Speaking about food traditions in general, I would like to say, that each country has its unique food ethnography. This ethnography reflects the history of a nation, its customs and beliefs. That is why the process of getting acquainted with a new country is often supplied with tasting of its national cuisine. As for me, I find this method rather powerful as a person has an opportunity both to taste something new and unordinary and to get interesting facts about another country.
For example, the prevailing usage of one or another product can help to understand geographic situation and climatic conditions of the country. Thus, we know that there are many citrus fruits in Egypt because of hot climate, or there are many crops in Ukraine because of fertile ground. Another example is that attitude of a nation to consumption of meat in daily nutrition informs us about religion and moral aspects of the country. In such a way, we know that for the Muslims and the Jews pork is under a ban. Meanwhile the Koreans eat not only pork, but also dog meat, which is shocking for many cultures. I think that thanks to these numerous examples there are no doubts left, that food of definite country facilitates to better understanding of its population.
As for me, I am a representative of admirable food culture with long history and old traditions. To be precise, I am a representative of Chinese food traditions. Without exaggeration, Chinese food culture has exciting customs and traditions, which often seem to be unusual for foreigners. At the same time, I have a close friend Igor from Ukraine, whose food traditions are extraordinary for me. But I find such food diversity around the world amazing, as it opens windows for discovering something new.
That is why the main aim of my essay, on the one hand, is to share with my native (Chinese) food ethnography. On the other hand, I want to tell about the food ethnography of Ukraine as a bright example of food culture rather contrast to Chinese one.
Firstly, I will give brief, but interesting information about Chinese food ethnography, relying on my personal experience.
To begin with, it is necessary to mention that geographic situation, size of China and constant growth of its population has significantly influenced on Chinese food tradition. Of course, with the rapid pace of food industry development provides the Chinese with opportunity to have their meal not only at home, but also in restaurants. Which is more, there are many restaurants with European or other nationalities’ cuisines. As for me, I was brought up in a family, where traditions and customs are highly respected and followed by all members. That is why I prefer to eat in a family circle at home. Friendly and respectful atmosphere among members of my family turns usual food consumption into wonderful ceremony with its own etiquette and rules. Usually my mother cooks a meal, as she likes it very much. She also tries to surprise members of our families and friends with new dishes from time to time.
According to Chinese food culture, it is not customary to take meal alone. That is why, even if I have dinner not at home, I always invite some friends of mine to join me. Mostly, I take meal three times a day, and make a few light snacks. The most common way of cooking is stir-frying, and my mother mainly follows it.
If to talk about food, which the Chinese use most of all, of course rice should be named in the first place. This is a staple dish in Chinese cuisine, which may be eaten several times a day. There are numerous sorts of rice, depending on color, shape, size. Rice is a product number one in China. Chinese use it almost in all dishes. Respectful attitude to rice has its roots in history of China. Rice makes a long way until it is ready for markets. Hard labor for getting rice is highly appreciated. Parents usually make their children eat all the rice in a bowl. Otherwise, children will get ugly couple, according to a superstition.
China is known for possibility of eating snacks, insects, shark fins, dogs and cats. Despite this fact, chicken and pork remains the most widespread for consumption meat. The rule “Yi xing bu xing” is also considered as one of food traditions. This rule says that each section of animal should be used in cooking. The reason is in the belief, that the same part of human’s body will be improved, as the part of animal he or she eats.
But it is necessary to say, that Chinese people do not use much meat in their daily nutrition. The reason for this is following of “yin” and “yang” philosophic conception. “Yin” is translated as “cool” and “yang” is translated as “cold”. “Yin” is a source of negative energy, while “yang” is a source of positive energy. According to this conception, the task is to keep these two sources in balance. Otherwise, the disturbance of balance may lead to negative outcome, such as illness.
Chinese pay a lot of attention to the food they eat. As a result, they use various products, making emphasize on fresh vegetables and fruits. Unlikely many Americans or Europeans, most of Chinese do not use frozen vegetables at all. Freshness, quality, texture and color of products play a significant role for Chinese. As proteins are important for functioning of organism, Chinese also use it. Well-known around the world tofu includes a large number of proteins and is popular not only among Chinese.
Talking about traditional Chinese cuisine, it is difficult to choose some definite dishes. Because of historical events and geographic structure, Chinese cuisine differs from region to region. Even though there are numerous streams of traditional Chinese food, it is possible to outline four main categories. They are Sichuan cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine, Beijing cuisine and Cantonese cuisine. On the below map you can see all the variety of regional food in China.
