An age-old Chinese saying says “Food is of the utmost importance to everyone.” The records of the Historian noted, “His people are of the utmost importance to a king, food is of the utmost importance to people.” Sima Zhen, a historian in the Tang Dynasty, explained that this remark was from Guan Zhong, a politician in the Spring and Autumn Period, and Guan Zhong also added, “Who knows what is of the utmost importance to Heaven is the most able one.” The Chinese have long regarded food as their primary want. With social and economic progress, food has been related to may cultural events and a rich culture of food has evolved.
Food is an essential part of Chinese culture. Chinese restaurants can be found everywhere in the world, and Chinese cuisine is widely appreciated for its combination of color, aroma, taste, arrangement, and even utensils. Chinese culture of food has many unique features.
- The Chinese generally eat more vegetable then meat. The Chinese people have their cultural origins in the fertile Yellow River basin. Over centuries their economy and culture were closely linked to agricultural production. Grain and vegetables were historically the major part of the average person’s diet, with meat being a supplement. Grain for the ancient Chinese meant wheat, broomcorn millet, foxtail millet, soybean, and rice. Later on, grain were classified into nine different types. Vegetables included bamboo, gourd,dasheen, leek and onion. In the Han, Tang, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, cucumber, garlic, spinach, carrot, tomato, potato and peanut were introduced to China. People who were rich or from the upper classes could afford to eat more meat, and were known as meat-eaters by the lower classes.
- The Chinese are very devoted to cooked and hot food. The discovery of how to use fire for cooking marked the end of Chinese people eating uncooked food. Fire was originally used to bake and roast food, but by the period of the Yellow Emperor, people had begun to learn how to cook by steaming and boiling.
A Three Kingdoms(220-280) scholar and historian named Qiao Zhou recorded that the Yellow Emperor began to steam grain and boil them to make congee. Chinese recognize the Yellow Emperor as the inaugurator of civilized cooking in China. Lv’s Spring and Autumn Annals noted that well-cooked food is rid of raw and foul smells. Thus having cooked and hot food is an age-old principle of Chinese cuisine.
- Chinese people have always been partial to dining together. Excavations have revealed that kitchens were an important part of ancient houses and that people sat and ate together. Even today, mealtimes are an occasion for the whole family to come together and share food. Dining together is considered an essential part of a happy family reunion.
As society continued to develop economically, dining became more than a desire to satisfy a basic need, but a way to enjoy life. Confucius said, “To have rice finely cleaned is not disliked by anyone; to have meat mince finely cut is not disliked by anyone.” So even by the time of Confucius, it was thought that food should be finely prepared and cooked. Chinese cuisine is very concerned with choosing ingredients, cutting skills and the cooking method and duration. Culinary skills have been refined and improved over may centuries, and there are now numerous ways used to cook food, including boiling, long-boiling, quick-frying grilling, braising, stewing, smoking, baking, roasting, mixing, pickling, and preserving, to name just a few.