General Introduction to Chinese Food and Drink


Chinese food and drink attach a special meaning towards the Chinese people. They have a common saying: “The masses regard food as their heaven”, which means that food is people's primal want. Eating does not just mean to fill the stomach.


Having food at one's disposal, being able to consume a good amount of food, and knowing what and how to eat are all viewed as a good fortune.

The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu once said: "Governing a great nation is much like cooking a small fish." He meant that governing a country required just the right seasonings and adjustments for successful results. This metaphor clearly illustrates the significance of food in Chinese culture.

The importance of food in Chinese culture and daily life is reflected in greetings. For instance, instead of asking “How are you?” (ni hao ma 你好吗), it is quite normal to ask “Have you eaten?” (chi fan le me 吃饭了吗). The logic behind is that people who have just eaten should feel well and happy.

How are balance and harmony contained in Chinese food and drink?

A meal in Chinese culture is typically seen as consisting of two general components. One is main food --- a carbohydrate source or starch, typically rice (predominant in southern parts of China), noodles, or buns (predominant in northern parts of China).

The other one is accompanying dishes, such as vegetables, fish, meat or other items. This is different from Western meals which meat or animal protein is often considered as the main dish. In fact, it is a harmony among grain, vegetable and meat.

Chinese foods pay much attention on perfect harmony with the color, aroma, taste and shape, which share equal importance in the preparation of each dish, thereby, satisfying the gustatory, olfactory, and visual senses. A good dish itself is a work of art which can be attractive to every sensory organ of people.

Usually, a meat or a vegetable dish is prepared from one main ingredient and two to three secondary ingredients. These ingredients’ colors, aromas, tastes, shapes and nutrition should match each other very well.

It is then cooked with the appropriate method, seasonings and sauces to result in an aesthetically attractive dish. The primary methods of preparation include stir-frying, stewing, steaming, deep-frying, flash-frying, and pan-frying.

Chinese people like having meals together with their relatives and friends. All people have their own main food but share dishes which are put in the center of table.

Despite of hygiene concern, the atmosphere is very lively and the relationship of the people becomes closer due to the sharing. It is why the family reunion meal is so important for every family member. It is not only a time to enjoy delicious and various foods and drinks, but an occasion to unit a family together.

What’s more, friends also have meals together to improve their friendship. Businessmen have meals together to establish new business and preserve old ones.

People have meals together on the occasion of the birth of babies, weddings, birthdays, academic or professional promotions and even burial. Eating is much more than physical enjoyment and it is a good way to maintain social harmony.

As we all know, Chinese people like eating food with chopsticks. They are very difficult for some western people who usually use spoons and knives. It might be the simplest eating tools. The two sticks also express the wisdom of harmony and balance.

Drinking is not an exception. Good tea is a perfect mixture of tea leaves, water and vessel. People with high demand on tea drinking like to steep tea with snow on flowers, spring or rain, which can best present the flavor of tea leaves.

Tea drinking aficionados usually enjoy the beauty and feel of teapots. Good tea vessels can preserve heat, make flavor more natural and lingering. Beautifully shaped and elegantly colored, those vessels are graceful works of art, making tea drinking an action of art, elegance and romance.

How can Chinese food and drink preserve health?

Nutrition is also an important concern. The principle of the harmonization of foods can be traced back to Yi Yin, the scholar of Shang dynasty. He related the five flavors of sweet, sour bitter, piquant, and salty to the nutritional needs of the five major organ systems of the body --- heart, liver, spleen/pancreas, lungs and kidneys, and stressed their roles in maintaining good physical health.

In fact, many of the plants used in Chinese cooking, such as scallions, fresh ginger root, garlic, dried lily buds, tree fungus, and so forth, have properties of preventing and alleviating various illnesses.

The Chinese have a traditional belief in the medicinal value of food, and that food and medicine share the same origin. This view could be considered as a forerunner of nutritional science in China. The correct ingredient proportions must be adhered to in the preparation of each dish or soup in order to ensure full nutritional value.

Tea is China's national drink. It contains vitamins, tea derivatives, essential oils, and fluoride. Since it can improve eyesight and alertness, Chinese believe that frequent tea drinkers enjoy an increased life span. Tea has come to be generally recognized as a natural health food.

Its medical properties and benefits to the human body have actually been scientifically proven. Today, scientific research in both Eastern and Western world is providing strong evidence for the health benefits long associated with drinking green tea.

For example, in 1994 the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of an epidemiological study, indicating that drinking green tea reduced the risk of esophageal cancer in Chinese men and women by nearly sixty percent.