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February 22, 2013
Creative Living
Food a Key Part of the Chinese Lifestyle
by Dian Thomas

As I often travel to China and observe their way of life, I am also gaining new insights into the culture. I have been in China this time for the Spring Festival, which is their biggest holiday. It is the celebration of the beginning of the Lunar New Year. This year it started on February 9 and lasts for two weeks. It is the tradition to return home and celebrate it with one’s family members. Food is such a big part of this holiday and of their daily life. I am always interested in the food of a country. Here are a few of the insights that I have gained over many trips to China.

1. Vegetables are a major part of their diet.

Seventy-five percent of any meal in China is usually some combination of many varieties of vegetables, with little added protein. I dined several times with a Chinese family with a seven-year-old boy. He ate every vegetable placed before him, and there were many. Chinese children learn to eat vegetables at a very young age.

2. Meat is a condiment.

The Chinese use very little meat. While in China, I never sit down to a juicy steak. The three protein sources that I see most often are chicken, pork, and fish, which are usually minced and added to a vegetable dish. Occasionally, they may have a skinny, free-range chicken with vegetables and broth as a soup. Fish is the exception and is often cooked and served whole.

3. Dessert is fruit.

At the end of the meal, you may be served a plate of sliced watermelon or oranges. Many of my friends tell me that sweet foods from the west are too sweet for them.

4. Cheese and other dairy products are not a part of the Chinese diet.

In over a dozen trips there, I cannot recall ever being served dairy products when I eat with my Chinese friends. They are not at all accustomed to dairy in their diet. For milk this morning I was serves hot soy milk.

5. Breads are rarely served.

If you see any type of bread, it will be steamed, as the Chinese kitchen does not have an oven for baking. This steamed bread is like a bun, often containing a filling of sweet pork or bean paste.

6. Fresh is king in China.

In the village where I lived for two months, the vegetables I ate were picked that morning and sold at market the same day. Often homes do not have refrigerators or have very small ones, so people purchase just enough food for one or two days. There are several farmers’ markets in every city. In a country restaurant, you choose your favorite live fish or chicken for your meal; after about thirty minutes, it will appear in a dish on your table.

7. Carbohydrates come from rice or noodles.

Rice in the south and noodles in the north give the Chinese the energy they need for the day. And they do need a lot of energy, since only about 20 percent have cars. Most walk, or use public transportation and some still ride a bike as their main transportation.

8. Junk food is not part of the daily intake.

None of the Chinese people I know there eat unhealthy snacks. Health is top-of-mind in China; I would say taste and convenience are top-of-mind in America.

9. Tea and warm water are the drinks of choice.

You can find carbonated drinks in China, but I never saw any of my friends drink them—or even drink anything cold. You can’t get ice water at a restaurant; instead, you are served hot water or tea.

10. Fast-food consumption is much less than in America.

I believe most Chinese people have had a taste of American fast food, but that’s about all. They do have Chinese fast food, but it appears to be healthier than American burgers and fries. Unfortunately, with the arrival of Western food and the lure of McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut, more of the young people in China are starting to put on weight.

Want to Travel to China: If you are interested in going to China and would like to be in one of Dian’s groups email her at info@dianthomas.com or call her at 801 277 4332.

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