In China, it’s all about the food.
Oftentimes instead of ‘hello’ you’ll hear; ‘chi le ma?’ Literally have you eaten?’ which is a common greeting.
In my English language training centre the lunchtime orders go out as early as 10:30, not because this is the most expedient way to make sure you won’t go hungry, but because it then gives people two to two and a half hours to talk about what they’ve ordered, why they made this choice and how it compares to what they had the day before.
Food is the keypoint of every festival, whether minor or major with specific dishes being eaten on specific days, shared, of course, with family and friends. Even the recent Winter Solstice festival celebrated on Dec 21 has its own variety of dumplings as shown in the picture at the top of the article. These are different to the dumplings eaten for other festivals such as Moon Cake Festival and Chinese New Year.
If you’re invited to a Chinese person’s home for a meal, expect to be encouraged to make dumplings alongside the cook (for people to actually eat, not just for fun – as I recently found out, yikes!).
Each region of this vast country boasts its own specialities and locals all claim that theirs is the best tasting, naturally.
The food and its significance is one of the things I first noticed when I came to China. It’s almost like an adored relative in its importance and no social occasion is complete without a variety of dishes and beer to wash them down with.
In Xu Zhou, a large city in Jiangsu province, for example, spicy food carries the swing and dog meat is regarded as a delicacy. You can walk past street stalls of carcasses with cooked dog meat pick up a few bits and have them for dinner, or breakfast, or whenever.
The Spice of Variety
I always think of Chinese food as being wet. There is a love of soups, sauces and watery dishes. Consequently, even with such a variety of vegetables, fruits, staples, starches and meats, the food can still seem samey from meal to meal when it’s presented in yet another soup.
Having said that the interesting thing is that there are so many novel ways to attain it. Roadside stalls where it’s cooked and prepared while you wait. A hundred different types of restaurant and café establishments. A café place where you choose what you want from a series of refrigerated shelves, they throw it in some seasoned soup for you and leave you and your chop sticks to do the rest.
Best of all throughout most of China, the food is ridiculously cheap. For 10 yuan or less (one pound) you can get pumpkin soup and dumplings filled with brown rice – a meal so filling you don’t need to eat again till the next day, if you can manage to finish it all.
Other related foods and places, such as the Chinese supermarket and Chinese sweets and cakes along with unusual meats such as donkey, monkey and crocodile, probably deserve articles of their own. They really are that special.
So, I’ll cover those at a later date, maybe. Most probably. I guess. Well, we’ll see (-:
In the meantime if you’re heading this way, be open and ready for a Chinese cornucopia of tastes which is 100 times better than food from the Chinese takeaway in the west.