The amazing diversity of Chinese cuisine: if you want to get to know China, learn about its food

Posted on Jul 1, 2016 by in Chinese Culture
Chinese girl

Dumplings

One of the great treats of traveling around China is the opportunity to partake of a dizzying array of food types and traditional dishes. What many in the west who have never traveled to China fail to understand is exactly how amazingly diverse the cuisine there really is.

Many of us in the west, it shames me to say, think of the stereotype of a stooped, wizened Chinese woman, bent over her pots in a tiny kitchen turning out plate after plate of Szechuan chicken with a pack of young China girls swirling around her helping. Sadly, some of us think this encompasses a fair picture of what Chinese cooking is all about.

Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, China is a huge country covering nearly 4 million square miles. The idea that there might be one thing you could fairly call “Chinese food” is as ludicrous as if you were to say “European food.”

So if you are going to date a Chinese girl, don’t make the mistake of suggesting you go out for “Chinese food” without being more specific.

There are at least five distinct regions to grapple with, first of all:

  • Chinese woman

    Poach beef with hot chili

    Northern China – this food uses wheat as a staple, and is generally more salty and rustic, using fewer vegetables. Think noodles and dumplings.

  • Western China – reflects the proximity of the middle east, with an emphasis on lamb.
  • Central China – here you find spicy dishes with a variety of seasonings.
  • Eastern China – sweeter and lighter than its counterparts from elsewhere in China.
  • Southern food – more sour foods, with a lot of spice and chiles.
mature Chinese women

Stir-fried asparagus lettuce

The main thing to remember is that variety is the spice of life–and often the spice in your food too, when you’re traveling around China. If you keep an open mind, you can have some amazing times and meet Chinese friends through a sharing of the various cuisines.

Even if you have trouble with speaking the language, everyone understands the universal tongue of a shared meal: from mature Chinese women stirring mysterious ingredients into a hot pot to young professionals hosting dinner parties in their skyscraper apartments in Chinese megacities, a little understanding of the various ways Chinese culture celebrates food will take you a long way.

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