The Chinese feel that food should not only be great to eat, but should also be pleasing to the eye. Different vegetable are often carved into delicate shapes such as flowers, birds, fish and other animals. Peony Abundance, Peacock Fanning Out Tail, and Longevity Crane by Pine Tree, are a few kinds of dishes that are designed to be visually appreciated before being eaten.
Dishes are also named for imaginative reasons. Some are related to historical anecdotes and others for the poetic nature of the name. A consideration number are named after generals, scholars, and historical events. Cherry Meat, for example, is not made of cherries but port cooked with special ingredients to the color of cherry, with green vegetables to make a visual contrast.
Poetic names are appetizing in themselves, for example, Spring Morning at Green Bank, Flowers at Fairy Palace, Pearl Round and Jade Pure, Beauty in Pink, Moonlit Jade Tower, Fairy Stars, Lucky Purple Air, Eight Immortals Crossing Sea, Laurel and Orchid Oar, and Fish Jumping Over Clear Brook.
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The names of some dishes address the Chinese appetite for auspiciousness as well as good food. One dish made of chicken and snake is known as Auspicious Dragon and Phoenix, and another is Four Meat Balls of Happiness. A bean curd soup with moss fungi is known as Fortunate and Lucky, because bean curd and this particular type of fungus are homophones of luck and becoming wealthy.
A dish consisting of bean curd and daylily flowers is known as Gold inlaid with Jade, because of its colors. One containing a hotchpotch variety of vegetables and meats is called A Whole Happy Family, and another food taken on birthdays is named Longevity Noodles. A soup made of lily bulbs and lotus seeds which is served at wedding is called Lifetime Devotion and Happiness. Once again, in this dish, homophone plays a role. In Chinese, lily sounds long term devotion and harmony.
Some other dishes or food have rather strange names in order to help them stand out among so many other delicacies. However, they are often very tasty! Some examples are Steamed Filled Bun that Dogs Never Pay Attention to, Beggar’s Chicken, Ants Climbing Trees, Monk Jumping Over the Wall, and Thick Stick, to name just a few. It is also interesting that both in the past and at present family names or given names of people related to some dishes have been incorporated into the names of those dishes.
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The culture surrounding food and dining in China has evolved over many centuries, and reflects the world view and philosophy of Chinese people. Chinese cuisine is not only the pride of Chinese nation, but also part of the world’s heritage and legacy. A better understanding of the cultural elements of Chinese food will help one comprehend the formalities and customs related to food and dining.
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