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Chinese Cuisine


Did you know that 60 per cent of Brits list Chinese food as one of their top 3 world cuisines?


Of course many of the Chinese dishes we enjoy have been adapted to meet Western tastes, but their popularity isn’t surprising when you consider the vast choice of dishes on offer.


China has a history stretching back for thousands of years and is a vast country with differing climates and local preferences. Little wonder that Chinese food offers the world’s biggest variety of flavours – with eight different culinary cuisines each with its own huge range of dishes.


So as the Chinese celebrate their New Year, we take a look at some interesting facts about eating Chinese food.


Chinese cuisine


  • Each cuisine centres around 5 key flavours – sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter and these must be balanced according to the key principles in traditional Chinese medicine.


  • A simple north/south divide means that cuisine in the wheat-producing areas in the north includes wheat noodles, steamed buns and dumplings as its staples, whereas in the southern rice-growing regions wheat is rarely served. Northern cuisine tends to be salty and southern is sour.


  • Probably the most widely served style of Chinese cuisine in the world is Cantonese, which hails from Eastern China and is distinguished by its use of lightly cooked fresh vegetables and meat, and sweet sauces. Favourite dishes include stir-fried beef and peppers with black bean sauce, char sui and dim sum.


  • Dishes from the Sichuan province in Central China are also popular worldwide. The liberal use of chili peppers, ginger and garlic give the cuisine the spicy edge for which it is famed.


  • The Beijing region in Northern China is the home of that wonderful dish, formerly only served to emperors, Beijing Roast Duck – crispy shredded duck served on thin pancakes with delicious hoisin sauce.


  • However, that very popular dish, the chop suey was first invented in America – although it was created by Chinese immigrants.


Chinese dining etiquette


  • As meals are often shared, rice is served separately in small bowls, while meat or vegetable dishes are served in bigger bowls, placed in the middle for everyone to share. But when eating with a bowl it’s not appropriate to hold it by the bottom as it resembles the act of begging.


  • Chopsticks, never knives and forks – because in earlier times knives and forks were seen as barbaric weapons and therefore were inappropriate at the dining table. It’s why most Chinese food is prepared in bite-sized pieces – it makes it easy to pick up (allegedly!). Never leave your chopstick standing vertically in your rice. It’s a traditional Chinese funeral tribute.


  • Although the Chinese each only use an average 2 or 3 pairs of chopsticks per month, with a population of 1.4 billion it equates to 45 billion pairs annually. That’s 50,000 tonnes of bamboo!


  • You won’t usually find salt and pepper at a Chinese table, but will be offered soy sauce, vinegar and chili paste instead.


  • Table manners are very important to the Chinese. Older people should be seated first and it’s rude for youths to start eating before their elders begin their meal. It is also considered extremely rude to eat from a plate that is placed in front of the other person – unless they place food from their plate onto yours.


  • If you’re the honoured guest you’ll be seated furthest from the door at the head of the table. If whole fish, chicken or duck is served, its head will be pointing in your direction!


  • Although in most countries dessert is served after the main courses, there’s no such rule in China. You can eat your dessert whenever you wish, even alongside your main course.


And finally


  • It’s likely that ice-cream was invented by the Chinese in around 2000 BC. It was kept a royal secret by the emperor until Marco Polo visited China then dashed off to Italy with the recipe!

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