eggs (which can be up to 100 days old)" (p. 48) [5]


At the end of this article, Root gives a few more references to Chinese food culture: He mentions that the leaves of the chrysanthemum flowers in China are enjoyed "dried as a tea ingredient" (p. 37). He writes about the tree of gods that "its leaves in China fed silkworms in times of abundance and people in times of want". (P. 88) The grasshopper is also known in China as the “shrub crab” (p. 102 and 180). Under “Lo” Root mentions not only the longan, “a subtropical fruit that looks like a loose cluster of yellowish grapes and [which] in China as 'dragon eyes' [chines. longyan 龍眼] denotes ”, but also that rhizomes and seeds of the lotus plant are“ eaten by today's Chinese ”. (P. 214). Root writes that the earliest description of rhubarb came from China: "She calls the plant a medicinal herb, and so it remained for the next 4,500 years when its root was used as a laxative" (p. 306). While Root in the entry "Birds Nests" (p. 371) does not give any reference to Chinese cuisine, at the end of this article, the "cloud ear mushroom" (must 木耳) mentions "which can only be eaten fresh in China, in which form it tastes much better than in the dried form that is used elsewhere". (P. 380)

  1. Waverley Root: Everything you can eat. A culinary trip around the world from blackberry to onion. Edited and translated from the American by Melanie Walz (Frankfurt a. M. 2002 [German first edition under the title The mouth book (Frankfurt a. M. 1994); american. Original: Food. An Authoritative and Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World (New York 1980]). [↩]
  2. zasui 雜碎, i.e. "Various leftovers" [↩]
  3. See: "The Cantonese eat everything that flies in the sky, except airplanes." East Asia Lexicon, East Asia Institute of the University of Ludwigshafen am Rhein. [↩]
  4. For example, the mention of the consumption of dog's liver attested to in the 2nd century BC (p. 210) or the rather vague information about snake meat (p. 329). [↩]
  5. On the pine blossom eggs or millennial herons see East Asia Institute of the Ludwigshafen University of Applied Sciences: East Asia Lexicon, Art. “Millennial Eggs”. [↩]