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Chinese astronaut food
The Chinese love to eat and eating occupies a high place in Chinese life. It has been said that eating is "the principal Chinese means of celebrating an conceivable event.” Meals are a time to socialize and relax, and often the more people the merrier. The best restaurants are often referred to a renao—“hot and noisy.” A number of expression involve food names. A potsticker (a gotte) is person who leaves his comfortable state-owned-job. Eating tofu (chi doufu) is the act of cheating on one’s wife. One of the most common greetings is "ni chi fan ma?" (“have you eaten yet?”).

Dishes are made with beef, pork, duck, chicken and fish. Pork is a staple food in China, which has the largest porcine population in the world. Its 475 million pigs represent nearly half the global total. Some 70 percent of these animals are raised by small farmers, and mortality rates are high. In the town of Jiaxing alone nearly 750,000 pigs die of disease every year, estimates Mr. Lin. [Source: Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, March 14, 2013]

Chinese food found in China often has more bones, shells and body parts than Chinese food found in the United States. It also tends to have more vegetables, less meat and often times less oil. Supermarkets with Chinese foods sell things like frozen, dumplings, xiaolong mantou soup-filled buns, black rice vinegar, doubanjiang paste, dried cloud ear mushrooms, Chinese rice wine, silkworm pupae, pig's feet, mutton and cilantro. There are also seasonal foods such as Chinese mitten crabs, fresh lychees. Live food in tanks includes fresh seafood, carp, grass carp and soft-shell turtles. [Source: Akihito Teramura, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 29, 2012]

Chinese food in China varies a great deal from region to region, with rice being the staple in the south and noodles the staple in north, although both rice and noodles are generally offered everywhere. Emily Ford wrote in The Times: “China’s eating habits are as diverse as Europe’s. What tastes good in Beijing may be unrecognizable 1,600 kilometers away in Chengdu...Tastes are fairly well ingrained. Chinese people like to slurp yoghurt through a straw and are suspicious of fizzy drinks. They do not have the West’s sweet tooth and cheese is about as appetizing as “mammal breast jelly,” as it translates in Mandarin.”

Many Chinese believe that food has medicinal qualities. They regard the collagen found in shark fin soup for instance as good for the skin. The vinegar from dragon fruit is said to be good for the spleen, pork is said be effective in increasing qi and tencha Chinese teas, traditionalist believe, keeps allergies at bay.

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business class airline food
on China Air

The average Chinese adult consumes 2,734 calories a day (compared to 3,603 calories per adult in the United States and 1,991 calories in Kenya). Grains make up 54.7 percent of the diet, compared to 24.8 percent in the United States. Household expenditure on food (1994): 61 percent including alcohol and tobacco (compared to 50 percent in Ethiopia and 13 percent in the United States).

In 2012 China became the top groceries market: Chinese consumers bought $970 billion in groceries last year, compared with the U.S. total of $913.5 billion, according to U.K.-based grocery research firm IGD. [Source: Laurie Burkitt, Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2012]

The Chinese government controls the salt industry. Foodstuffs produced by government-controlled companies regularly found to have salt contents three to four times above the government's own guidelines. [Source: Iain Mills, Asia Times, April 21, 2010]

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Eating China Blog ; Chinese Government site; China ; Open Directory List ; Nice Chinese Food Blog ;Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Chopstix ; Asia Recipe ; Chinese Food Recipes : Food Tours in China: Infohub Infohub ; China Highlights China Highlights . There are more listings if you google “Food Tours in China.” Chinese Food History: Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Qing Food China Vista ; Ming FoodChina Vista ; Imperial Food Guide


Buying Food in China

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Huashan hospital food

It has been said that the Chinese make food choice decisions based on the Five Fs: fresh fish, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh meats and fresh seafood.

Chinese have traditionally liked their food very fresh. That is why you see so many live animals in the markets, Chinese like to see turtles that can still swim, chickens that can run, crabs that can pinch. Waiters at restaurants often show customers a live, flopping fish before it is thrown in a skillet. When shopping Chinese cooks look for fish with bright clear eyes and deep red gills; pork with a good ratio of meat to fat. They try to get vegetables that are as fresh as possible; get them from the market to the kitchen in as short of time as possible; and cut them at the last minute.

