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2.3 Chinese Dining Etiquette and Chinese Cuisine

7 min readjanuary 2, 2023

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Introduction to Food Culture in China

Food culture (食物文化 shíwù wénhuà) is an important part of Chinese culture (中国文化 Zhōngguó wénhuà), and food (食物 shíwù) plays a central role in daily life and social interactions in China (中国 Zhōngguó). There is a saying in China (中国 Zhōngguó) that "food is the first necessity of the people (民以食为天 mín yǐ shí wéi tiān)."
Chinese cuisine (中国菜肴 Zhōngguó càiyáo) is known for its diverse flavors and ingredients, as well as its emphasis on balance (平衡 pínghéng) and harmony (和谐 héxié). There is a strong tradition of using fresh (生鲜 shēngxiān), seasonal ingredients (季节性原料 jìjiéxìng yuánliào) and preparing dishes in a way that preserves their natural flavors (保留其天然味道 bǎoliú qí tiānrán wèidào). Rice (米饭 mǐfàn), noodles (面条 miàntiáo), and wheat-based products such as dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi) and breads (面包 miànbāo) are staples in the Chinese diet, and a wide variety of vegetables (蔬菜 shūcài) and meats (肉 ròu) are used in cooking.
Eating out (吃外卖 chī wàimài) is a popular activity in China, and there is a wide variety of restaurants (餐馆 cānguǎn) and street food vendors (街边摊 jiē biān tān) offering a range of dishes. Dining (用餐 yòngcān) in China is often a social activity, and it is common for people to share dishes and eat family-style (家庭式 jiātíngshì).
In addition to traditional (传统 chuántǒng) Chinese cuisine , there is also a wide range of international cuisines (国际菜肴 guójì càiyáo) available in China, reflecting the country's multicultural (多元文化 duōyuán wénhuà) and cosmopolitan (国际化 guójìhuà) nature.
Food is also an important part of Chinese celebrations (中国庆祝 Zhōngguó qìngzhù) and festivals (节日 jiérì), and special dishes (特别菜肴 tèbié càiyáo) are often prepared for these occasions. For example, dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi) are a popular food during the Chinese New Year (中国新年 Zhōngguó xīnnián) celebration, and mooncakes (月饼 yuèbǐng) are traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 Zhōngqiū jié).
Food plays a central role in Chinese culture and daily life (日常生活 rìcháng shēnghuó), and the country's diverse cuisine reflects its long history and cultural traditions (文化传统 wénhuà chuántǒng).

Dining Taboos in China

There are several dining etiquette taboos (就餐礼仪禁忌 jiùcān lǐyí jìnjì) that are commonly observed in China:
  1. It is considered rude (不礼貌 bù lǐmào) to start eating before everyone at the table has been served (上菜 shàngcài).
  2. It is also considered rude to reach across the table for food or to pass food directly to someone across the table (桌子对面 zhuōzi duìmiàn). Instead, dishes should be passed around the table.
  3. It is considered impolite to leave your chopsticks (筷子 kuàizi) standing upright (直立 zhílì) in a bowl of rice (米饭 mǐfàn), as this resembles the incense sticks (香棒 xiāng bàng) used in traditional Chinese funerals (葬礼 zànglǐ).
  4. It is also considered impolite to point your chopsticks at someone or to use them to spear food.
  5. It is generally not appropriate to leave food on your plate (盘子 pánzi), as this can be seen as a sign of dissatisfaction (不满意 bù mǎnyì) with the meal.
  6. In formal settings (正式场合 zhèngshì chǎnghé), it is considered polite (礼貌 lǐmào) to wait for the eldest or most senior person at the table to start eating before beginning to eat oneself .
  7. It is also considered impolite to make loud noises while eating (吃饭 chīfàn) or to talk (谈话 tánhuà) with food in your mouth (嘴 zuǐ).
It is important (重要 zhòngyào) to be mindful (注意 zhùyì) of these dining etiquette taboos in order to show respect (尊重 zūnzhòng) and avoid offending (冒犯 màofàn) others while dining (就餐 jiùcān) in China.

