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Food is an important part of Chinese culture, and Chinese cuisine holds many symbolic meanings.

食物是中国文化的重要组成部分,许多中国菜具有象征意义。

Chinese dishes are often eaten around celebratory occasions. Many believe eating certain dishes during festivals such as the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival or Dragon Boat Festival is considered auspicious. However more often than not, people of Chinese heritage eat certain dishes over and over again most days, and these dishes are equally important in Chinese culture.

有些中国菜经常在庆祝的场合吃。许多人认为在中国新年、中秋节或端午节这样的节日里吃某些菜肴是吉祥的。大多数情况下,传统的中国人会反复地吃某些菜肴,这些菜肴在中国文化中同样重要。

Chinese food is not something I eat every day. But Chinese cuisine is one of my favourite cuisines. I find it fun replicating traditional Chinese recipes at home. It’s a treat when I get to eat at a low-key Chinese restaurant with family and friends on a casual weekend.

我不是每天都吃中国菜,但是中国菜是我最喜欢的菜之一。我觉得在家制作中国传统菜很有趣。在一个休闲的周末和家人朋友低调的在一家中国餐馆吃饭,是一种享受。

No matter the occasion, most Chinese dishes are symbolic of traditions from the past. There are many variations of Chinese cuisine, ranging from Shanghai cuisine to Hainanese cuisine to Sichuan cuisine and so much more. Notably there are common ingredients within each cuisine. Here are six such symbolic Chinese dishes eaten around the world for breakfast, lunch and dinner on an average day.

无论在什么场合,大多数中国菜都象征着传统。中国菜有很多种,从上海菜到海南菜到四川菜等等,值得注意的是每道菜都有共同的配料。这里有六道象征性的中国菜,世界各地人们每天的早餐、午餐和晚餐都经常吃这些菜。

1. Rice and noodles

1.米饭和面条



Time and time again I’ve heard my folks and extended Chinese Malaysian family say they feel weird if they don’t eat rice or noodles after a day or two. Whenever we go out for Chinese dinner and don’t feel like eating white rice, my folks normally order fried rice instead as it is…rice. Call me a bad Asian but I have no problem not eating rice every day and have gone weeks without eating rice. That said, yangzhou fried rice (扬州炒饭) is one of the dishes I like to cook and eat, just like how I like making instant Maggi noodles for weekend breakfast.

我不止一次听到我的家人和马来西亚华裔家庭说,如果一两天不吃米饭或面条,他们会觉得很奇怪。每当我们出去吃中餐,不想吃白米饭的时候,我的家人通常会点炒饭,因为它就是...米饭。但是我每天不吃米饭也没有问题,你可以说我是一个不合格的亚洲人,而且我已经几个星期没有吃米饭了。也就是说,扬州炒饭是我喜欢做和吃的菜之一,就像我喜欢在周末的早上吃方便面一样。

2. Chicken

2.鸡肉



There are endless Chinese chicken recipes, many of which have been adapted to suit local palates around the world. While steamed yellow-skinned chicken is a popular dish during celebratory occasions (with chicken head, feet and tail symbolising unity and togetherness), chicken is common in Chinese stir-frys too. Oyster sauce chicken with bok choy, Malaysian mango chicken and cashew nut chicken were some dishes I remember my mum cooked when I was younger.

中国有数不清的鸡肉食谱,其中很多都是为了适应世界各地的当地口味而改的。清蒸黄皮鸡是庆祝活动中的常见菜肴(鸡头、鸡脚和鸡尾象征团结和团圆),而鸡肉在中式炒菜中也很常见,蚝油鸡配白菜,马来西亚芒果鸡和腰果鸡是我记忆中妈妈在我小时候做的一些菜。



At times a Chinese dish might come with subtle crunch along with the sweetness. Sesame seeds are commonly sprinkled over poultry dishes such as sesame oil chicken, fried chicken and sweet and sour pork (always debatably a true classic Chinese dish…).

