Adventurers ate Indian desserts, Persian bread on Silk Road

Beijing, PTI | Updated : 29 July 2013, 01:53 PM

Persian bread, Indian desserts and Arabic naan were some of the exotic delicacies adventurers relished on the ancient Silk Road as evidenced by frescoes found recently in China.

The frescoes found at the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang in Gansu province, has revealed a culinary side of the travellers in those days.

Dunhuang was a trading hub on the ancient trading route. Grottoes along the ancient Silk Road are home to roughly 70,000 square metres of frescoes. These murals and about 50,000 ancient books that have been unearthed in the same areas offer vivid accounts of what adventurers ate on the grand trade route that linked the Chinese city of Xi'an with Rome from about 110 BC to the late 1400s.

"Many paintings portray people eating doner kebab, a food that has swept the world nowadays," Gao Qi'an, a Dunhuang researcher at Lanzhou University of Finance and Economics told state-run news agency Xinhua.

Researchers also found some of the cookware used to make these dishes, and they are as same as the pans and griddles still used by people living in Gansu's rural Hexi Corridor.

Zhao Chang'an, deputy chairman of the Gansu Institute of Dunhuang Studies, is breathing new life into these ancient delicacies.

Given its close proximity to Central Asia, dozens of ancient nationalities could be found there -- and where people mix, so do cuisines.

Zhao's restaurant has developed over 400 dishes reminiscent of the foods that dotted the ancient Silk Road. Tourists can have a taste of the Silk Road for about 100 yuan (USD 16.3) per head.

"It's not just about the food. How people eat also matters," Zhao said.

 "The dignitaries cared a lot about etiquette. They even asked waiters and waitresses to serve food with specific gestures," he said.

Zhao asked his employees to study the Dunhuang frescoes and learn to serve dishes in the same way people did when the ancient Silk Road was in its heyday.

But not all ancient traders could afford to eat in such an elegant and sumptuous manner.

In fact, Gao said, "Most people filled their belly with bread and dried beef."

Therefore, Zhao's team also published some easy-to-read recipes, which are also part of his campaign to give more people the opportunity to taste the ancient dishes.

The ancient route's total length is over 10,000 km, with 4,000 km located within China. In January, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan jointly submitted an application to the UNESCO for adding it to the World Heritage List for 2014.

First Published: Monday, July 29, 2013 01:08 PM
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