Food shopping in southern China has traditionally been done at “wet markets”---bustling food bazaars that truck in fresh vegetables and live animals every morning. Most customers have traditionally bought food and prepared it the same day. SARS, bird flu and food poisoning scares have raised safety concerns about these markets.

Most grains and edible oils are sold at prices set by the government. In some places Chinese still need to use ration cards to buy rice, grains and other staples.Cooking oil is an essential ingredient in Chinese cooking. In 2007 and 2008 there was a cooking oil crisis. Prices surged and supplies dried up in some areas. In November 2007 a large Carrefour grocery store in Chongqing offered a limited time sale of vegetable oil, at 20 percent off the normal price. In the stampede that ensured three people were killed and 32 were injured.

Shopping habits have changed as people have acquired refrigerators and microwave ovens and have started shopping at Western-style supermarkets. Consumers now buy more processed and frozen food and more dairy products than they used to. One customer at a Shanghai supermarket told the New York Times, “I come here more than 10 times a month. You can get everything here. And you can do all your shopping at once.”

Describing how high food prices have affected the life of an elderly family Fran Wang of AFP wrote, “The couple bought some vegetables, sticky rice and wrapping leaves to make the dumplings 10 days before Monday's Dragon Boat Festival---a pre-emptive move to avoid expected price rises as the holiday draws nearer. Li's pension provides her with 1,100 yuan (US$170) a month---far from enough to deal with spiraling prices. “My kids have to subsidize us,” she said. “We will have to depend on them in the future. I feel guilty.” [Source: Fran Wang, AFP, June 6, 2011]

Food and Health in China

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special at
Cultural Revolution restaurant

"No race on earth pays more attention than the Chinese to health, in terms of what they eat and drink," a representable of France's Remy Martin group in Hong Kong told the International Herald Tribune. One Chinese restauranteur told Reuter, "Our objective is to strike through our meals a balance between 'yin' and 'yang' in our body system."

A study in 1989 determined that Chinese eat 25 percent more calories than Americans, adjusted for height, and concluded that the Chinese were less likely to be overweight because they eat less fat and meat than Americas.

Rather than a food pyramid, Chinese are encouraged to eat in accordance with a food pagoda. In schools children are taught they should eat moderately polished cereals (whole grains), milk and bean products daily. They are also taught food should be distributed through three meals.

A survey in 1959 found that most Chinese didn’t get enough food and their diet consisted mostly of course grains, with rice and wheat making up only around 10 percent of their caloric intake. By 1982 people were getting enough to eat but their diet was still dominated by coarse grains.

Many people eat special foods because of their purported health benefits. Soups made with black chicken are supposed be good for one's skin. Fresh water fish with American ginseng is supposed to relieve fatigue. Crab and papaya are regarded as cooling dishes eaten in the summer.

In an effort to get Chinese to reduce their intake of salt five million small blue plastic spoons were distributed to households in Beijing with the idea that families would limit their intake of salt to one spoon a day ro reduce their chance of developing high blood pressure.

Organic Food in China

right Organic milk can cost three times as much as regular milk but in some areas people are willing to pay the price to ensure the milk is free of chemicals and safe.

A survey by the Chinese government in 2010 found that about 5 percent of produce examined was polluted with harmful substances in excess of government-set maximum levels. As is true with many things in China, there are reasonably good laws on the books for food safety but following and enforcing these laws is another story.

Research by Japanese companies such as Asahi Beer indicates that many farmers lack the knowledge on how ro use agricultural chemicals.

Many ordinary Chinese take routine measures such as soaking vegetables in water to remove chemicals and ensure they are safe. On preparing vegetables such as winter melon and a housewife in Qingdao told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “I soak them in water for at least 30 minutes and often use salt to make sure they’re safe.”

See Organic Farming Under Economics, Agriculture

Overweight Chinese

left About 25 percent of Chinese are overweight or obese. Of all the developing countries, only Mexico has a rate of adult obesity increasing more.

