Very likely Chinese people are the most food-oriented people in the world, and food traditions play the most important role in social culture. To Chinese people, food is incorporated into significant Chinese customs, rituals, life events, and even holidays.
Rice and noodles have a great role in the Chinese diet. We can easily compare rice and noodles to potato and pasta in western cuisine. Pieces of meat and vegetables are served alongside the rice and noodles.
There are many types of rice, such as sweet rice, long grain rice, short grain rice, jasmine rice, brown rice, black rice or red yeast rice. We can prepare rice in different ways, e.g. steaming rice, rice soup, fried rice, or pot rice. Rice cultivation in China started between 8,000 years ago at Kuahuqiao in Zhejiang Province.
China has little water resources in the north, and historically Chinese people plant wheat instead of rice which is planted in the southern part of China. Consequently, for people in the south of China rice is the most important part of the meal, whereas Chinese from the north eat dominantly noodles.
The importance of rice in China can be comprehended from the Chinese character Qi (Chin. 氣) which means essence, vital energy, spirit, and represents one of the most important symbols in China. Character 米 (Chin. mǐ) rice, represents rice grains separated by leaves and is the foundation for character Qi.
For the Chinese, rice (Chin. 米饭) symbolizes a link between Heaven (Gods) and Earth (Men). Rice is the staple food for the Chinese people and a source of life for centuries with great popularity.
Have you eaten today?
There is a popular saying in Chinese: “People regard food as their heaven” (Chin. 民以食为天). It means that food and eating for Chinese people have great value and utmost importance.
In contemporary Chinese society there’s popular greeting among friends: “Have you eaten today”, (Chin. 你吃了吗?/Cantonese 食咗飯未呀?). Literally, it means, “Have you eaten yet?” (and refers historically to rice in the North, or noodles in the South of China). It is the equivalent of “How are you?” in English. Throughout history, Chinese influence expanded far beyond Chinese borders. This expression has been brought to most East Asian countries. In fact, it is not a question about food, but a polite greeting, with occasionally meaning as an invitation for a meal together in the Philippines - for instance. In not so distant past expression “Have you eaten today”, was equivalent to a greeting as ”Good morning”, “Good afternoon”, or “Good evening”. Nowadays however in contemporary Chinese formal language is widely used the expression: “How are you?” (Chin. 你好).
Rice in traditional Chinese medicine
There are two major species of cultivated rice, known as Oryza sativa and Oryza glaberrima. China is the world’s largest producer, cultivating three separate strains of Oryza sativa: indica, japonica and javanica. In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) rice is known for its ability to strengthen qi and blood of the spleen and stomach, and to expel toxins.
The flavor of rice is sweet, and it is considered to be neutral in temperature. Eaten as a first meal brown rice (Chin. 糙米) can expel worms infestation. If an infant can’t tolerate mother’s milk it can be fed with roasted rice tea (Chin. 玄米茶).
Germinated (sprouted) rice (Chin. Pei ya mi胚芽米) is used for weak digestion and poor appetite, treating food stagnation. It can be used to reduce breastfeeding lactation if needed. Rice is a clean-burning food that gently drains dampness from the body. Rice is top hypo-allergenic food recommended to help people with allergy symptoms.
Red yeast rice (Chin. 红曲) is a type of fermented rice that is produced using specific species of mold, Monascus ruber or Monascus purpureus. This type of rice is used in traditional Chinese medicine because of its great health and healing properties as a natural anti-cancer remedy, with cholesterol reduction property, and great help with various metabolic syndromes, such as diabetes.
Black rice (Chin. 黑米), also known as 'Forbidden Rice' in ancient China, because only noble families could afford it, is used in traditional Chinese medicine. This type of rice has numerous health benefits. It is full of antioxidants, can protect the health of the heart, contribute greatly to the detoxification of the body, and helps slow down the absorption of sugar in the body.
A guide to Congee – optimizing digestion food
Congee (Chin. 小米粥) is an ancient remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine for an actual stomach issue or disharmony in the digestive system. It is often eaten for breakfast because it is warm, easy to digest and nourishes the body.
The great benefit of Congee is hydration due to the amount of water absorbed by the rice grains throughout the cooking process. The second ingredient is to add chicken stock or bone broth, because it is the necessary protein for the restoration of a healthy digestive system, and it’s a great source of collagen. It is often eaten during illness or recovery from illness, such as food poisoning.
