In the 13th and 14th century several missionaries travelled from Europe to the Far East, in particular to China. Important Franciscan travellers such as William of Rubruck and John of Marignolli provide important insights into the food culture of the places they visited. Their Latin travel accounts describe in great detail the different kind of food they find and how it should be prepared and consumed. Based on excerpts from these works, this paper will show how European travellers responded to and interacted with foods they often experienced for the first time, like exotic fruits and unusual beverages.
Although the authenticity of his accounts has been under scrutiny and subject to heated debates among scholars, Marco Polo’s (1254-1324) travelogue nevertheless offers a fascinating and rich insight into some of the otherwise obscured details of imperial court life during the reign of Kublai Khan (1271-1294) in China. With regard to food and feasting he records in chapter 10 of his account how court rituals involve ritual drinking of mares’s and camels’s milk and devouring mutton dishes as a reverence to the nomadic and pastoral origins of the Mongol tribes, what containers and vessels were used for this purpose, how people are seated according to their rank, how the emperor is served his food and how these ritual feastings turn into leisurely gatherings after the ceremonial part is concluded.