About 300 million Chinese are considered overweight and 90 million (about 7 percent of the population) are obese (2006). The number of obese tripled as the economy grew sevenfold between 1992 and 2006. About 35 percent of adults in Beijing are overweight and 17 percent are obese, and the rate has been increasing at a rate of 10 percent a year. Obesity is defined as being 20 percent above the accepted body weight. Currently 10 percent of children are obese and their numbers increasing by 8 percent every year.

Many blame the problem on Western foods and a more sedentary lifestyle that has occurred as people have switched from farming and bicycles to cars and office jobs. Some blame the rising consumption of dairy products in a country where milk, cheese and butter have traditionally not been consumed, Harvard anthropologist James Watson told Reuters, “I’m personally convinced that this has much more to do with the obesity and health problems that are emerging than the usual scapegoat fast food...There’s a big change in terms of taste when people want ice cream throughout their lives.”

In the old days, being fat was a desirable trait. It signified wealth while being thin was equated with poverty. Back then many people only were able to eat meat a few times a month; many didn’t get enough to eat period. These days being obese is viewed in an unfavorable light.

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sugar cane

Overweight people are increasingly becoming common sights in China. Overweight children are bullied in school. Some have parents who are embarrassed to be seen in public with them, Fat adults are the butt of jokes and thinly-disguised whispers on the streets. As is true with short people in China, they are routinely denied places in schools and passed over for jobs and promotions that go to thin people.

In 1990 the average Chinese ate 51 grams of fat per day---the equivalent amount of fat found in one KFC chicken pt pie and biscuit. Now they eat considerably more than that.

In recent years Chinese have become obsessed with slimming down and losing weight. Ads for appetite suppressants and slimming potions are everywhere. An A.C. Nielsen survey in 2004 found that two thirds of urban Chinese interviewed were concerned about losing weight, 80 percent exercised regularly and three quarters said that health was one of their main concerns.

Weight reduction methods include acupuncture and eating copious amounts of cucumbers. Today there in an increasing demand for liposuction and bands placed around the stomach that restrict food intake and give a person a feeling of fullness.

See Children, People

Chinese Cooking

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street food

Chinese cooks believe that color and aroma of the food is almost as important as the taste. They also say that medicinal and nutritional value of the food is tied to its origin. Cooking techniques include braising, mixed boiling, stir-frying, deep-frying and frying. Sauces are often made from soy sauce, chili sauce, bean sauce, oyster sauce, or plum sauce. The ingredients can be fresh, cured, dried, steamed, stewed, smoked or roasted. A lot of dishes have the flavor enhancer MSG.

The Chinese love to make good food as much as eat it. The famous Hong Kong film director John Woo, for example, likes to stir fry dishes like Cantonese crispy chicken and bean sauce for the crew. "Cooking is the only way I can relax," he told Newsweek. "You make food beautiful. You watch people eat. It's like making a movie."

American-Taiwanese journalist Shirley Fung wrote in Newsweek: “There’s the ingenuity of Chinese cooks. They may not be able to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but they can certainly make it into a sumptuous dish. The Chinese joyously eat everything. A pig, for instance, is literally eaten from head to toe: roasted pig’s ears and stewed pig’s feet are both delicacies.”

Chinese like to cook with a wok, which varies in size in relationship to the size of a family. A family of nine uses one about the size of an automobile tire. An important tool in any Chinese kitchen is clever able to cut easily through pork and chicken bones. Chinese usually cook with lard or vegetable oil.

Many dishes are stir-fried in a quick, flaming, frenzy. Describing a Chinese cook at work an AP reporter wrote. “Jiang Lan tosses a handful of shrimp---each a fingernail sized, pearl-white morsel ...into a smoking hot wok slick with oil. With a quick pinch of salt, a swirl of egg white and vigorous toss of the pan, the dish is done and set steaming before hungry diners.”

