Friday, June 18, 2010


Food is a really important aspect of Chinese culture. It symbolizes generosity, love, health, and wealth. There are many different lenses through which to view meals. I have captured a few of these below.


According to Chinese tradition, breakfast should be the heartiest meal of the day. This was especially true for hardworking farmers getting up at the crack of dawn for laborious work in the rice field. Nowadays, most people eat a bit simpler as they rush off to work or school. However, breakfast still holds more importance than it does in the U.S.

There is a variety of Chinese breakfast foods, ranging from youtiao (fried dough sticks) to mantou (steamed buns) to rice porridge. Here is a typical breakfast I had at Shenzhen. It includes mantou, yogurt, and hardboiled eggs.

Many street vendors also sell breakfast foods. One morning I went to a tiny little noodle place on a busy street and ordered a steaming bowl of noodles.

University Cafeteria

At universities, most students eat in the cafeterias. The one I visited at Hunan University was not buffet-style, like the U.S., but was ala carte. There are many different dishes including stir-fries, mantou, and noodles. It didn’t look particularly sanitary but there were many students gulping down their food after a tough day of classes.

Formal Dining Out

It is a great gesture of hospitality and generosity to invite guests or friends out for a nice meal. Large groups of people in a nice restaurant are usually provided with a private banquet room. The table is equipped with a revolving middle so everyone can reach the various dishes, eaten family style. Tea is usually served before the dishes are ordered. Dishes can be lavish, sometimes arriving with garnishes of ice sculptures or flowers carved from vegetables. Usually there is a lot of meat and fish. As the dishes arrive, the diners spin the middle of the table to reach each dish. People encourage each other to eat more. At the end, out of politeness, guests will argue insistently and each try to pay the bill.

Meal at Home

At home for Chinese families, most meals are healthy and simple. This is a sample meal at my grandparents’ home. There are fresh stir-fried veggies, fish, and rice. These types of meals are so soothing after several times dining out and eating heavy dishes.


  1. I'm always a bit surprised at the breakfasts the Chinese eat...noodles? you tiao? It's a bit too heavy for me early in the morning! I'm the opposite way....I eat like a beggar in the day and then like a king late at night!

  2. Haha, I think its an old Chinese proverb to eat until you're full at breakfast, eat well at lunch, at eat little at dinner. But though things have changed, I think the foods have still stayed the same!