China is a vast country with a vast spectrum of culture, and while there are various ways to examine those differences – rural/urban, rich/poor, and east/west, I’d like to take a few weeks and hone in on one in particular — north/south. Many other nations can be seen through the same lens – Israel from Dan to Beersheba, marking the boundaries for census-taking, and the U.S. with its Mason-Dixon line, marking the boundary for sweet tea sipping — and China is no different.
In last week’s post we considered differences in climate. For this week, let’s consider diet.
Now for Americans, it comes as no surprise that northerners and southerners eat differently. This Alabamian has heard many a northerner when asked if they’d like grits for breakfast respond with, “I’ll just try one for now!”
In fact, one of the things I’ve learned so far on deputation is to not order tea on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. Even if they claim it’s sweet, it’s not.
On the other side of things, I’ve also heard many an Ohioan give up at persuading a southerner of the glories of chili, and that’s not to even mention the age old debate as to whether beverages of the syrupy sort should be referred to as soda, pop, drink, or Coke. Coke isn’t a product, it’s a category.
But I digress.
My point is that it’s not just Americans that have different northern/southern tastes in food. The phenomenon is even more clear in China.
Northern Chinese have a wheat-heavy diet, while southern Chinese’s is rice-heavy. So that translates to wheat noodles, steamed bread, and dumplings in the north; and rice, rice noodles, and rice dumplings in the south.
I have met numerous southern Chinese that say eating wheat-based foods gives them upset stomach.
But it’s not just staples like rice and noodles. The southern Chinese are a tea-sipping people, and I actually only recently learned from a missionary teammate serving in northern China that the northern Chinese have no tea culture. They just drink hot water.
As far as I can tell, the reason for these differences is actually in large part due to differences in climate and temperature. Keep in mind of course that noodles regardless of where they are served in China are typically served in a watery broth that was brought to a boil. It certainly helps to warm a person up.
Even with tea, I imagine it’s also a climate thing. Tea grows in south China but not in the north, so traditionally, northern Chinese haven’t had a culture of tea like the south.
So there you have it – America isn’t the only place with a wide variety of food quirks. Up next, we’ll see how northern and southern Chinese talk different, ya’ll.