In a classic technique known by the misleading name of “water-cooking,” flames shoot up around blackened wok, igniting a mixture of chili paste, chili oil, ginger, garlic and ground Sichuan pepper The flames in flaming woks are produced the cooking oil. The Chinese sometimes say that men are better at stir-frying and women are better at folding dumplings

Many Westerners tend to think all Chinese cooking in stir-frying but in fact a lot of dishes are prepared slowly through stewing and steaming. Stir-frying is suited for restaurants because it is quick. New stoves have traditionally been sanctified by beheading a large cockerel and splashing blood over the site.

History of Chinese Cooking

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tea eggs

Woks were first used more than 2,000 years ago. Their curved shape distributes heat evenly and causes liquid to evaporate quickly.

The ancient Chinese began eating ice cream-like deserts around 2000 B.C. Ancient noblemen were particularly fond of a soft paste made with soft rice and milk, packed with snow. By the 13th century a variety of iced deserts could be purchased from vendors on the streets of Beijing. Marco Polo reportedly brought recipes from ice-cream-like chilled milk deserts from China.

During the Shang Dynasty (1700-1100 B.C.), a ruler appointed his favorite cook to prime minister. Yi Ya was a legendary chef from the ancient Zhou Dynasty. Noodles that were 2,500 year old were found in 2005 During the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907) the Chinese developed the first true restaurants. By the Sung dynasty these had become multipurpose private rooms where men went for food, sex and drink.

In the 10th century, the Chinese enjoyed dumplings, broad noodles with meat and vegetable toppings that often varied from region to region. On the streets of large cities you could get takeaway food like candied fruit and stuffed baked buns.

Chillies arrived from the New World in the Ming dynasty of the 15th and 16th centuries. Verity Wilson, an expert on Chinese culture, told the BBC: "But now they've been absolutely incorporated into the Chinese way of life, and we can't really think about Chinese cooking without chillies. And the other thing we think about is teapots. Teapots have very much become an item associated with China. But pre-Ming dynasty, there were no teapots in China. So I think all those things which we take to be quintessentially Chinese have actually been absorbed by the Chinese from other cultures." [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 9, 2012 ***]

2,500-Year-Old Noodles, Cakes and Porridge Found in Xinjiang

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processed meatballs
In 2010, Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News, “noodles, cakes, porridge, and meat bones dating to around 2,500 years ago were unearthed at a Chinese cemetery, according to a paper that appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Since the cakes were cooked in an oven-like hearth, the findings suggest that the Chinese may have been among the world's first bakers. Prior research determined the ancient Egyptians were also baking bread at around the same time, but this latest discovery indicates that individuals in northern China were skillful bakers who likely learned baking and other more complex cooking techniques much earlier. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, November 19, 2010]

"With the use of fire and grindstones, large amounts of cereals were consumed and transformed into staple foods," lead author Yiwen Gong and his team wrote in the paper. Gong, a researcher at the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team dug up the foods at the Subeixi Cemeteries in the arid Turpan region of Xinjiang. "As a result, the climate is so dry that many mummies and plant remains have been well preserved without decaying," according to the scientists, who added that the human remains they unearthed at the site looked more European than Asian. [Ibid]

“The individuals may have been living in a semi agricultural, pastoral artists' community, since a pottery workshop was found nearby, and each person was buried with pottery,” Viegas wrote. “The archaeologists also found bows, arrows, saddles, leather chest-protectors, boots, woodenwares, knives, an iron aw, a leather scabbard, and a sweater in the graves. But the scientists focused this particular study on the excavated food, included noodles mounded in an earthenware bowl.” “The noodles were thin, delicate, more than 19.7 inches in length and yellow in color," according to Lu and his colleagues. "They resemble the La-Mian noodle, a traditional Chinese noodle that is made by repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough by hand." [Ibid]

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Ciux jak
The food also included ‘sheep's heads (which may have held symbolic meaning), another earthenware bowl full of porridge, and elliptical-shaped cakes as well as round baked goods that resembled modern Chinese moon cakes. Chemical analysis of the starches revealed that both the noodles and cakes were made of common millet. The scientists next put new millet through a barrage of cooking experiments to see if they could duplicate the micro-structure of the ancient foods, which would then reveal how the prehistoric chefs cooked the millet. The researchers determined that boiling damages the appearance of individual millet grains, while baking leaves them more intact. The scientists therefore believe the millet grains in one bowl were once boiled into porridge, the noodles were boiled, and the cakes were baked.” [Ibid]

