Chinese Food Culture: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Corrie Boone

Corrie holds master's in elementary education, taught elementary ESL in the public schools for 5 years, and recently was teaching EFL abroad.

For the Chinese, their food culture has been shaped over thousands of years to be the very delicious style that it is today, but there is much more to it than just what is eaten. Keep reading to learn all about the unique food culture of the Chinese.

What is Food Culture?

Food culture is much more than what is eaten. Indeed, it does include what is eaten, but food culture also includes how it's prepared, how it's eaten, table manners, and types of food to celebrate special occasions. For the Chinese, food is a central part of their background, and as such, they have a very unique food culture. Today, we're going to talk about all the things that make up the food culture in China.

What Do They Eat?

It's customary for a Chinese meal to be a balance of carbohydrates and vegetables, meat, and sauce. The carbohydrate portion of their meal is usually rice but could also be noodles, dumplings, or steamed buns. Vegetables include Chinese cabbage, soybeans, cucumbers, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. The meat is usually chicken, pork, beef, fish, or tofu (a vegetarian alternative to meat made from soy beans). Soup is commonly served as an appetizer to each meal.

Maybe you have eaten sesame chicken before? This is sesame tofu.
sesame tofu

Food Preparation

The most common ways to prepare food for the Chinese are stir-frying, deep-frying, and steaming. Stir-frying is probably the most common and the quickest. When stir-frying, the meat and vegetables are cooked separately at a very high temperature with a small amount of oil. With deep-frying, food is cooked in oil at a very high temperature. This cooking method is used when crispy is the desired texture. The steaming method involves cooking food above boiling water, so the heat slowly cooks the food. Steaming is considered the healthiest method because it doesn't use any oil.

When steaming, food is stacked in these steamers.
bamboo steamers

Table Etiquette

For the Chinese, respect at the table is of the utmost importance. It's tradition to serve the elderly and guests first, and then serve the children. It's also tradition to eat family-style with the main dishes served on large platters, and everyone gets their own serving of rice or noodles. If you've ever sat down and eaten at a Chinese restaurant, the food was probably served this way.

Have you ever used chopsticks? Did you know that China is the homeland of chopsticks? They were the first to use them, and other cultures using them today learned from the Chinese. Chopsticks are so important at the Chinese table that it's considered rude to use a knife. Because everyone eats with chopsticks, food is cut into bite-sized pieces when cooking, so they are easily eaten with chopsticks. And you must never bang your chopsticks against the side of your bowl for this is what beggars did in the ancient times and is considered rude.

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