有时一道中国菜伴随着轻微的嘎吱声和甜味而来。芝麻通常撒在家禽类菜肴上,比如芝麻油鸡、炸鸡和糖醋排骨(一直被认为是真正的经典中国菜...)。

4. Dumplings

4.饺子



Chinese dumplings are one of the most important and all time favourite foods in Chinese culture. A staple around the Chinese New Year, dumplings are also popular during yum cha and family gatherings. There are many kinds of Chinese dumplings; the jiǎozi (饺子), xiǎo long bāo (小笼包), shēng jiān bāo (生煎), xiā jiǎo/hā gáau (虾饺) and shāo mài/sīu máai (烧卖) are just a few of them.

中国饺子是中国文化中最重要也是最受欢迎的食物之一。饺子是中国新年的主食,在饮茶和家庭聚会时也很受欢迎。中国的饺子有很多种,其中包括饺子、小笼包、生煎、虾饺和烧麦等。

As I wrote in Why Many Chinese Like Eating Dumplings, dumplings are dishes for sharing and represent wealth and togetherness. Interestingly enough, when it comes to eating dumplings many seem content to just eat dumplings and more dumplings, no need for rice of noodles. At least that is the case when I eat dumplings with my Chinese friends in Australia – just eat dumplings and no other dishes. Dumplings really are just that good by themselves and it’s easy to feel stuffed from eating more and more dumplings.

正如我在《为什么很多中国人喜欢吃饺子》一书中所写的,饺子是可以分享的美食,代表着财富和团结。有趣的是,当提到吃饺子,很多人似乎满足于只吃更多的饺子,而不需要吃米饭和面条。至少当我和我在澳大利亚的中国朋友一起吃饺子的时候是这样的——只吃饺子,没有其他的菜。饺子本身就很好吃,而且吃的饺子越来越多,很容易让人觉得吃饱了。

5. Green leafy vegetables

5.绿叶蔬菜



There’s almost always a vegetable dish when it comes to having a Chinese meal. Bok choy/Chinese celery (xiǎo bái cài, 小白菜), gai lan/Chinese broccoli (jiè làn, 芥蘭), water spinach and bamboo shoots are some popular greens in Chinese cooking. Probably the most well-known one is the bok choy. Native to China and first cultivated along the yellow Yangtze River Delta, it is nicknamed ‘soup spoon’ for its large leaves that are shaped like a spoon. Chinese immigrants brought bok choy to Australia during the 1850s Gold Rush and it was brought to North America in the 1880s.

说到吃中餐,几乎总是有蔬菜。白菜或者中国西芹(小白菜)、甘蓝或者中国西兰花(芥蓝)、菠菜和竹笋是中国烹饪中常见的绿色蔬菜,也许最有名的是白菜,它原产于中国,最初在黄河长江三角洲种植,因其形状像勺子一样的大叶子而被称为汤匙。在19世纪50年代的淘金热期间,中国移民将白菜带到了澳大利亚,并在19世纪80年代将其带到了北美。

In general, raw and uncooked vegetables aren’t eaten too often among the Chinese. Good sanitation has been a problem in China for a long time, and food here is preferably cooked over heat to minimise bacteria. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, uncooked and ‘cold’ food may not be optimal for digestion. Personally I like my vegetables cooked hot and over the years have learnt vegetables are one of the fastest foods to cook. If I come home from work, have the house to myself for the evening and am feeling lazy, boiling some bok choi or Chinese broccoli for five minutes along with some fresh meat makes for a meal right away. Quick and easy for a hungry girl. Not to mention washing up is easy too.