"Baking technology was not a traditional cooking method in the ancient Chinese cuisine, and has been seldom reported to date," according to the authors, who nevertheless believe these latest food discoveries indicate baking must have been a widespread cooking practice in northwest China 2,500 years ago. [Ibid]

“The discoveries add to the growing body of evidence that millet was the grain of choice for this part of China. Houyuan Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geology and Physics, along with other researchers, unearthed millet-made noodles dating to 4,000 years ago at the Laija archaeological site, also in northwest China. Gong and his team point out that millet was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in northwest China and was probably a food staple because of its drought resistance and ability to grow in poor soils. [Ibid]

2,400-Year-Old Dog Bone Soup Found in Xian

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In a Warring States tomb in Shaanxi Province a team of researchers found a soup containing what they believe to be dog bones. One researcher sampled the what was said to be the world’s oldest soup, which is cloudy and green due to the bronze vessel it was stored in for more than 2,000 years. [Source: Archaeology magazine, January/February 2012]

In December 2010 AFP reported: Chinese archaeologists announced they had discovered a 2,400-year-old pot of bone soup near Xian. The soup and bones were discovered in a small, sealed bronze vessel in a tomb being excavated to make way for the extension of the airport in Xian. The liquid and bones in the vessel had turned green due to the oxidation of the bronze. [Source: AFP, December 13, 2010]

"It's the first discovery of bone soup in Chinese archaeological history," the Global Times quoted Liu Daiyun of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology as saying. "The discovery will play an important role in studying the eating habits and culture of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC)." [Ibid]

Liu told the Times of London took the lid off the three-legged and was amazed to find it was half-full of liquid. “I was really shocked.” he said. “My guess is the liquid did not evaporate because of the lid and the because the tomb had been tightly sealed for more than 2,000 years.” Archaeologists also dug up another bronze pot that contained an odorless liquid believed to be wine in the tomb, which could belong to either a member of the land-owning class or a military officer, the report said

Later History of Chinese Cooking

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Chinese Mushrooms

Chinese cooking reportedly reached its peak in the Song dynasty when cooks experimented with herbs and spices from all over Asia brought into the port of Hangzhou, the Song capital. Noblemen had banquets that lasted for days and featured dishes like "Dragon Meets Phoenix" and "Seven Stars Encircle the Moon." Marco Polo was so taken by Hangzhou he wrote, "So many pleasures may be found that one fancies himself to be in paradise."

The Chinese are credited with inventing chicken noodle soup, pasta and ketchup. According to one story Marco Polo brought noodles back from China and invented spaghetti (See Noodles, Different Foods). The word ketchup comes from ke-tsiap, a tangy sauce made from pickled fish and spices.

Yuan Mei, an 18th-century mandarin, is regarded as the Brillant-Savarin of China. After abandoning his career as a Beijing bureaucrat he settled n Nanjing, where designed his own garden and wrote the influential cookbook Food Lists of the Garden of Contentment . It is believed he didn’t cook himself but was an astute observer, collecting recipes from Buddhist monasteries and taking notes when he had dinners with members of the elite. He gave detailed instructions to his chefs and disliked ostentatiousness, once writing of going home hungry after a flashy 45-dish banquet. [Source: The New Yorker]

General Tso chicken is one of the most famous Chinese dishes in the West. It is named after General Zuo Zonong,, a fierce warrior born in Wenjialong in Hunan in 1812 who was credited with crushing a number of rebellions that threatened the Qing dynasty. It is not clear how the dish became named after him. There is a Hunan dish that bears his name but it is quite different from the sweet and spicy offered at restaurants in the United States.

In the Mao era fine dining suffered as it was associated with the excesses of nationalist and warlord regimes that preceded the Communists. Mao himself disliked refined foods, preferring the spicy Hunan spicy cooking and ingredients like pork fat. During the Cultural revolution, senior chefs were taunted and harassed by their students and restaurants were ordered to serve “cheap, substantial food” for the masses.

