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Chinese and Western Food Culture

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Food culture refers to the technical, scientific, and artistic aspects of the process of food production and consumption, the development, and utilization of food ingredients in specific social groups, as well as the diet-based customs, traditions, ideology, and philosophy.

The differences between Chinese and Western food culture are derived from the differences in their different ways of thinking and philosophies of life: Chinese people pay attention to the harmony and unity between Heaven and Man; while Westerners focus more on people-orientation. Chinese culture uses food to express feeling and message, which are hard to describe in words; while the Western interpretation of food is that it has to be kickshaw and have its own style. Ever since the ancient times, Chinese and Western food culture's collision and exchange have largely promoted the progress and development of human society to some degree, making food culture an important part of world culture.

In addition, due to geographical features, the climate of the environment, and customs, the difference in food will appear in the raw materials, taste, cooking methods, and eating habits. The comparison of the differences between Chinese and Western food culture can be from the following five areas: cooking criteria, culture characteristics, food objects, eating habits, and table manners.

Cooking Criteria: Norms vs Casual

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Westerns emphasize science and nutrition, so the whole cooking process is in strict accordance with the scientific norm. This is clearly demonstrated in Western recipes, where the measurement is accurate in grams and seconds. This facilitates the standardization and makes the cooking into a mechanical work and suppresses the creativity.

By contrast, Chinese recipes are vaguer. Ingredients are usually labeled as "a spoon", "little bit" and different people can interpret those differently. Sometimes, even cooking the same dish, the chef will make some adjustments, according to the different seasons, different occasions, different identities, tastes and requirements of different people, and even different mood. This type of randomness combined with a variety of raw materials, cutting techniques, and cooking methods creates a dazzling array of dishes in Chinese cuisines.

Cultural Characteristics: Individuality and Harmony

Photo of French Lamp Chop

In the West, diets are treated as rational concepts. No matter what the color, smell, taste, and shape of the food is, the nutrition must always be assured. More attention is paid to the daily intake of calories, vitamins, and proteins. This is compatible with the Western philosophy, metaphysics. At a banquet, it emphasizes tableware, ingredients, serving, and the matching of shape and color of raw materials but taste is almost the same everywhere. In a dish, there is no mixture of different materials. For example, in the dish "French lamb chops", mashed potato is put on one side of dish next to lamb chops and green beans are put on the other side of dish plus few slices of tomato. There is a sharp contrast in color, but the tastes of materials are separated, with their own flavor, simple and clear. This manifests the individuality of Western culture.

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The reason Chinese food has its own unique charm is mainly because of its taste. The produce of the taste lies in reconciliation. The natural taste of the raw materials, the cooked savor, the taste of seasonings are mingled and fused together so that they can compliment with and penetrate into each other. Chinese cooking stresses the beauty of reconciliation and that is the essence of Chinese culinary arts. The shape and color of the dish are the external things, but the taste is the internal thing. Emphasizing internal flavor instead of deliberately decorating the external, stressing the taste instead of excessively exposing the shape of the color of ingredients is the most important characteristics of Chinese food culture.

Food Materials

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Westerners inherit the tradition of nomadic and seafaring nations, who mainly live by fishing and hunting with collection and planting as a sideline. Their diet structure mostly consists of meat, such as beef, chicken, pork, and fish. They pay more attention to the balance of nutrition and have well-developed food industries, such as canned food and fast food. Although the taste is monotonous, it saves time while also preserving the nutrition inside.

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According to the survey of a Western botanist, there are more than 600 types of vegetables Chinese people eat, which is six times more than that in the West. In short, vegetables are very common in Chinese cuisines. Meat dishes become common only during holidays or in affluent families. A Vegetarian diet taking the dominant position in Chinese diet structure is also related to the advocacy of Buddhism. Animals are viewed as having a soul, but plants don't. Therefore, they advocate vegetarianism.

Eating Habits

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In China, there will be only one form in any banquet. People sit around one table, most often round, to enjoy the food placed in the middle of the table, which is not only the subject for people to eat but also the medium to share their feelings. At the table, people toast each other and urge others to eat more. This forms an atmosphere of unity and courtesy.

Photo of Western Banquet

In a Western banquet, food and wine, although very important, are actually served as a foil. The core part of the banquet is socializing, making friendship through the conversation with people sitting around you. Using dancing as an analogy, Chinese banquets are like a group dance while Western banquets are like a ballroom dance between a couple of man and woman. Westerners pay more attention to the individual, so they eat separately.

Table Manners

In ancient China, there was a set of complicated etiquette during a meal. When people have dinner together, you cannot eat only according to your own needs and ignore others. Before you have a dinner with others, you must check your hands are clean. You cannot put extra rice back into the pot and you cannot possess only the food you like. You also cannot winnow the hot meals. After dinner, guests should get up to pack the tableware to the owner. Some of these rituals are still put into use in modern times.

In West banquet, the host helps the guest to get food only once and then asks them to help themselves. If the guests do not want to eat anymore, the host will not urge them to eat more. It's not allowed while eating to make noise. After the meal, guests should show the appreciation for the meals that host has prepared. If you want to talk with people, you can only talk with the ones beside you.