Guest Author - Inci Yilmazli
Every country has its own traditional customs. When it’s about food and how to have guests over for dinner, it’s more likely to come across many different tastes, food or even the way the food is served depending on the country and the culture. For Chinese, food, especially healthy food, is very important. They have a saying which shows how important it is to pay attention to what we eat: “Better to live on food than medicine.”
Chinese are very careful about what they eat. They try to prepare their food as best they can in order to have a healthy life. However, the way of serving food is as important as the kind of food to be served as well. The importance of the activity of eating has entered different sides of people’s lives over time. In addition to the protocol and family dinners for public relations, dinners for new year, festivals, weddings, funerals, births have become a custom.
In social life, having dinner for public relations is common. The relationships between the close friends and relatives are very common. When something important happens such as a birth or moving to a new place, it’s usual to get gifts and visit. In this case, the only thing that the host would think is what to serve to her guests. The host should prepare excellent food in sufficient quantity to please the guests.
Another dinner type is business dinners. Businessmen are used to doing business while having dinner. When the dinner is over, the deal should be done!
The food that guests are served differs depending on the region as every region has its own unique customs and traditions. In the past, if the guests were served pasta in Beijing, this would mean that the guests were asked to stay. If the guests would stay, then the host would serve them "Jiao Zi"(dumplings) in order to show appreciation. When visiting close friends, “Jingbajian” (eight types of cake) is given as a gift.
In some villages in South China, the host goes in the kitchen after serving tea to the guests and starts making cake right away. When the cake is ready, the guests are invited to taste the cake, then the host starts cooking the main meal.
In Quanzhou in Fu Jian Province in the east of China, the visiting guests are served fruits. This is called “Tian Tian” meaning “Sweet Sweet” by the local people. This also means an invitation for the guests to have dessert. The fruits served include mandarin because in local dialect “Ju” which means mandarin, is heteronym with the word “Ji” which means lucky. This symbolizes the wish for good luck and to have a good life like mandarin for the guests.
Different regions have different traditions in China. In the Beijing area, there must be eight cold and eight hot dishes in a meal. In Heilongjiang, in northern China, the number of the dishes for the guests must be even numbers. And in some areas, fish must be served in the meal. Fish means that the family is wealthy and there is some more.
Just like in every culture, engagement and wedding dinners have an important place in Chinese culture. The most magnificent dinner is the wedding dinner. In Shanxi Province in northern China, each dish is named differently. The first dish is red meat. With the color red, it’s expressed that “the whole family is full of happiness”. The second dish is “the happy family”. This means that the whole family gets together and benefits from happiness together. The third dish is Babaofan. This dish is made of eight ingredients includng rice, Chinese persimmon, lilium, dried fruits and the seeds of water lily. This dish symbolizes the couple who loved each other and got married would be together until the end.