Socialising around food and mealtimes is very important to the Chinese, and Chinese family life revolves around the dinner table. In fact, “Have you eaten yet?” is a common greeting, indicating prime concern for the state of fullness of another’s belly.
Their obsession with food, and the simple act of sharing a meal with family and friends is what captured my curiosity with all Asian food.
Each meal is an event for the Chinese, each plate carefully considered for its ying/yang qualities, encouraging the Chinese to find balance in their life, including with the food they eat. This would include using ingredients in their cooking that are known for their natural abilities to cure ills – such as ginger and garlic.
While preparing meals, the Chinese strive for a balance in not just the types of food they eat, but also the colours and textures of each dish. In contrast, meal time for many of us over usually involves sitting on the couch with a plate of food on their lap whilst catching up on some recorded TV, or looking at our smart phone.
The next couple of supper clubs we are doing come from a desire to try authentic Chinese recipes, use ingredients that I have never heard of or seen before, and to bring people together, eating family style!
Our aim is to create menus that use traditional ingredients in each dish – no cutting corners, no jars of sauce! For me it is important to look to original recipes and methods, to enjoy the depths of flavour and range of textures the ingredients offer. I love Asian food for this reason – where big and bold flavours make me stop and take note of what I am eating!
I f you want to find out more, this blog has some great recipes and a glossary of ingredients for anyone wanting to take on the challenge of cooking real Chinese food:
Shelly Turner – Head Chef and Creative Director of pao!
Chinese mealtime traditions:
- Traditionally, Chinese believed it was impolite to talk too much while eating. A good meal was regarded as too special to be spoiled by conversation.
- Chinese prefer round dining tables because more people can be seated around the table. A round table allows people to eat facing each other without differentiation. In other words, when seated at a round table every one is equal, regardless of their status and wealth.
- The use of chopsticks dates to ancient times when most Chinese were farmers and peasants. At mealtimes their hands were usually dirty, and the food was hot. The farmer didn’t want to use his dirty hands to pick up the food, nor did he want to burn himself, so he began using twigs to pick up the food.
- In most traditional Chinese dining, dishes are shared communally