Until the 1990s many Chinese didn’t have refrigerators, processed food was rare and people ate mostly local, seasonal produce. In recent years---as China has quickly modernized and refrigerators and supermarkets have become more common and agricultural fields near urban areas have plowed over by developers---processed foods, supermarkets chains and non-local non-seasonal food have become more common. As the Chinese have become richer they are eating more meat at the expense of grains and vegetables.

In 1982 a group of chefs tried to resurrect some imperial dessert recipes by looking up the last emperor's brother.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and Chinese Cooking

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candied kunquats

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common ingredient in Chinese food. First widely used in the 1950s, it is a flavor enhancer and preservative. It was widely by Chinese cooks in the United States before it became popular in China. MSG is known as wei jing (“The essence of flavor”) in China.

MSG is an ingredient in a number foods and is widely used in packaged food today such as onion soup mix, cheese Goldfish crackers, Pringles potato chips, Accent seasoning, Oscar Meyer bologna, Nacho-cheese-flavored Doritos, Ranch-flavored dressings, and low-fat yoghurt. Overseas it is an essential flavor for Marmite in Britain, Salsa Lazono in Costa Rica, Kewpie mayonnaise in Japan, Goya Sazon in the Caribbean, and Golden Mountain sauce in Thailand. In the United States synthetically produced glutamates---essential the sane thing as MSG---have names like hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extracts, protein concentrates.

The glutamate flavor was discovered in Japan in 1908 by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo University. The Japanese company Ajinomoto made it into a crystalline powder form (MSG) and patented the idea in 1908. The key to using MSG is using the right amount, One chef told the New York Times, “Too much MSG and you get that harsh acrid taste. But get it just right and that dish will sing.”

MSG was introduced to China at a time when food supplies were short and basic ingredients were rationed. It was quickly embraced as an easy way to flavor food and was used as a kind of meat substitute. Later it was used even at pricy restaurant as a short cut for making stocks that used to be made from wild fowl, pork ribs and dried seafood.

Americans became suspicions about MSG after a Chinese-American physician wrote what he meant to be a lighthearted letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, saying he experienced numbness, palpations and weakness after eating in Chinese restaurants and wondered if MSG was the cause. After that MSG was labeled as a toxin and removed from a long list of foods, including baby food, and made a lot of Americans wary and suspicious every time they entered a Chinese restaurant. Chinese restaurants responded by putting up “no MSG” signs.

A number of studied have debunked the “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” showing that consuming MSG in normal amounts has no effect on the vast majority of people. Still suspicions about the flavor enhancer remain and but generally it is only unhealthy---but also doesn’t taste very good---if it is consumed in large amounts.

A Chinese-American woman, whose parents ran a number of Chinese restaurants, told the New York Times that even after “no MSG” signs appeared, “Most Chinese restaurant, honestly, kept right on using it. And at home most Chinese cooks will sprinkle a little bit at the end, especially if the ingredients they had to cook with were not that great.”

In 1995, the FDA cleared glutamate of all serious charges leveled against it. A review of research by the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States came to the same conclusion. Even so some foot experts assert that MSG is harmful to one’s health, blaming it for range of serious neurological and physiological aliments, and insist it has no effect on the flavor of food. Some studies have identified MSG as a possible ecitotoxin which overstimulates neurotransmitters to the point of cell damage.


Chinese Eating Habits

Dinner is usually the main meal during the week. Lunch used to be and still in some rural areas and places where people take a long early afternoon break. On the weekend a large meal is eaten in the early afternoon. Many urban Chinese have adopted the American way of eating---a big breakfast, light lunch, and a big dinner.

Rice and noodles are the dietary base, often eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Noodles are sometimes made from rice, but usually they are made from wheat or buckwheat. A traditional meal in northern China consists of rice or noodles, vegetables, soup and dumplings. A typical meal in rural southern China consists of soup, lotus root, Chinese radish, fish, cooked celery, beans, hot sauce and rice. The soup is made from cabbage and tofu stirred fried in a wok. A typical meal in rural villages is some steamed bread and a spicy soupy made with cabbage and potatoes. A peasant lunch consists of sugar cane, oranges, peanuts and salted duck eggs.

