China is a country with a rich history and traditions when it comes to food. The most basic thing to know about Chinese food culture is that the typical meal contains two parts. The first is a staple food made from rice, steamed buns, meat, and vegetable dishes. This differs considerably from Western countries that typically center meals around an animal protein.
The Chinese also eat their meals much differently than Westerners do. While each person at the table has their own bowl of rice, the person preparing the food sets out the rest of the dishes on the table for people to serve themselves communal style. It is common for people in China to eat a mouthful of the main dish at the same time as a mouthful of rice.
Another big difference is that Chinese people generally do not eat a desert immediately after a meal. Instead, they consider snacks between meals as their desert.
While Americans, Canadians, and people in other Western cultures use knives, forks, and spoons to bring food from the plate to their mouth, Chinese people use chopsticks almost exclusively as soon as they are old enough and strong enough to hold them in their hands.
Common Ingredients Found in Authentic Chinese Food
Rice is the most common staple food for people living in Southern China because of the large percentage of people who produce rice on their farms. Those who live in Northern China are more apt to use one of these staple foods:
- Steamed buns
- Sweet potatoes
The reason for these choices is that wheat farmers are more prevalent in Northern China than rice farmers.
Per Chinese food culture, people don’t divide their meals into courses like people do in Western countries. While they usually eat more than one course for their largest meal, people in China serve a cold dish first, then soup, and finally a hot dish as the main course.
Fruits, meats, and vegetables play a big part of the typical Chinese meal. These ingredients create the authentic flavor and texture that has come to symbolize Chinese food over many centuries.
Cooks in China pride themselves on creating a memorable food experience that goes beyond just the taste of the food. It also includes the aroma, texture, form, and aesthetics. They achieve this by using cooking techniques perfected over the years along with oils, sauces, spices, and a variety of cooking utensils.
Etiquette at the Dinner Table is a Much Bigger Deal in Chinese Culture
Every Chinese family has a hierarchy, and this is on full display when they sit down to eat together. The person considered the head of the household or the most esteemed guest takes his or her seat at the chair facing the dining room entrance.
Chinese food culture dictates that family members or guests with the most prominent role behind the esteemed guest or head of household sit to that person’s left and right. This pattern continues until the youngest person in the family or group ends up seated directly across from the person with the best seat.
In highly traditional Chinese families, the youngest person invites the oldest person to come sit down for dinner. Dishes considered favorite foods go directly in front of the primary person at the table. This person has the honor of picking up his or her chopsticks first, which is a signal to others that they can start eating too.
History indicates that the country of China is at least 4,000 years old. Perhaps one of the reasons it has survived that long is that people have insisted on sticking to the culinary traditions of their ancestors rather than attempting to become more independent and modern.