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Four Principles of Chinese Food Culture 精美情礼

Since ancient China, food has moved beyond the basic human need for sustenance to become expressions of culture and identity. 
Food is linked to how Chinese view and understand the world.

Chinese celebrate the major life milestones with food. For example, since time immemorial eggs is a symbol of life and are eaten to celebrate birth, one month birthday, eighteenth birthday, wedding, sixtieth birthday, etc. 

Chinese cuisine is not only about eating to live but a cultural experience and expression.

Beyond colours, flavours, aromas, and form (shapes, presentation), contemporary Chinese cuisine also pay attention to nutrition.

The principles of Chinese cuisine can be summarised in four aspects 精美情礼 finesse, beauty, affection and etiquette. Through these four aspects, Chinese cuisine is deeply embedded in Chinese culture, daily life and the arts.

Freshness is one of the most important qualities of finesse in ingredients.

精 - Finesse applies to selection, pairings and combinations of ingredients. Finesse extends to preparation, technique and dining environment. 

Wen Xi Tofu is made with ordinary bean curd but it is transformed into an extraordinary dish by finesse in cutting. The chef skilfully slices the tofu into literally thousands of fine threads and serves it in a clear chicken broth. This dish is a fine example of finesse in preparation.

Confucius said "In eating, never tire of finesse. In preparation, never tire of meticulousness 食不厭精,膾不厭細".

Food is part of the pursuit of excellence.

Beautifully presented roast duck. Chinese food tastes good and look appetising.

美 beauty refers to both taste and presentation. Chinese food need to taste and look good.

Chinese New Year reunion dinner is a multi-generational affair. Family members who work or live far apart gather for reunion dinner to affirm and renew ties.

情 - eating is a social event in Chinese culture. Eating and also preparing food together binds families, friends and communities. Friendship and relationships are kept warm by eating together. Business deals are sealed and differences resolved over a meal. One of the most important meals on the Chinese calendar is the reunion dinner during Chinese New Year.

礼 - protocol, etiquette, order, ritual, ceremony.

Finesse 精 and beauty 美 refer to the food while affection 情 and etiquette 礼 are the human aspects of Chinese food culture. The epitome of Chinese cuisine is when finesse and beauty of the dishes are complemented by harmony and exemplary etiquette of the diners.
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Written by Tony Boey on 28 July 2021  


Image of reunion dinner courtesy of flickr. Image of Wen Xi Tofu is a screengrab from CCTV video [味道] 美味扬州. Image of red eggs courtesy of flickr. Image of banquet courtesy of US National Archives.

1 comment:

  1. I once read somewhere that said the Chinese are the only people on earth to eat food solely for the texture and not the flavor. I certainly agree when I think of chicken feet, jelly fish, gizzard etc Even sharksfin is tasteless!


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