In western countries, people are used to takeout Chinese food,
such as fried rice, chow mein, chicken balls, sweet and sour
pork, or a variety of soups, which are only few small samples
of Chinese food, and usually they are quite westernized. Actually,
there is an enormous variety of Chinese food that differs greatly
from region to region.
In addition to that, Chinese people preserve food by smoking,
salting, sugaring, steeping, pickling, drying and soaking in
many kinds of soy sauces, so that food would not go rotten.
With preserved food, they were ever ready in the time of hardship
Few people know that food in specific regions usually has its
own cultural significance. Among all kinds of regional cuisines,
Chinese food is one of the best examples to illustrate this
The Chinese people believe that a delightful and delicious
meal creates happiness, harmony, mental and physical well being.
Confucius, the greatest philosopher in Chinese history, once
said: “Eating is the utmost important part of life.” Therefore,
people cannot understand Chinese culture without learning the
significance of Chinese food.
In Chinese culture, a meal is composed of two main parts:
fan (grains) and ts’ai (meat and vegetable). Fan refers to rice
and ts’ai refers to foods prepared to go with rice. Preparing
food from raw ingredients to morsels ready for the mouth involves
a complex process. Meats and vegetables are cut up and mixed
in various ways, and become individual dishes to constitute
To prepare the ts’ai, people use many kinds of ingredients
and flavors. For instance, pork may be ground, sliced, or diced,
and then combined with vegetables and various spices. Spices
are one of the most essential parts of Chinese food because
Chinese people evaluate whether or not a dish is delicious based
on its shapes, flavors, colors, tastes, and aromas.
Beijing food is particularly known for Beijing Duck. Because
Beijing is located in northern China, a cold climate is not
suitable to grow rice. Thus, wheat is the primary diet for people
living in the northern China. On the other hand, Guangdong is
a southern province of China. Known for Cantonese food, the
food is typically steamed, boiled, or stir-fried. In this region,
seafood, pork, chicken, and vegetables are the main ingredients;
rice is the main grain consumed. Sichuan, a southwestern province
of China, is famous for its spicy tasting food. Nearly every
Sichuan dish is prepared using chili pepper oil. Kung Pao Chicken,
for instance, which is one famous Sichuan dish, is fried with
peanuts and chili pepper.
Furthermore, the Chinese people place value on eating because
they deem food as natural medicine. A theory of the “harmonization
of food” created by an ancient scholar Yin Yi (16-11 century
B.C.) relates the five flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, piquant,
and salty to the nutritional needs of the five major organ systems
of a human’s body (the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys).
Chang mentioned in his book that the regulation of diet as
a disease preventive or cure is certainly as Western as it is
Chinese, but the Chinese case is distinctive for its underlying
—yin-yang principles. Food is classifiable into those possessing
yin attributes and those possessing yang. Yin means cold while
yang means hot. Yin-yang forces exists in everyone’s body, according
to ancient Chinese knowledge and belief.
People select food to eat based on their physical conditions,
because the kinds of food and how much food they eat affect
the yin-yang equilibrium. The Chinese people believe disequilibrium
is why people get sick. For instance, a female should avoid
eating food or fruits like celery, tomato, lettuce, cucumber,
or watermelon while she is having her period. In the Chinese
view, these foods have yin qualities, and make the body cold,
while remaining warm during the period is very important for
The most important aspect of the Chinese food culture is to
Chinese culture itself. Today, Chinese are again enjoying stability
and the good life after a century of suffering.