History of Chinese Food: 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, food is a central part of any family or social gathering. But the Chinese cuisine (cooking style) that you might know today took thousands of years to develop. Let's learn about the evolution of Chinese food.

Food Is Important

A gathering in the Chinese culture is considered incomplete if food has not been prepared in honor of the event. Food has always been very important to the Chinese, and they have spent thousands of years developing techniques, or ways, of cooking and flavoring that are unlike other countries. Let's learn more about these techniques and how the Chinese food that we enjoy today came to be.

Chinese Cooking Techniques

Many people in China base their lives on a philosophy called Confucianism, which values cooking as an art and focuses on enjoying life. This has greatly affected what and how they eat. They appreciate, respect, and enjoy food. Have you ever eaten with chopsticks? The Chinese always eat with chopsticks and consider it rude to use knives at the table. Therefore, it's traditional to cut all the food into bite-sized pieces so that it can easily be eaten with chopsticks.

The Chinese also place importance on balancing the fives tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy. A good meal is expected to balance these flavors and never have too much of any of them.

Chinese people also spend time making sure that meals are healthy. In fact, traditional Chinese cuisine is much healthier than the other Asian cuisines. One of the main reasons for this is because the Chinese don't use fatty animal oils or dairy products, such as milk, butter, and cheese. This is probably because they were not available in ancient China.

What Do They Eat?

Now that we've learned about how the Chinese prepare food, let's talk about what they actually eat! If you've ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant, you know that a meal almost always has three parts: a carbohydrate (grain), vegetables, and protein.

Rice, Millet, or Noodles

Rice was the first crop that southern Chinese farmers learned to grow, making it cheap and readily available. However, it was too cold and dry in northern China for rice to grow, so people there ate millet instead. This is a grain that is more like cereal, which people often made into porridge.

Much later, the Chinese people acquired wheat through trade and began making noodles. Today, a Chinese meal will always have one of these three grains, but rice is the most popular.

This is what millet looks like after being harvested.


Vegetables are another important part of any Chinese meal. However, a large variety of vegetables was not available in ancient China, and many people could not afford them. Some vegetables native to China include soybeans, cucumbers, and bok choy (Chinese cabbage).

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