To say that Chinese life revolves around food and eating is not an overstatement. Food is at the core of literally every Chinese holiday and a multitude of everyday activities. In fact, a very common greeting in Chinese is 你吃饭了吗？ nǐ chīfàn le ma? “Have you eaten yet?” It is an expression of well-being, or concern for the other individual. This seems pretty logical coming from a country that has endured centuries of on and off famine.
Food is so important in Chinese culture that the language is full of food and eating terminology. In fact, a search in the wenlin electronic dictionary for the word 吃 chī “to eat” found literally pages and pages of words and expressions that incorporate this word. A similar result was found with the word 食 shí also meaning “to eat” in many Chinese dialects, such as Cantonese. A sampling of the these terms include:
吃苦 chīkǔ eat-bitterness = bear hardship
吃力 chīlì eat-strength = strenuous effort
吃醋 chīcù eat-vinegar = to be jealous
吃亏 chīkuī eat-loss = suffer a lose; come to grief
吃惊 chījīng eat-surprise = to be startled or shocked
A couple other food related expressions that are commonly used in everyday speech include:
铁饭碗 tiěfànwǎn iron rice bowl = to have a secure job
炒鱿鱼 chǎo yóuyú fry squid = to be fired, as in“他炒了我的鱿鱼” tā chǎo le wǒde yóuyú “He fired me” literally, “He fried my squid.”
吃不了兜着走 chībuliǎo dōuzhe zǒu
carry away leftovers from a meal = to get into serious trouble; for example if I said, 你吃不了兜着走 nǐ chībuliǎo dōuzhe zǒu means that you are in serious trouble. Obviously the meaning in this expression is metaphorical.
China truly is one of the great ancient cuisines, along with France and Greece. It is a cuisine that has survived and evolved for thousands of years. What most Americans do not realize is that Chinese cuisine varies dramatically across the country. In other words, there is not just one kind of Chinese food, but rather many kinds of Chinese food, that use different ingredients, different methods of preparation, and different methods of cooking. There are also popular dishes that you can find all over China.
Below are a few photographs of some dishes I like to eat when I travel to China. In a later post I’ll discuss some of the different kinds of Chinese food.
I don’t know the origin of the eggplant dish below, but I have only found it at one very small restaurant in Nanjing. It is truly delicious—spicy, sweet, and crunchy.
And finally some dimsum dishes from Hong Kong.