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Wedding feast

Dumplings (jiaozi) are popular throughout China and they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are usually made with ground pork, mixed with salt, sugar, sesame oil and other spices and wrapped in a flour skin and steamed to a gooey softness. They are often dipped in a sauce made with vinegar, soy sauce, hot chillies and ginger. Dumpling restaurants sometimes serve as places where people gather to socialize---like a tea house or coffee shop. Foreign investors are pouring money into frozen dumpling ventures, figuring that as Chinese become busier and richer they are more likely to turn to frozen dumplings for a quick dinner or snack.

Chinese often have tea before and after their meals but drink nothing with their meals, Soup often serves the purpose of a drink. An evening snack of fruit is commonly eaten around 10:00pm.

Popular snacks sold on the streets and at sidewalk food stalls include fish balls, barbecued meats, noodle soups, dumplings in all shapes and sizes, and steamed bun with different fillings. Food stalls on the east coast in the summer offer braised eels and crayfish, roast duck, fried dumplings, pineapple on a stick, and bowls of snails and chili peppers. During the winter, vendors in Beijing sell hot noodle soup, eight-treasure porridge, roasted meats, sweet potatoes, roast mutton, fried doughsticks, steamed breads, baozi (steamed buns with a variety of vegetables and meats), and candied haw (small apple-like fruit that are covered with sticky candy and skewered on a stick). The Chinese also like to suck on chicken skin and eat chips.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner in China


Breakfast is generally eaten between 6:30am and 8:30am and consists of zhou (rice porridge or gruel), rice, pickled fish, soybean milk, soup, dumplings, steamed buns, 1000-year-old eggs and tea. Congee, also known as jook, is a popular breakfast food and hangover remedy. It is made with rice, chicken stock, and is usually seasoned with ginger, scallions, peanuts and bacon. In some places Chinese like to pine nuts, wolfberries, mung beans, jujubes and foxtail millet on their Chinese-style rice porridge. Most people eat breakfast at home. It's hard to find a restaurant that serves breakfast. In Beijing street venders serve up vegetables, wrapped in an omelette, which in turn is wrapped in a pancake. Some coffee shops have a set breakfast with a drink, toast, boiled egg and light food.

Lunch is generally eaten between 12:00noon and 1:30pm. Many people eat out, grabbing a quick meal or snack such as a bowl of soup or a stir-fried dish. People often eat noodles or noodle soup with vegetables for lunch. In some places in the south dim sum (an assortment of snack-sized delicacies) is popular. Dim sum is usually served between 11:00am and 2:00pm. By 2:00pm many restaurant workers are anxious to start their afternoon break and become impatient with afternoon diners.

Dinner is commonly y eaten between 6:00pm and 8:00pm. It generally an informal meal with meat or fish, rice. Main dishes made at home, include a variety of stir fried and wok dishes that vary from region to region but typically include a couple of meat or fish dishes, a couple of vegetable dishes, soup and rice.

Eating and Cooking Alone in China in the Leftover Woman Era

Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker, “The first time I ate at a restaurant by myself, I live-tweeted the experience. “Hot-potting alone!” I enthused, posting a photo I’d taken of a burbling electric pot, ringed by plates of enoki mushrooms, plump squares of tofu, and green-bean-infused vermicelli noodles. (If Chinese food fosters communal dining more aggressively than other types of cuisine, then hot pot—think fondue with chicken broth and chili peppers rather than melted cheese—forcefully commands it.) Sitting companionless at a table patently designed for four, I composed the portrait of my meal with some care, both to entice my viewers and to deride my circumstances. “Desperate times call for desperate measures!” I supplied as an additional caption before picking up my chopsticks. Then I hastily put them down again, to link the post to Facebook and Instagram.[Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, January 14, 2015 ***]