Types of Chinese Cuisine

In China, there are eight types of cuisine (菜系 càixì) that are distinguished based on regional and cultural differences:
  1. Cantonese cuisine (广东菜 Guǎngdōng cài)/Yue cuisine (粤菜 Yùe cài) is characterized by its use of fresh ingredients (新鲜原料 xīnxiān yuánliào), mild flavors (温和的味道 wēnhé de wèidào), and a wide variety of seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān). To preserve the natural flavors (天然味道 tiānrán wèidào) of the ingredients (原料 yuánliào), Cantonese cuisine often employs subtle (微妙 wéimiào) and intricate (精致 jīngzhì) cooking techniques (烹饪技术 pēngrèn jìshù), such as steaming (蒸 zhēng), braising (炖 dùn), and stir-frying (炒 chǎo). Some popular dishes from Cantonese cuisine include roast duck (烤鸭 kǎoyā), wonton noodles (馄饨面 húntún miàn), and dim sum (点心 diǎnxīn). Cantonese cuisine is also known for its wide variety of seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān) dishes, including steamed fish (蒸鱼 zhēng yú) and shrimp dumplings (虾饺 xiājiǎo).
  2. Sichuan cuisine (四川菜 SìChuān cài)/Chuan cuisine (川菜 Chuān cài)  is known for its bold flavors (鲜明的味道 xiānmíng de wèidào), often achieved through the use of chili peppers (辣椒 làjiāo) and Sichuan peppercorns (花椒 huājiāo). Sichuan cuisine is also known for its use of a wide variety of meats (肉类 ròulèi) and vegetables (蔬菜 shūcài) and its use of spicy (辣 là) and pungent (辛辣 xīnlà) flavors. Sichuan cuisine also employs a wide variety of cooking techniques (烹饪技术 pēngrèn jìshù), including braising (炖 dùn), stir-frying (炒 chǎo), and deep-frying (油炸 yóuzhá). Some popular dishes from Sichuan cuisine include spicy boiled fish (水煮鱼 shuǐzhǔ yú), spicy chicken (麻辣鸡 málà jī), and spicy tofu (麻辣豆腐 málà dòufu). Sichuan cuisine is also known for its use of a wide variety of meats (肉类 ròulèi) and vegetables (蔬菜 shūcài) in its dishes.
  3. Shandong cuisine (山东菜 Shāndōng cài)/Lu cuisine (鲁菜 Lǔ cài) is characterized by its use of wheat-based products (小麦制品 xiǎomài zhìpǐn), such as noodles (面条 miàntiáo) and dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi), and its emphasis on the freshness (新鲜 xīnxiān) and natural flavors (天然味道 tiānrán wèidào) of ingredients (原料 yuánliào). Shandong cuisine is also known for its use of seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān) and its delicate (精致 jīngzhì) and refined (精心 jīngxīn) cooking techniques (烹饪技术 pēngrèn jìshù). Some popular dishes from Shandong cuisine include braised abalone (红烧鲍鱼 hóngshāo bàoyú), braised sea cucumber (红烧海参 hóngshāo hǎishēn), and braised shark's fin (红烧鱼翅 hóngshāo yúchì).
  4. Hunan cuisine (湖南菜 Húnán cài)/Xiang cuisine (湘菜 Xiāng cài) is known for its spicy flavors (辛辣的味道 xīnlà de wèidào) and its use of fresh ingredients (新鲜原料 xīnxiān yuánliào) and slow-cooking techniques (炖 dùn) to bring out the natural flavors (天然味道 tiānrán wèidào) of the ingredients (原料 yuánliào). One of the distinctive characteristics of Hunan cuisine is its liberal use of chili peppers (辣椒 là jiāo) and other spicy seasonings (辣味调料 là wèi tiáo liào), such as Sichuan pepper (花椒 huā jiāo) and garlic (大蒜, dà suàn). These spices give Hunan dishes a distinctive hot and numbing flavor (麻辣味, má là wèi) that sets them apart from other Chinese cuisines. Popular Hunan dishes include spicy boiled fish (辣炖鱼 là dùn yú), stir-fried pork with chili peppers and green onions (青葱肉丝 qīng cōng ròu sī), and spicy chicken with peanuts (花生鸡 huā shēng jī).