My family prefers Cantonese food. The advantage of Cantonese dishes is that it is easy to cook and tasty to eat. Prevailing ingredients for these dishes are chicken, rice, noodles, fish, and vegetables. The staple dishes are usually served in bowls. Additional dishes are served in plates of common usage. It means that everyone takes a piece from the same plate. The solid food is eaten with chopsticks.
Speaking about dining etiquette, it is necessary to mention, that general rules do not have many differences with rules of the European world. It is necessary to be respectful, not to talk with full mouth, not to take too much food at one time, not to leave one’s plate full of meal. If someone comes as a guest, he or she should usually bring a small gift, like a bottle of vine or anything else.
The interesting detail is about filial piety. Of course, countries of Asian world were always known for vary high respect to elder members of family and people in general. This rule acts even while eating. When someone puts dishes on the table, the right of first piece is always for the eldest members. Once this member took his part and began to eat, the others may begin to eat too.
There are also many etiquette rules, connected with chopsticks. For instance, chopsticks should be never left sticking from the bowl with food. Another fact is that one pair of chopsticks may be reused on environmental purposes. That is why it is not accustomed to clean one’s teeth or do something like this with chopsticks.
Desserts are not as widespread in China, as in Europe. That is why it can be either absent at all during having meal or it can be some fruits. At hot periods cool and sweat soup with beans is often served.
Generally, these are the main points about food customs and traditions in China. As I have already said before, I am very interested in researching food ethnography of other countries. Recently I have got a unique opportunity to know more about Ukrainian food traditions. A few months ago, I met a student Igor with Ukrainian roots. As it turned out later, in spite of not living in Ukraine for many years, his family still prefers only Ukrainian way of nutrition. We became good friends with Igor. During common suppers with his family, I managed both to talk about Ukrainian food ethnography with his relatives and to taste delicious (as it turned out) Ukrainian dishes. And now I would like to tell more detailed about the things I managed to find out from Igor’s family.
Therefore, I will begin with my first visit to this lovely Ukrainian family. As I knocked the door, Igor’s father opened me door and met me with great pleasure. We came to dining table, and he asked me to wait, as his wife was finishing the last dishes. As I offered to help Mr. Alex’s wife, he surprisingly told me that kitchen and cooking is a feminine sphere. That is why we should not interfere all this process. He said: “Man has his own duties, and woman has her own duties” And that was my first note: Ukrainian families have strict division of duties. Men are “hunters” and women are “domestic goddesses”.
In a moment of the eye, the table was full of different food. I counted about ten different dishes and was rather surprised. Igor’s family explained me that they were thoroughly preparing for my visit. They decided to let me taste the best of traditional Ukrainian food.
The same as in China and any other country, geographic situation impacts on food habits of its population. Luckily, for the Ukrainians, their country has such fertile lands, that they are able to have a wide choice of products. Because of big amount of black earth, Ukrainians are able to have variety of crops. Among them, there are different agricultures. But one of the most favorite Ukrainian product is potato. That is why one of the dishes was potato “varenyky” (dumplings in other words). As told me further Mrs Ann (mother), there are many dishes with potato. Moreover, it is one of the key elements for many soups, salads and staple dishes. The next dish was borshch. This is, probably, one of the most famous Ukrainian dishes. I have heard a lot about it, but did not have an opportunity to taste it. To tell the truth, I was pleasantly surprised with its smell, taste, and general content. Another interesting dish was Banosh with brinza. Igor’s family told me, that this dish is more typical for the Western part of Ukraine. This dish is easy to cook in field conditions, and cattlemen in mountains often cooked it. From this fact comes a tradition, that only men may cook Banosh.
Among other dishes there were also salads, salo, homemade sausages and a large number of vegetables. If to talk about drinks, I tasted an interesting one, called “Uzvar” (made from dried fruits). This drink freshens up very well. Alcoholic drinks were always on the table. Mr. Alex gave me a trial of “horilka”, which is widely famous as traditional Ukrainian beverage.
But to my full surprise, that was not the end. Mrs. Ann took also dessert – vareniky with cherry and jam. And that was, finally, the end. Of course, such a warm meeting in this family touched me, but I have never eaten so much food as there. It was rather difficult for my body to deal with such a kind of food. I needed to do all my best to get along with these numerous dishes. Another fact, which disturbed me, was the origin of vegetables. My family usually buys only fresh vegetables. That is why I was not sure if I do not have allergy for vegetable from supermarket.
