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3 biggest facts of Chinese food culture you should know

China has proudly owned one of the largest cuisines in the world that promises to satisfy an appetite for food as well as knowledge of almost everyone.

With this mind, we’re writing about three main factors of Chinese food culture – eating manners, meals and the social functions. Keep reading to know more!

Eating manners

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is always true when you visit, study, work or living in a new country. It also happens in this case. Because Chinese dinning etiquette is much different from that in America, learning its rules to avoid unwanted incidence is a need.

1. Food serving

In Chinese culture, the main courses are placed at the center of the table, surrounded by supporting dishes. Members can start to eat only when the whole family is available on their seat. Traditionally, the eldest and youngest members of the family will be served first at the meal.

food serving

If you are invited to a meal by a Chinese friend, make sure that you know when is the best time to enjoy the meal. Normally, the host offers some words of greeting like “Please enjoy yourself” or something like that, then, you need wait until he finish his sayings to start the meal.

2. Using chopsticks

Western people might find it hard to use chopsticks, a tableware in Chinese culture. The tradition of using it at meal experiences a long history in China and some Asian countries like Vietnam, Japan and South Korea. Children at the age of three or four start using chopsticks to pick and stir food.


Chinese people often have three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner but the situation might be different depending where they are living. For instance, people living in cities have 3 meals days, meanwhile those who lives in rural areas often have only 2 meals a day.

1. Number of meal

Regarding breakfast, there are various choices, ranging from traditional dishes like morning tea, steamed dumpling, vegetable, soymilk, noodles, bread, and porridge to Western-style fast food like burger and egg custard fort. It will much depend on each person’s taste and eating habit.


At lunchtime, some might go home for lunch if their working location is quite near their home. It mainly happens with those who work and live in small towns or rural areas.  Meanwhile, those who live in bigger cities tend to have lunch outside (at company’s canteen or a nearby restaurant) or bring a lunchbox prepared in early morning or the day before.

In terms of dinner, those who live with family often come home for dinner rand those who live alone may have dinner outside or cook dinner themselves.

2. Foods for meal

The Chinese use various ingredients to cook their meal. Start with the starch used to made their staples, it includes millet, rice, kao-liang, wheat, maize, buckwheat, yam, and sweet potato.  The second important contributor for a meal is vegetables, including legumes like soybean, broad bean, peanut and mung bean and other vegetables like amaranth, Chinese cabbage, mustard green, turnip, radish and mushroom.

Regarding meat, Chinese people eat pork, beef, mutton, venison, chicken, duck, goose, pheasant, and fishes. When cooking, they often add some common spices like red pepper, ginger, garlic, spring onion, and cinnamon. The spices might be different depending on the taste of the locals.
How about fruits? They are also various, including peach, apricot, plum, apple, jujube date, pear, crab apple, mountain haw, longan, litchi, and orange.

Social functions of food

In Chinese culture, food has done more than just an input of nutrition needed to survive.

1. Interpersonal relationship

Like in any culture, food plays an essential role in establishing, expressing and maintaining the relationship between people and people. Chinese people consider food as a mean of making new friend or strengthen relationships they are having. It’s the reason why, when you visit a Chinese as a relative, friend, or guest, you will probably be treated with a delicious meal.

social function

2. Social status

Food can present social status, poor or rich, lower or higher social status. For instance, foods that are rare and expensive like bird nest, shark’s fin, or lobster is likely to be served to the upper class.

bird net soup

3. Characteristic of a group

Other social role of food is to indicate characteristic of a group divided by regions, families, races or religious. Taking wheat flour and rice as an example. People living in the North of China often use wheat flour to make steamed bread, buns and noodle while those in the South prefer rice in their daily meal.

Chinese dumpling

4. Important events

Each country has a State banquet and China does the same. Some specific foods will be served at important events, both social and personal, like moon cake at Mid-Autumn Festival, zongzi – a type of dumpling in the shape of a pyramid at Dragon Boat Festival or noodles at one’s birthday.

Chinese zongzi

5. Symbolic significance

In Chinese culture, some foods have symbolic meaning. For example, the combo of dates, peanuts, longan and chestnuts are traditionally given to the bride and groom at their wedding with the meaning that the couple soon have a baby.

symbolic meaning

Learning about the eating manners, foods having at meals and the importance of food in the thought of Chinese people is an effective and direct way to understand Chinese food culture and then, Chinese culture. If you plan to visit, study or work in this country in the near future, knowing this will help you adapt new life better. Even when you are not in this case, it’s also interesting to discover a new cuisine and culture, right?

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