In Chinese culture food plays a vital role in preventing and treating diseases and addressing certain health conditions. The traditional Chinese diet is much richer in carbohydrates and includes various meats, poultry, and seafood in small quantities.
Chinese meals are eaten communally, each region has its own set of foods, ingredients, and cooking methods. Northern cuisine is characterized by garlic, leeks and scallions, with noodles rather than rice. In the Western region Hunan cuisine includes liberal use of chili peppers and hot pepper sauces. Hunan dishes are spicier and oilier than dishes in other regions. Southern Chinese cuisine (Cantonese) includes primarily steamed and stir-fried dishes with a lot of fish and shellfish. As Chinese adopt traditional American foods, their diet begins to include more sweets such as cookies, chocolate, soft drinks and snacks.
The Chinese diet obtains more than 80% of its calories from grains, legumes, and vegetables. 20% of its from animal protein, fruits and nuts. Northern Chinese cuisine may include more noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns made from wheat flour. Stir-frying, deep-fat frying, braising, roasting, smoking and steaming are common food preparation techniques. When foods are fried, peanut or corn oil is used rather than lard, which is more common in Southeast Asian cuisine.
Pork is often a mainstay, soybeans are also commonly used in forms including sprouts, dried or fermented as tofu. Dairy products are rarely consumed. Fruits are abundant. Vegetables are also frequent in the diet, though rarely eaten raw – they are generally stir-fried, steamed, or added to soups just before serving. The beverage of choice is clear, hot green tea.
Common food choices associated within cultural group.
Grain group: rice and related products (flour, cakes and noodles). Noodles made from barley, corn and millet. Wheat and related products – breads, noodles, spaghetti, stuffed noodles (won ton), and filled buns (bow).
Vegetable group: bamboo shoots, cabbage (nappa), celery, Chinese turnips (lo bok), dried day lilies, dry fungus (black Juda’s ear), leafy green vegetables including kale, cress, mustard greens (gai choy), chard (bok choy), amaranth greens (yin choy), wolfberry leaves (gou gay) and Chinese beans, broccoli (gai lan), eggplant, lotus tubers, okra, snow peas, stir-fried vegetables (chow yuk), taro roots, white radish (daikon), yams.
Fruit group: apples, bananas, custard apples, coconuts, dates, longan, figs, grapes, kumquats, lime, litchi, mango, muskmelon, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, persimmons, pineapples, plums, pomegranates, pomelos, tangerines and watermelon.
Milk, yogurt and cheese group: milk (cows, buffalo and soymilk).
Meat, fish, eggs and nuts group: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, duck, quail, squab, a large variety of fish and shellfish, in addition to legumes and nuts.
Fats and sweets group: lard, peanut, soy, sesame and rice oil; honey, rice or barley malt, palm sugar, sorghum sugar, and dehydrated cane juice.