一般来说,中国人并不常吃生的和未煮熟的蔬菜。缺少良好的卫生条件长期以来一直是中国的一个问题,这里的食物最好是在高温下烹饪,以尽量减少细菌。从传统中医的角度来看,生冷食物可能不是最佳的消化方式。就我个人而言,我喜欢吃煮熟的蔬菜,多年来我已经明白了蔬菜是烹饪速度最快的食物之一。如果我下班回家,晚上一个人懒洋洋的呆在家里,花上五分钟时间煮一些小白菜或者芥兰,再加上一些新鲜的肉,马上就可以做成一顿饭。对于一个饥饿的女孩来说既简单又方便,更不用说洗餐具也很容易。

6. Tofu

6.豆腐

Traditionally tofu symbolises death in Chinese culture. This is because most tofu is white (at least on the inside) and the colour white is synonymous with death – and so sometimes isn’t served during festivals. That said, some have suggested eating tofu sounds like eating a mouthful of ‘fú’ (福) or good fortune. In everyday Chinese cooking, tofu is cooked with soups and in stir fries and simmered in hotpots. Made out of soybeans, milk and coagulents, there are many varieties of tofu such as beancurd, silken tofu, dehydrated tofu, pickled tofu and stinky tofu. One of the most popular tofu dishes is the Sichuan mapo tofu which is beancurd in red chilli and bean oil.

传统上,豆腐在中国文化中象征着死亡,这是因为大多数豆腐是白色的(至少里面是白色的),白色是死亡的同义词——所以有时在节日期间不吃豆腐。而有些人建议吃豆腐,因为听起来像是吃了一口“fú”(福)或好运。在日常的中国烹饪中,豆腐可以和汤一起煮,用旺火炒,在火锅里慢炖。豆腐由大豆、牛奶和凝结剂制成,品种繁多,有豆腐、绢豆腐、脱水豆腐、腌制豆腐、臭豆腐等。其中最受欢迎的豆腐是四川麻婆豆腐,它是用红辣椒和豆油腌制成的豆腐。

Rumour has it tofu is associated with sexual harassment. There is this story out of Chang’an in China where a husband and wife duo ran a tofu restaurant. The husband made tofu at night while the wife ran the shop in the day. The wife was said to have good looks as a result of of eating tofu (supposedly keeps the skin nice and smooth) and men patronised the shop to ‘eat tofu’ – flirt with her.

有传言说,豆腐和性骚扰有关。在中国古代有这样一个故事,长安一对夫妻开了家豆腐店,丈夫晚上做豆腐,妻子白天经营店铺,据说这位妻子因为吃了豆腐(据说可以保持皮肤光滑)而长得很漂亮,男人们都光顾这家店来“吃豆腐”——和她调情。

Certain Chinese cuisine is spicier than others. Think Sichuan and Hunan cooking out of the Sichuan and Hunan provinces south of China where the climate is relatively cool. In general, many Chinese eat spicy and don’t mind spicy food at all. China currently produces around 28 million tons of chilli, which is 46% of the world’s total chillis. These days if you go to a Chinese restaurant, more than likely you’ll come across a spicy Chinese dish on the menu or chilli condiments on the table like chilli flakes or chilli oil.



Today Chinese food is found all over the world. In Australia, it’s not hard to find Chinese food in the capital cities. Here in Melbourne it’s not hard to find more than a few Chinese restaurants in the city and in the towns with a high Asian demographic – quite easy to eat at a different Chinese meal at a different Chinese restaurant every night (and so easy to get broke eating this way). The question of whether Australia’s Chinese food is more on the authentic side or more geared towards a Western palate is a question to ponder. But that’s another story for another day.

现如今中国菜在世界各地都能找到。在澳大利亚的首都找到中国菜并不难,在墨尔本这座城市和亚洲人口密集的城镇,不难找到几家中餐馆——很容易在每天晚上在不同的中餐馆吃不同的中国菜(用这种方式吃饭很容易破产)。澳大利亚的中国菜是更偏向正宗还是更适合西方口味,这个问题值得深思。但这是另外一个故事了。

Do you like Chinese cuisine?

你喜欢中国菜吗?