North-south divide defines Chinese cuisine

Chinese dishes vary in flavor, ingredients and cooking methods depending on the region and ethnicity of their origin. This diversity means northerners and southerners may never be on the same page when it comes to cooking the same ingredients.

Every year, especially when traditional festivals come around, netizens nationwide fall into arguments about which method of preparing, cooking and eating traditional food is most authentic.

For example, during the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on June 7 this year, it is traditional to eat zongzi – glutinous rice cakes stuffed with various fillings. However, southerners enjoy savory cakes filled with pork and egg yolk, whereas northerners prefer sweet fillings made from dates and bean paste. Many Northern netizens said on Weibo that they find savory zongzi “intolerable” and “disgusting”.

Other contentious foods include tofu pudding – in the North, it is a savory dish that is often eaten for breakfast, but in the South it is a sweet and eaten as a snack – and the classic tomato and egg stir-fry, where people are highly likely to argue about whether salt or sugar should be added.

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Culinary differences aside, Chinese people love eating together.

“Separate dining is common in Western culture, but in China’s dining culture, whether at home or eating out, a grouped dining system is used in most situations,” wrote Ma Guansheng, a nutrition expert from Peking University’s School of Public Health, in a paper published in The Journal of Ethnic Foods in 2015.

Hotpot probably attained its status as the archetypal family-friendly dish because people can just sit around and drop whatever food they like into the pot while catching up with their loved ones. It is this sociable aspect that made “eating hotpot alone” the sixth-loneliest thing to do, according to a recent poll of netizens on Weibo.


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