Delicious sweet potatoes are everywhere. The “healthy” potato once originated in the Americas, but now can be found in even the most remote parts of the world. So, how did they make it to China? Thanks to one Dongguan man.
Chen Yi (陈益), from Humen, traveled to Annan (now Vietnam) in 1580 during the Ming Dynasty. There, he was served his first taste of orange-y delight and studied the growth habits and cultivation techniques of the root for two years.
In 1582, he risked death and hid some seeds in a bronze drum to bring back to China. A few Vietnam boats chased after him once they realized his trick, but luckily for many Chinese dishes today, he escaped.
Back in his home territory, he still didn’t fully understand the planting process of sweet potatoes and so, he only carefully put it into soil. Later, when a small stem broke through, a curious servant pulled on it and accidentally damaged the plant. Too afraid to admit her mistake, she buried stem. Surprisingly, a new stem grew anew a few days and she—and the plant—were saved. This helped Chen discover how to grow the sweet potato. The vegetable was quickly spread across China, combatting famine at the time. The rest is history.