But as it turned out, many of the Ukrainians grow all the food by themselves in the countries. Only those, who do not have such an opportunity, buy products in supermarkets. Ukrainian farmers carefully and with love produce dairy products, meat, vegetables and fruits of the highest quality.
Of course, everything was delicious and creatively served (dishes were decorated with traditional Ukrainian ornaments and served on towels). But as for me, all these dishes are so high in fat, that hardly could I eat this more than once a day. As it turned out, Ukrainians find these dishes rather usual for daily nutrition. They eat such dishes not less, than three times a day.
I can not also miss interesting facts about Ukrainian dining etiquette. General rules, of course are the same, as in Europe or China. But there are still some differences. The dinner usually consists of three courses: soup, staple dish and dessert). The right of “first piece” belongs to the family’s head – to father. Before starting eat, Ukrainians say grace to God for the food and home they have. Only after that, the members of family can start eating. In addition, according to etiquette, everything that is in your plate should be eaten. Otherwise, it means that you are not satisfied with an offered meal.
In conclusion, I would like to summarize similarities and differences of Ukrainian and Chinese food cultures.
First of all, I would like to mention some similarities. As these two cultures had rather contrast history of development, religion and beliefs, there not so many in common between food traditions. But one important thing is that both Chinese and Ukrainians consider vegetables and fruits to be an obligatory element of daily nutrition. Both nations spend a lot of time while examining the quality of products.
Dining etiquette does not differ from one another much too. Chinese and Ukrainians have respectful attitude to elder members of family. They both keep being polite during dining ceremony and try to eat everything they are proposed.
Not less interesting is to sum up differences between Chinese and Ukrainian food traditions.
The first thing is the amount of consummated food per one take of meal. While Chinese try to maintain balanced nutrition and take care of health, Ukrainians prefer to enjoy delicious, but fat and harmful dishes, which may lead to obesity.
The second thing is the products, used for cooking. Potato is a mainstream product in Ukraine, while rice is a leader of sails in China. Such food inclinations determine the content of many dishes, cooked in both countries.
Another difference is a consumption of different meat. While Chinese use rather wide range of meats, pork, beef and chicken are those kinds, used in Ukraine. Hardly could average Ukrainian eat snake or insect, hat is a usual thing for Chinese.
During my essay, I have listed numerous products, used in China or Ukraine. But I did not mention one interesting detail. All these products are currently available in these and other countries not accidently. It is a result of Columbian Exchange, which became possible after world known discoveries. For instance, Ukraine has such a profitable geographic position, which made her a window to Europe. Thanks to this, a lot of foreign food were brought in Ukraine. More than a half of Ukrainians consider potato to be of decent Ukrainian origin. But the truth is that Ukraine got potato from Spain. And that is only one of thousands of such examples.
China had not less important role for international trading system. China became an inventor of different delicious or necessary in cooking things. Mostly China is famous for its gorgeous collection of flavors and herbs. They were actively sold to the Western world. Another valuable thing from China is a wonderful tea. Thanks to exchange with China and other Asian countries, almost all world enjoys tea every day.
Such exciting and funny research, meanwhile, make me think a lot about role of food ethnography in country’s life and development. The conclusions I made are simple, but informative. I managed to understand once more the beauty and exciting history of my own food ethnography. I also got a chance to compare different food cultures. This experiment helped me to analyze advantages and disadvantages of my traditional nutrition. I also could evaluate pros and cons of another food culture. I find this possibility as a chance to get acquainted with something principal new for myself. Before this project, the only Ukrainian dish I knew, was borsch. But now I know not only main traditional dishes in Ukraine, but also their history and origin. Thanks to meeting Ukrainian food culture, I understood that food is even reflection of nation’s character. For example, Ukrainians cook a lot of tasty and fat food, they thoroughly prepare dinner for guests. That actually means that they are kind-hearted, friendly and generous, they enjoy life, but are not foreseers. They live right now and right here. Ukrainians do not think a lot about outcomes of such behavior for their health. Meanwhile Chinese follow the conception of balance at every situation. They are more restraint and can refuse from momentary pleasure for future well-being. That is why our food and food traditions are reflection of our general outlook.
Generally, food ethnography is a huge field for discovering of one or another country. The main thing is to be tolerant with traditions and customs of other nations. The beauty of the world is in its diversity. Food is also a way for self-expression of a nation. That is why we should not only respect it, but also encourage its development and prosperity. The more countries we investigate, the wider outlook we get. Food ethnography is a great start for meeting with new country.