Culture Insider: What did ancient Chinese people eat in summer?

By Li Hongrui | |

On hot summer days, few people have a good appetite. Ice cream and fruit sound more refreshing than a bowl of hot noodles.

In the past, ancient Chinese people also enjoyed "ice cream" and specially prepared fruit in summer. Here are three delicacies they treated themselves to in hot weather.



                                          Crushed ice. [Photo/VCG]


Su shan

Su shan (酥山) is a dish that looks like crushed ice with milk and butter.

Poet Wang Lingran from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) described how people made and enjoyed su shan in his poem Ode to Su He Shan. According to the text, sugar was added to su shan that was shaped into many forms. Sometimes, su shan was decorated with flowers and leaves to make it more beautiful.

"It is neither solid, nor watery and disappears once it touches teeth," the poet wrote.

The su shan in his poem was thought by many scholars to be an early form of ice cream. However, only the royals and nobles were lucky enough to have large iceboxes to create the delicacy in summer.



                                             Iced juice. [Photo/VCG]


Ice and iced beverages

Although there were no fridges in ancient times, iceboxes to store ice cubes in summer had become very common in rich families by the Tang Dynasty.

At that time, people either had ice water or crunched shaved ice.

People could easily buy iced beverages on the street during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). As a community service, some rich people even provided free ice water and medicine on the street for free.

Ice water sold during the Song Dynasty was often added to mung beans or licorice to help prevent heat stroke.


                                           Cherries. [Photo/VCG]


Cherries with cheese and cane syrup

During the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties (220-581), dairy food appeared more frequently on ancient Chinese people's tables.

People made three kinds of cheese. One was called tian lao, or sweet cheese, which tasted like cheese yet looked like yogurt. Another is gan lao, or dried cheese, similar to solid cheese eaten today. The last one is cu lao, a kind of half-sour, half-sweet cheese, like yogurt.

The climate in the Yellow River area in the Tang Dynasty was warmer and moister, very different from today. Many cheery trees were planted there at that time. The fruit was common in early summer and people often added cheese and cane syrup to the cherries.

Lu You, a noted poet from the Song Dynasty, once wrote: "eat cherry, peach and cheese at the same time".

Thus in the Song Dynasty, when ancient Chinese people sent cherries as gifts, cheese was often presented together.

When rich noble people had cherries with cheese and cane syrup, they often used plates and bowls made of gold or colored glaze to make the fruit look more mouthwatering.


                                                Yogurt. [Photo/VCG]


                      Two gold bowls from the Tang Dynasty. [Photo/]