The development of Chinese food and food habit
The Chinese treat the food not only with big respect, but also with passion.
"Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven are edible."
(Cantonese saying. Source: The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo)
The necessity forced the Chinese to eat almost all which grows on earth; but people changed this need into virtue, and nowadays, Chinese food shows proudly the biggest variety of dishes in the world (around 5 000).
Chinese food and the way it is prepared was first influenced by both main philosophies, which influence the whole Chinese culture. These dominant philosophies are Confucianism and Taoism. Both make have influenced the method Chinese cook and value their food.
Without a doubt, in China, food means much more than simply filling the stomach; food is filled with meaning.
For example, oranges to wish luck and good income; fish, for wealth; chicken, also for luck; chestnuts, for higher income; soya is the hope to grow rich.
The newlyweds eat sweet balls made with glutinous rice to make sure their marriage is going to be a pleasant and harmonious experience; on their bed of wedding, they find walnuts, dates, candies and oranges left by their family expecting a birth as soon as possible.
Westerners may be surprised to learn that white rice isn’t common in some parts of China. For example, in northern China wheat, millet and soy beans are staples.
The Chinese traditional food consists essentially of fresh vegetables; cereals are basic food and vegetables dish up as accompaniment as well as the meat.
The enlargement of this food habit is due to the Chinese mode of production, especially agricultural, in the regions of the Central Plain; the composition of the meals varying however according to the social class. That is why in former China, the upper class persons were nicknamed "carnivores".
The Chinese prefer the cooked and warm food; it is one of the characteristics of their food habits probably bound to the development of the civilization and the art of cooking in China.
The Chinese cuisine is world-famous for its numerous recipes and its techniques of preparation.
According to historic books, under South Dynasty, a cook of Emperor Wu of Liang (464–549), personal name Xiao Yan, knew how to prepare about ten dishes with a single cucurbit and especially a plate with tens different flavours. His culinary capacities were remarkable.
“Eat at the same table” is a characteristic Chinese food custom which dates back to very old times. Thanks to archaeological discoveries, we know that in antique China, the kitchen and the place where the meals were taken were located in the centre of the house.
The tradition to take the meals around the fire was transmitted from generation to generation until today. It reflects the importance of the blood relationship and the notion of family in China.
The use of chop sticks is also a characteristic of Chinese food practice from Shang period.
In reality, chopsticks were born in China and extended later into diverse oriental countries. Generally chopsticks are made in bamboo, and so are simple and economic, practical and easy to handle.
Interesting tips for your reference
A few comments on Chinese dining
1. The Chinese are superb hosts. Twelve-course banquets with frequent toasts are a Chinese trademark.
2. The Chinese generally eat dinner earlier than Westerners do.
3. Most meals have a soup course.
meals with a soup
4. People use chopsticks for all Chinese-style meals.
5. Carry your own chopsticks to use when eating in rural areas or small urban restaurants serving local clientele. If you don’t have your own chopsticks, try to discretely pour boiling water or tea over those provided to clean them.
6. China has eight major cuisines: Shandong, Sichuan (Szechuan), Guangdong (Cantonese), Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan, and Anhui. There are also many more minor and ethnic variations. Each region’s history, geography, climate, resources, and lifestyles contributed to the development of its unique foods. Before travelling to China, learn about the cuisine of the region you’ll be visited could be wise in order to be able to enjoy the cooking.
When Dining in Restaurants
1. If you extend the invitation, let your Chinese guests choose the restaurant. Most Chinese people prefer Chinese food, but may be too polite to say so.
2. The person who extended the invitation pays the bill, without exception.
3. Hotel restaurants are always busy. Reserve a table early in the day, and be prompt. Restaurants will give away your table if you are late.
4. Seat yourself in less formal restaurants. If a restaurant is crowed, strangers will share tables. (If strangers sit at your table, you don’t need to talk to them).
5. Most restaurant tables are round and have a revolving tray with several different dishes for people to sample. Try each dish at a meal or banquet.
6. If you are the host, order one dish for every guest plus one extra. Also order rice, noodles, and buns. The host should invite guests to begin eating a new dish.
7. Government-owned or - managed restaurants have poor service and food, and the usually close by 8:00 PM. They often seat foreigners in an area separate from locals. Never object to where you are seated.
When Dining in Homes
1. The Chinese rarely invite guests to their homes. If you receive such an invitation, always remember it is an honour. Be on time or a little early, and bring a small gift.
2. Bedrooms and kitchens are private areas. Never enter these rooms without an invitation.
3. The host always seats the guest of honour at the head of the table, facing the door. The host sits opposite him or her.
4. In homes, the Chinese serve all dishes at once. The host places serving of each dish on guest’s plates. Be sure to sample each one.
5. After the meal, hosts walk guests to their cars and wave goodbye until guests are out of sight.
1. Tea is part of the Chinese lifestyle and drinking. The Chinese believe tea has health benefits, which the rest of the world is just discovering.
2. Coffee is becoming popular among stylish urbanites.
3. Most Chinese chose to drink beer over other alcoholic beverages.
4. Chinese liquors may have very high alcohol content. Drink with caution.
5. When a Chinese buddy offers you a drink, try not to refuse it.
6. In social situations, drunkenness is perfectly acceptable for men. The Chinese consider intoxication a way to relax and have a good time. Women, however, should drink sparingly and never become intoxicated.
7. At each place at banquets, the Chinese set tree glasses: a large one for beer, soda or mineral water; a small wineglass; and a stemmed shot glass used for toasting (usually with mao-tai, very strong sorghum liquor).