How to make it?
Ingredients: A cup of rice (brown), and 8 cups of water, chicken, chicken stock, mushrooms, ginger, coconut oil, sea salt.
Cook rice and water in a covered saucepan on low heat for 1 hour. In a pot add chicken, mushrooms, stock, and sea salt. Simmer on very low heat for an additional 1 hour until rice is completely broken down. Stir it occasionally to prevent rice from sticking. The broth should be thickened into a porridge-like consistency, and the chicken should be tender. Discard the bones from the chicken and add a bit of ginger. Cook for additional 5 minutes.
Stir the coconut oil into the congee. When congee is ready to serve, scoop into a bowl and top with your choice of ingredients, e.g. cooked egg, scallions, or dark sesame oil for added flavor.
Art of making noodles
Chinese noodles were created in the Han Dynasty (Chin. 汉代) more than 4,000 years ago. During the long history and hard work, the Chinese created thousands of different noodle dishes. They’re made in different sizes and shapes and boiled in the soup, or cooked as stir-fried. Noodles are consumed during any meal. As considered to be cereal food, noodles represent the cultural identity of China, and the most important part of the Chinese diet, as a source of energy.
In ancient China, noodles were originally called bing, (Chin. 饼) which means “cake”. It was firstly named “Mian Tiao” (Chin. 面条) during Song Dynasty (Chin. 宋代) 960-1279 A.D. as it is called now.
Most Chinese noodle dishes kept some recipes and stayed the same over time. For instance, Saozi noodles (Chin. 臊子面) have a 3000-year-old history. It has main give ingredients with symbolic meaning: Fungus represents “Yin”, tofu is “Yang”, yellow eggs are “wealth”, red carrots represent “prosperous life”, and garlic sprouts symbolize “vitality”.
Cultural, climates, and traditional differences between northern and southern China are reflected in Chinese noodles as well. The Chinese character for the noodle, mian (Chin. 面), in northern China means flour, whereas in southern China mian refers to processed noodles. Noodles in the south are mostly made of flour and duck egg yolk, and they are considered snacks. Noodles in the north are made of wheat flour and water and on the contrary represent the main dish.
Symbol of love
Noodles preparation require patience, discipline, and great attention to detail in order to achieve the proper texture and form of noodle. But most important is to love needles. For noodles to be out of this world it requires love for making noodles and sharing with others. When prepared with love, it can bond families, build friendships, and strengthen communities. “Enjoy food together and have a great time” (Chin. 无面不欢wu mian bu huan), greatly express the Chinese idea that noodles connect people and make a strong bond between them.
To be able to make noodles properly it is necessary to receive proper cooking education of this fine art which has been passed down over a hundred years and to get plenty of training and experience.
Noodles are special food and they represent love and good wishes in all life events. Noodle carries the history, regional customs, social changes, traditional values and culture of China. For noodles, it is the most important flavor and texture. Wheat noodles are best when they are elastic. Best rice noodles are trim, not too firm, or soft.
Noodles in China are interrelated with customs and have significant meaning. For example, longevity noodles or long-life noodles (Chin. 寿面), are served at birthday parties, and the length of the noodles is used to represent prosperity and long life. Noodles with gravy are consumed during marriage ceremonies or during family relocation as a symbol of flavored life, whereas Qishan minced noodles are prepared by parents to seek success and fame for their children. Chinese people eat traditional noodles during various events in order to celebrate it. During the Chinese new year, Dragonhead whisker noodles are eaten to ask for good weather. Sweet dumplings (Chin. 元宵) are consumed during the Lantern Festival (Chin. 元宵节), or dumplings (饺子) during Spring Festival (Chin. 春节).
The year 1850 marked the beginning of machine-made noodles in China. In 1958, Momofuku Ando (安藤百福) invented revolutionary instant noodles, considered as fast food, and created a revolution in the world's eating habits. The last decade witnessed the development of instant noodles (Chin. 方便面) in the Chinese market. However, hand-made noodles - hand-pulled noodles are still considered a top-notch delicacy, and noodles masters enjoy great fame and popularity. We can say that the art of hand-making noodles will stay for centuries to come and likely further will be developed methods of preparation.