“Yanni Cai, the author of a new book called “Eating Alone,” might understand the impulse. The book, published last fall in China, is a follow-up to a series of short videos, by the same name, “dedicated to the art of cooking for yourself.” Cai, a thirty-something former magazine editor who lives in Shanghai and is unmarried—or, in the ugly parlance of practical-minded Chinese, a “leftover woman”—came up with the idea two years ago, after one too many embarrassing experiences at restaurants where the staff disdained her solo patronage and refused to pack up her leftovers. Rude, perhaps, but not uncommon in a culture where cooking (and dining) is an inherently social function, centered upon the idea of community. For millennia, the most basic of Chinese meals have involved “three main dishes plus a soup,” a spread that only makes sense for a table of three people or more. It’s no wonder that a perennial staple of stir-frys—a merry medley of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables—is named “happy family.”

“At first, I made French fries and ate fast food,” Cai writes in the book’s preface. “As time wore on, I wanted to cook for myself, but didn’t know where to begin.” So she did what so many of us have tried: she sought help on the Internet. Cooking instructionals on the video-sharing Web site Vimeo offered her useful techniques and inspiration. Eventually, she decided to make her own. Her three-minute creations—which have attracted close to eight million page views on Youkou, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube—are stylistically indistinguishable from their English-language muses: extremely pretty, with ambient music and a life-style-magazine sheen. Some open with a premise—a single mother shopping with a toddler strapped to her back, or a husband waking up famished next to his still-sleeping wife; others launch expeditiously into expert chopping and dicing. It’s the sort of aspirational food porn that a young person, bored and alone, with nothing but a WiFi connection for company, might mindlessly click through while eating a bowl of microwaved ramen—which is exactly what Cai discourages. “A person who is eating alone cannot do so casually. He cannot simply make do,” Cai admonishes. “Food has healing powers that exceed the imagination. It will nourish you, fill your stomach but more importantly, it can heal your loneliness.”

“But in the world’s biggest and busiest economy—where striving urbanites and struggling migrant workers alike regularly work seventy-hour weeks, and where rapidly changing life styles perennially outpace the evolution of social norms—is cooking elaborate meals for oneself all that realistic? With her videos and her book, Cai offers a way to avoid feeling ostracized, but she fails to question why a person dining solo in China is made to feel ostracized in the first place. As a coffee-table topper, her epigrammatic prescriptions and sepia-toned photos are quaint, and she writes that she intends to share “a mode of existence and attitude about life.” But she does not go on to explain what that means, exactly, and she does little to address the cultural context in which eating alone in public—when one does not have the luxury of a kitchen, or the time to prepare an elaborate meal—might be appropriate or even necessary. ***

“Instead, Cai’s “recipe stories” depict smartly turned-out men and women concocting preternaturally photogenic meals from an almost parodic, parallel universe. One story, centered on the summer waffle—a decadent confection of strawberries, cream, and sugar—follows a silken-haired young woman taking herself out on a sumptuous picnic set on a patch of grass as artificial-looking as the story’s premise. Another popular episode features a Cantonese clay-pot classic requiring such a baroque set-up that it’s difficult to imagine anyone doing so without professional culinary aspirations. Very few characters in Cai’s charmed universe seem to be functioning under any sort of time constraint. (Fewer still seem to contemplate cooking in bulk, surely a more sensible option for the lone chef, if infinitely less pleasing on the small screen.) ***

“There’s a reason Cai’s videos and book are as delectable as the dishes they feature; they, too, are made for consumption, much more so than imitation. They may, ostensibly, seek to teach, but the more necessary lesson, perhaps unbeknownst to even the teacher herself, can’t be taught in the kitchen. What’s needed, most pressingly, is the acceptance of a more individualized and independent way of living, befitting a changing China. Societal permission for solo diners to consume un-self-consciously—to savor solitude without fear of discrimination and the anxiety of judgment. “I’m watching this alone,” a commenter wrote wryly beneath the video of the summer waffle. “It relaxes me and loosens my heart.” To be alone isn’t always to be lonely. Sometimes, a strawberry waffle is all the companionship you need. ***

Image Sources:; Nolls China website ; Asia Obscura

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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