  5. Jiangsu cuisine(江苏菜 Jiāngsū cài)/ Su cuisine (苏菜 Sū cài) is known for its use of fresh ingredients (新鲜的食材 xīn xiān de shí cái), delicate flavors (精致的味道 jīng zhì de wèi dào), and intricate presentations (精心布置 jīng xīn bù zhì). Dishes are typically served in small, bite-sized portions (小块 xiǎo kuài). Jiangsu cuisine is also known for its delicate flavors (精致的味道 jīng zhì de wèi dào), which are achieved through the use of light seasonings (轻调料 qīng tiáo liào) such as soy sauce (酱油 jiàng yóu), vinegar (醋 cù), and wine (酒 jiǔ). Many Jiangsu dishes are served with a variety of dipping sauces (蘸酱 zhàn jiàng), which allow diners to customize the flavors (味道 wèi dào) to their preferences (喜好 xǐ hào). Many dishes are carefully crafted and arranged to create visually appealing displays, often featuring intricate cutouts, carvings (雕刻 diāo kè), and other decorative elements. Some popular Jiangsu dishes include braised lion's head meatballs (红烧狮子头 Hóng shāo shī zǐ tóu), drunken chicken (醉鸡 zuì jī), and braised duck with chestnuts (栗子鸭 lì zǐ yā).
  6. Fujian cuisine (福建菜 Fújiàn cài)/Min cuisine (闽菜 Mǐncài) is characterized by its use of seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān) and the use of soups (汤 tāng) made from slow-simmered stocks (炖 dùn). Fujian cuisine is known for its use of seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān), which is often sourced from the coastal regions (沿海地区 yánhǎi dìqū) of Fujian province. To bring out the natural flavors (天然味道 tiānrán wèidào) of the seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān), Fujian cuisine often employs slow-cooking techniques (炖 dùn), such as braising (炖 dùn) and stewing (炖 dùn). Fujian cuisine is also known for its use of soups (汤 tāng) made from slow-simmered stocks (炖 dùn), which are often made with seafood (海鲜 hǎixiān) or meat (肉 ròu). Fujian cuisine also incorporates fruit (水果 shuǐguǒ) into its dishes, often using them as a garnish (装饰 zhuāngshì) or as a natural sweetener (天然甜味剂 tiānrán tiánwèijì). Some of Fujian cuisines most notable dishes include Fuzhou fish soup (福州鱼汤 Fúzhōu yú tāng) and Fuzhou-style braised pork (福州卤肉 Fúzhōu lǔ ròu).
  7. Anhui cuisine (安徽菜 Ānhuī cài)/Hui cuisine (徽菜 Huī cài) is known for its use of wild game (野味 yěwèi), such as rabbit (兔子 tùzi) and venison (鹿肉 lùròu), which are often sourced from the mountainous regions (山区 shānqū) of Anhui province. Anhui cuisine also incorporates locally grown vegetables (当地种植的蔬菜 dāngdì zhòngzhí de shūcài), such as bamboo shoots (竹笋 zhúsǔn) and Chinese cabbage (大白菜 dàbáicài), into its dishes, often using them as the main ingredient (主要原料 zhǔyào yuánliào). Anhui cuisine is also known for its use of spices (调料 tiáoliào) and herbs (香草 xiāngcǎo) to enhance the flavor (味道 wèidào) of its dishes. Some popular dishes from Anhui cuisine include braised rabbit (红烧兔子 hóngshāo tùzi), stewed venison (炖鹿肉 dùn lùròu), and braised fish (红烧鱼 hóngshāo yú).
  8. Zhejiang cuisine (浙江菜 Zhèjiāng cài)/Zhe cuisine (浙菜 Zhè cài) is characterized by its use of freshwater fish (淡水鱼 dànshuǐ yú) and its emphasis on the natural flavors (天然味道 tiānrán wèidào) of ingredients (原料 yuánliào). Zhejiang cuisine is also known for its cooking techniques (烹饪技术 pēngrèn jìshù), which often involve steaming (蒸 zhēng) and stir-frying (炒 chǎo). Some popular dishes from Zhejiang cuisine include steamed fish (蒸鱼 zhēng yú), braised chicken (红烧鸡 hóngshāo jī), and stir-fried shrimp (炒虾 chǎoxiā).
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