The Chinese, like any other culture, have needed to place a priority on food collection and preparation. The Chinese, in fact, have put so much emphasis on meals that they have long recognized cooking as an art. Preparing Chinese dishes often requires an expert chef who has experience specifically in this culinary style. The Chinese food preparation is also integrated with religious philosophy, specifically Confucianism and Taoism.
Chinese Eating Etiquette
Much of the Chinese etiquette regarding food preparation and presentation was developed by Confucius. Among other customs, he stressed the importance of cutting food into bite-size pieces prior to serving. Food needed to have a perfect combination of ingredients, herbs and spices that would maximize the flavor of the food. Similarly, the appearance of the food, including its color and texture, had to be just as perfect as the taste. Both of these elements combined, taste and appearance, needed to provide a harmonious meal.
Taoism and Food
Taoists placed their emphasis on the health and presentation of the food. It was critical to serve foods that were known to promote a healthful life or healing for those who were ill. To the Chinese, for example, ginger was not only a flavor, but a treatment for a stomach ache or a cold.
Because China is such a large country, the foods grown and eaten vary considerably. Rice is considered a major staple of the Chinese diet, for both food and beverages, such as rice wine. Yet the cold and dry climate of northern China does not support rice farming. Rather, crops such as wild millet and sorghum have been successfully grown there since 4500 B.C. Tea, on the other hand, is a wild plant that grows throughout China and has been a favorite beverage for thousands of years. Some foods are not indigenous to China. For example, wheat is not a native plant.
Variety of Dishes
Just as there are a number of types of American foods because of different nationalities, so there is a variety of Chinese styles and flavors of cooking. Mandarin, Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine all have their own sauces, cooking methods and tastes. Mandarin, for example, was the food from Imperial Peking, or Beijing. Mu-shu crepes and crisp Peking duck are specialties. Canton, a port city that is now called Guangzhou, is known for its dim sum, or "touch of the heart." These are equivalent to the Western-style dumplings.
In addition to the etiquette suggested by Confucius in early China, a number of other traditions have developed that travelers might want to follow when visiting this country. Chinese normally order an even number of dishes. An odd number is only acceptable for somber times, such as a dinner following a funeral. The most elaborate or best-made dish should be placed in front of the honored guest or most important person as a sign of respect. Soup goes in the middle of the table, because it is shared. Guests should not leave a lot of food, because it'll make the host think that the meal was not enjoyed.
In every nationality, there are exotic foods that are bizarre to other cultures. The same is true in China. Here are some of the treats that you eat when visiting this fascinating country: Stinky tofu, deep-fried fermented tofu (soybean); and "hot jit" or jelly fish, frog, snake, pork brains and chicken feet. Of course, if you want, you can also find cow (McDonald's hamburgers), deep-fried and greasy chicken (KFC) and dog (at the Korean stands).
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