::: Home > Marco Polo > Images of China > Proper Habits of Food and Drink

Yuan dynasty Hu Sihui (fl. first half of 14th c.)

Proper Habits of Food and Drink

Proper Habits of Food and Drink

Ming dynasty court imprint of 1456 Three volumes in three books 18.8 x 24.5 cm

Hu Sihui was a Mongol whose birth and death dates are unknown. During the period from 1314 to 1330, he served as the Grand Doctor of Food and Drink, being the chief official in charge of hygiene and the medicinal qualities of food and drink served at court. In time outside of his official duties, he compiled a book that described the delicacies consumed at the Yuan court, the methods of cooking and herbal prescriptions used by the masters, and staple food consumed such as meat, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Entitled "Proper Habits of Food and Drink," it was submitted to Emperor Wenzong (Tegtemur) in 1330.

This book is divided into three volumes and its content into three parts:
1. The taboos and suggested daily activities of food and drink: This part describes in general the combinations of certain food and customs of daily hygiene to lengthen one's life. It also describes the food to be taken and avoided for pregnant and nursing women, the food to be avoided while taking medicine, and a remedy for food poisoning.
2. The classification and recording of nourishing diets: Divided into four categories, it records 235 nourishing dishes including soups, noodles, porridges, meat, and vegetables. Each dish first describes its medicinal effect, then its prescription, and then its method of production. The wording is simple and easily understandable, making it suitable even for the common folk.
3. Introduction to the features and functions of common food: In this part, 260 commonly consumed food is accompanied by illustrations and an introduction to their taste, healthful effects, efficacy, and suitability for consumption.

The emphasis of the book is on treatment, focusing on the nourishing effects of food. As such, it is the earliest Chinese manual on nutrition. The foods are easy to make and come from readily available ingredients. The book also records many names of foods of the Mongols, terms of etiquette, and hygienic customs. It also includes terms used by minorities from other regions, making it a valuable source of information on ancient Chinese nutrition and Yuan customs of food and drink.