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Culinary Tradition and Food Culture in China

July 19, 2017

 A variety of cultures have been melded together through the thousands of years of Chinese history, and culinary traditions and customs have formed an important part of this process. Of course, different areas in China continue to have their distinct influences and characteristics. In the present day, Chinese cuisine is often divided into eight major categories based on geographical location. 

     Eating is the most important thing for all human beings. Every country in the world has a traditional food culture that can be related to its history. Each area has different diet habits and taste preferences that are the foundation for their culinary traditions. It’s these habits and preferences which make the connoisseurs around the world long for a region’s amazing food. In East Asia, there is a country that has a very long history and civilization. Over there, it has unforgettable cuisine from the mountains and ocean. With incredible seasoning, the food there amazes millions of people’s taste buds and nerves. 

Features of the Chinese diet 

     A major feature of the Chinese diet is hot and cooked food, which is related to the early civilization development in China. Chinese cuisine has always been known for its broad recipes and refined cooking techniques. According to historical records, emperor of Liang Wu’s chef could make one food ingredient into ten flavors and dishes by his talent in cooking during the Northern and Southern Dynasty. 

     In the way how Chinese people make up their diet, they have their own characteristics. This is shown by the eating-together system. This system has originated very early and can be found in many historical relics. In the ancient China, the cooking place and the dining place was in the same room; the cooking place was in the center of the house and the skylight above it was used to discharge smoke from the bonfire on the cooking floor. After the food was finished, people would surround the bonfire and dine. This custom has spread around China for a long time until today because it reflects a concept of the bond between family that Chinese people value a lot. 

     Regarding dining utensils, using chopsticks is another feature of Chinese cuisine. Chopsticks were called “Zhu” in the past that stretches back thousands of years. Usually, they were made of bamboo that is light and easy to use. Lots of Western people seeing Eastern people using two sticks easily surprises them very much and makes chopsticks seem like an artistic creation. In fact, most chopsticks in the Eastern countries originated from China. Chinese ancestors invented chopsticks and then brought this convenience to more countries, which indeed contributed hugely to human civilization. 

Features of Chinese diet culture

China is a country with a great civilization, and it also has a historical diet culture.

There are several characteristics of Chinese diet culture:

Firstly, the variety of flavors.

Due to the broad and wide territory of China, the customs, products, and habits are very different in different regions. For a long time, each place has had its own unique tastes in cuisine. There is a Chinese saying that goes, “Southern rice, northern noodle” and “sweet south, salty north, sour east, spicy west” that generally divides Chinese cuisine into five major styles of Bashu, Qilu, Huaiyang, Guangdong and Fujian. 

Second, the seasonal diet.

Throughout a year, the cuisine depending on the season is also a feature of Chinese cooking. Since ancient times, China has been seasoned and chose food materials by season. Thick flavors for winter that stew and simmer more, cool and refreshing flavors for summer that cool and freeze more. 

Third, the aesthetics of cuisine.

Chinese cuisine not only need skills but also emphasizes the aesthetics of the cuisine, which includes color, smell, taste, shape, and also has to be harmonious with the container. There are multiple aspects for the performance of the aesthetics of dishes. No matter whether it is a carrot or a cabbage, everything could be carved into different shapes and unique styles to reach the harmony of color, smell, taste, shape, and beauty, which gives people a spiritual and corporeal enjoyment 

Fourth, emphasizing the sense of entertainment. 

Chinese dishes have focused on taste for a long time, which not only has strict requirement for dishes’ color, smell, and taste but also requirements on its name, how to taste it, the tempo of dining, and the accompaniment of entertainment. Chinese cuisine is very dainty about its naming and some dishes were named by whether they were main or side dishes or based on the seasoning or cooking methods. Some other dishes were named after historical stories and legends, the hobbies of celebrities, or their appearance, such as “Family Portrait”, “General Crossing the Bridge”, and “Lion’s Head”. 

Fifth, the combination of food and medicine.

The techniques of Chinese cooking have had a close relationship with health and medicine. Thousands of years ago, there was a saying that goes “Medicine and Food have the same origin.” This shows that Chinese people often use the medicinal value within the food to make it delicious while at the same time curing and preventing certain diseases. 

Ancient Chinese people also specifically emphasized the harmony between dining and the tempo of the universe. In different seasons and times, people have to eat different kinds of food, even when processing or cooking food, people have to consider the season, weather, and other factors. 

“Yin Yang and the five elements” is regard as a traditional mode set by the world and also considered as the law of the universe. Humans are one of the “San Cai” mentioned in the I Ching, and the food and diet is indispensable to human’s life, so cooking has to follow this law as well. Thus, Chinese people divided flavor into five main categories, and also divided grains, livestock, vegetables, and fruits into “five grains”, “five meats”, “five vegetables” and “five fruits”, which makes people’s heads spin because of all the different classifications!

 

 

 

 

 

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