history, Chinese have been dedicated eaters of swine.
Pigs were among the first animals domesticated for
food in ancient China. Excavations of the Zengpiyan Cave
in Guilin, Guangxi
turned up remains of what is
believed to be the earliest evidence of the domesticated
pig in the world. Today 10,000 years later, China still
consumes far more pork than any other country, and not
surprisingly, has the world's largest pig population (over 700
million, head says one source). While other meat types are
rapidly gaining in popularity, consumption of pork still
accounts for a whopping 70 percent of all meat eaten in
China. Although these figures sound impressive, it is worth
remembering that until recent, relatively more affluent
times, the average individual never got to eat much meat
of any kind.
The importance of the pig in
the Chinese diet is reflected strongly in language. In
days past, and still today, to some extent, any family
home of the slightest substance would quarter at least
one animal. The pig was such an integral part of normal
family life that writing the Chinese character for roof
written above the one for pig, creates the word meaning home or family (豬 zhu).
Compared to grazing animals
like sheep or cattle, the omnivorous pig is a super-efficient
meat producer, one that can be tethered in a small space
or left to scavenge by itself. In a crowded environment
the pig is perfectly suited to life among a rural family.
Pigs eat nearly anything remotely resembling food, including
stuff that humans choose not to ingest or cannot digest
– picture the classic image of the slop bucket and you
get the basic idea. They can even derive nutrition from
human excrement, eliminating a sanitary problem for their
masters in the process (the pig's own manure is quickly
turned into fertiliser for the vegetable garden).
The character for meat is a
synonym for pork. In other words, when the meat of a dish
is not specified, you can be almost certain that it is
pork. As an example, let's take a dish everyone knows:
fried rice. Pork fried rice in Chinese would read meat
fried rice, with everyone understanding that meat refers
to pork. All other meats, being less common are always
identified clearly. Thus we get chicken fried rice or beef
Almost all parts of the pig
are used for food and any reasonably comprehensive list
of dishes would be vast. Liver, kidney, and intestines
are all commonly used, as is skin. Lard is still used as
a cooking oil in some regions. Chinese produce ham, turn
pork into sausages, and preserved pork belly has a bacon-like
taste. Braised pig's trotters and knuckles are popular
dishes. Slabs of congealed pig's blood are cut into cubes
and used like tofu in soup. The pig is a symbol of virility,
and so pork is used as a strengthening food for pregnant
woman and new mothers.
For an interesting appetiser,
try pig's ear. The ear is cooked, then sliced very thinly,
and perhaps served with slivers of young ginger and soy
sauce. The texture is a slightly gnarly combination of
skin and cartilage.
Despite its great usefulness
to humans, the Chinese pig like its European cousin is
often denigrated as lazy, greedy, dirty and stupid. In
China, if you wish to question somebody's intellectual
capacity you would call the person a pig head.