Chinese Food Culture — History, Fun Facts, Development, and Etiquette

Chinese food is an entire system that includes tens of thousands of dishes throughout history, various cooking methods, and dining etiquettes. 



Because of the geographical, climatic, and historical differences, northern Chinese usually eat wheaten food, while southerners eat rice as their staple food. Meanwhile, northerners prefer the salty flavor, while people in the south enjoy sweet ones.


These big differences between north and south appeared clearly over 1000 years ago.  


In the Qing Dynasty (1616 — 1912), the Eight Cuisines were finally formed, based on their influences. 


Till today, this is still the basic sorts of Chinese food, though many people feel this classification is partial, incomplete, and doesn't include large numbers of delicacies from lots of other places in China.

Eight Cuisines: 


Shandong/Lu Cuisine    Zhejiang/Zhe Cuisine    /Guangdong/Yue/Cantonese/Cuisine

Hunan/Xiang Cuisine    Sichuan/Chuan Cuisine    Anhui/Hui Cuisine 

Jiangsu/Su Cuisine    Fujian/Min Cuisine 


Overseas Cuisines:


Now in many western countries, Chinese food is very popular. However, most of these oily and sweet dishes, especially many take-outs, are westernized Chinese food. 

Some Fun Facts About Chinese Food

Interesting Name


Names of Chinese dishes can consist of an interesting subject; they can be very classy, beautiful, or very funny. 


Mythological legend, history, famous people are all important resources for naming dishes.


Such as Sweet-scented Osmanthus In the Moon, General Crossing Bridge, Buddha Jumping Over the Wall, Tai Ji Vegetable, Jade Heart, etc. 


Various Cooking Methods


Stewing, steaming and roasting has been the main cooking method in China for thousands of years; frying and stir-frying was invented and widely used in the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279). 

Gradually, more cookeries were appeared and applied.


Today, there are 36 main cooking methods in Chinese food culture. 

Food and Season


Ancient Chinese has an entire system about eating different food in four seasons with various cooking methods and condiments, based on the Yin-Yang and Five Elements theory.

Nowadays, modern technology allows people to eat whatever and whenever they want, however, most Chinese still follow their diet based on seasons. 


For instance, mild food in spring, light, and vegan in summer, digestive food in autumn, high calorie and nutritious ones in winter.

Connection to Chinese Medicine


In Chinese food culture, a proper diet can be helpful for people’s health, which is a theory named Medical Diet. 


In this theory, all types of food can be divided into Yin (those that make the body cold) and Yang (those that make the body warm), while corresponding to the Five Elements. 

Neutralization of the Five Flavors and Yin-Yang is the Essence of Chinese Food Culture and the Medical Diet.


Five Elements in Chinese Culture: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth

Five Flavors of food: Spicy, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Sweet 

Five Main Colors: White, Cyan, Black, Red, Yellow

Five Internal Organs: Lung, Liver, Kidney, Heart, Spleen

Five Sense Organs: Nose, Eye, Ear, Tongue, Mouth


Certain food is good for the corresponding organs and is more beneficial in specific seasons. 

Read More About Yin - Yang and Five Elements in Chinese Culture

Basic Table Manners in Chinese Food Culture:


Sit in Certain Seat Orders;


Not to point at others using chopsticks;


Not to stir and pick up in dishes;


Only eat from dishes nearby;


Not to hit plates and bowls using chopsticks;


Not to stick or insert chopsticks in food;


Read More Toasting and Table Manners

Chinese Tea Culture


From planting to the drinking of tea, everything included in this procedure is the tea culture. 


No matter it is expensive or cheap tea leaves, drinking in fancy rites or simple cups, with or without exquisite refreshments, in a classy room, or on the road, or in beautiful nature, nothing is more important than the taste of the tea. 


Chinese Tea Culture can be extremely complicated, or quite simple.


It is in many ancient tea books, in countless historical poems and paintings, in many beautiful tea plantations, in Chinese philosophy and religions, and in everyone’s teacups. 


People are the culture; hence, whenever, whatever, and however they drink, they are all part of the Chinese Tea Culture. 

Development of Tea in China:


Tea was firstly used in Chinese medicine when the Flame Emperor (Yan Di) discovered them. Since the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), tea became a type of beverage and valuable gifts. 


Hundreds of years later, tea was an important daily necessity in China; from royal to civilians, artists to peasants.


This is the reason why tea culture can be both complex and easy, exquisite, and simple. 


Till the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279), the drinking of tea formed an entire and classy theory. One of the best articles about tea culture during this period was written by Emperor Zhao Ji, a marvelous artist and a horrible monarch with a tragic ending. 


Gradually, more tea pieces were cultivated, more tea sets and making skills were invented, and more tasting methods were applied. 


Meanwhile, the utilization of tea expanded to almost all important events like the Chinese Wedding


Read More Fun Facts About Chinese Tea

Chinese Alcohol Culture 

Alcohol in Chinese means eternality, possess, and longevity. 


The most historical alcohol in China is the Millet Wine or the Rice Wine, which has been popularized for thousands of years. They were highly appreciated and noted in many poems and historical articles, and are more prevalent in southern China. 


The Distilled Spirit is relatively new, with a few hundred years of history. Nowadays, people in northern places in China are drinking them more. 


Grain, rice, fruit, and flower, all can be used to make wine. 




In Chinese culture, wine is used to drink, to cure disease, to cook, and for health preservation. Meanwhile, wine has been an important part of all traditional etiquettes, from the grand national ceremony to people’s big days.

Read More Fun Facts About Chinese Alcohol