Food and Drink in China

A guide to food and drink in China: the history of the country's cuisine, eating out, local specialities, tea and alcoholic drinks...

Food has played an important part in Chinese culture throughout the country's long history, and the role of the national cuisine is just as important today. The type of cuisine varies according to the region; distinct northern and southern cuisines were evident as early as the seventh century BC. Food in the north where the climate is colder uses more fat, as well as garlic and vinegar, while southern food is known for being light and fresh.

In China, food has been viewed as medicine for over a thousand years. People eat food for its ability to prevent and cure disease, as well as for general health. Centuries of study of seeds, roots, plants, herbs and fungi have yielded an understanding of their health-giving properties, and the Chinese have acquired the knowledge of how to retain the health benefit of these foods during cooking.

Customs and the Role of Confucius

Confucius, a sixth-century Chinese politician, teacher and social philosopher, had an influence on Chinese food and attitudes to eating that is still prevalent today. To Confucius, food was for sharing. It should be beautifully presented and should delight the senses. Cooking and food became an art form where colour, flavour and aroma were very important. Modern table manners and etiquette in the country were also influenced by him.

Chinese food is generally served in small pieces so that a knife is not needed. Chopsticks, bowls and soup spoons are standard tableware. Sharing food remains important in Chinese society and it is unusual for any kind of social gathering not to be accompanied by food and drink. An empty plate indicates that the person is still hungry, and a host will see it as their responsibility to provide more food and drink.