The Chinese food culture from regional cuisines and its impact on the American food culture

Haerim Lee

CHN 370W

Hong Li and Christine Ristaino

August 09, 2019


The Chinese food culture from regional cuisines and its impact on the American food culture


The exotic yet such a pleasant scent welcomed me as I opened the door of the restaurant. As I expected from the two Chinese characters “金 佛” on the door, the intense red everywhere inside and the oriental painting on the surface of a wall exuded an atmosphere of the authentic China. The first impression of this Chinese restaurant, Golden Buddha was mostly the same with the image that came to my mind when thinking of a typical Chinese restaurant. However, as I looked around the inside for a moment, I could identify that the customers were from all different countries not just Asians. Since Golden Buddha is a Chinese restaurant, I initially thought that there would be more of Asians than Americans in the restaurant. What is this a new phenomenon? What are the effects that the Chinse food culture had on the American food culture? Based on these two questions, I decided to write my final research paper about ‘The Chinese food culture from regional cuisines and its impact on the American food culture’. The Chinese food culture is manifested itself in the different regional cuisines that have their own unique taste and style. This distinctive food culture of China has fascinated the American people playing a crucial role in shaping the identity of the American food culture.

China is the world’s number one country for its vast territory and huge population. It has twenty-three provinces in total and each region has its own style of living and culture. There is nothing but food that can show the unique style that differs from region to region as it is the only cultural artifact that solely becomes who we are. Then, why are the cuisines different from region to region? What are some of the factors that make such regional differences? To gratify such curiosities, I scrutinized both primary and secondary sources about Chinese regional cuisines and could figure out the four main dividing factors that distinguish from one region to another: Agriculture, climate, palate, geographical isolation, and religion.  

The agriculture is one of the biggest distinguishing factors that affects the regional cuisine. The ingredients that chefs use in making food are dependent on the agriculture and wildlife of that region. This idea can be clearly shown by comparing the Northern and Southern china. In Northern china, where what cultivation is suitable, wheat flour is the staple food for people in that area, so the Northern Chinese people enjoy eating noodles and dumplings. On the other hand, in Southern China, where rice cultivation is suitable due to warm and rainy weather, they eat rice as their staple food.

Another dividing factor is the climate. The climate in China is different regionally and the central and south china are humid. Because of the humidity, the central and south Chinese people usually eat spicy food in the belief that chili peppers in those foods help to move internal dampness and cold.  In ‘Shark’s fin and Sichuan pepper’, the memoir written by Fuchsia Dunlop, she claims that Xie Laoban’s Dan Dan noodles were a potent pick-me-up, a cure for hangover or headache, and the perfect antidote to the grey humidity of the Chengdu climate (Fuchsia 2019).

  The palate is the third aspect of causing difference in regional cuisines. Most of the Chinese people enjoy eating spicy food as their palate is accustomed to it. However, Cantonese cuisine shows that those in the southeast like sweet food, in contrast to a mostly savory palate in the rest of China (Annie 2018).

Geographical isolation specifically indicates why Taiwan food is different from that of other regions. As Taiwan is isolated from China, it has developed its own mixed cuisine blending some cooking styles from Fujian and Guangdong.

Lastly, religion also played a role in making a difference in regional cuisines. The main religious food is the halal food restrictions adhered to by Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in China’s northwest (Annie 2018). These factors ultimately led to the difference in the taste of Chinese cuisine regionally and divided China into five different regions based on the flavor and cooking style: Northern, Eastern, Western, Central, and Southern minority cuisine.  

The Northern China food is most characterized to be salty and simple with less vegetables. The districts that belong to Northern part of China are Shandong, Beijing, and Inner Mongolia. Shandong cuisine is mostly famous for seafood due to its Northeast location along the coast. The Shandong chefs try their best to keep the original flavor of fresh seafood only with simple ingredients and braising. They are also known for making both clear broth and creamy soup. The staple food for Shandong people is wheat, so they serve much more dishes made of wheat compared to other regions resulting in the more consumption of noodles. One of the famous dishes in Shandong is ‘Jyoh-jwan daa-chang’ which is braised pork intestines in brown sauce. It might sound not appealing to people who have never heard about or tried this food before, but the dish is in fact very appetizing as the Shandong chefs skillfully harmonize all the different flavors through a series of cooking techniques. Another Northern district is Beijing, the capital city of China. I am sure that everybody has heard about the dish called ‘Peking roast duck’. This famous roast duck is from Beijing and Beijing cuisine is mostly influenced by Shandong and Inner Mongolia. It is known for its imperial cuisine with strong seasonings like vinegar and garlic. Inner Mongolia cuisine also belongs to Northern China food and as the name suggests, it originates from traditional Mongolian culture. Inner Mongolia cuisine mainly includes dairy products and all kinds of red meat and the representative foods are ‘roasted whole sheep’ and ‘roast leg of lamb’.

The Eastern China cuisine is sweet and light with a lot of fish and seafood dishes. Cantonese and Fujian are the main regions of the Eastern China. Cantonese cuisine that originated from Guangdong province is the most popular style of Chinese cuisine around the world especially in America. It is characterized for mild and sweet taste with less spices focusing more on freshness and natural flavor of ingredients. The dishes from Guangdong are diverse in its kind such as fine seafood dishes, rice dishes, soup, and dim sum. One of the most famous Cantonese cuisine is ‘Slow-boiled soup’, a clear broth made by simmering meat and other ingredients over a low heat for several hours (Annie 2018). Since Chinese herbs and medicines are used as the main ingredients in making the soup, Chinese people believe that a bowl of this soup has the power to heal and strengthen their health. Fujian cuisine is noted for its use of exotic ingredients from mountain and sea. This unusual mixture of various ingredients yields a unique flavor that differentiates Fujian cuisine from other Chinese regional cuisines. The most well-known dish of Fujian is ‘Shark Fin Soup’ that needs a preparation of about three days. It is known for its marine taste and usage of about thirty mostly high-class ingredients, such as abalone, shark’s fin, scallops, and sea cucumber (Annie 2018). 

The Western China cuisine is known for Muslim food from Xinjiang cuisine and Tibetan food from Tibetan cuisine. As many of the inhabitants in Xinjiang are people from Uyghur, the cuisine is mostly based on halal foods as Xinjiang people are Muslims. Tibetan cuisine features a mix of flavors of Nepalese, Indian, and Sichuan cuisines due to its geographical position and its original dishes influenced by the harsh climate.

The Central China cuisine is hot and spicy along with strong seasonings. The regions that are in the Central China are Sichuan and Hunan. When people are asked to name one of the spicy Chinese foods, many of them first think of dishes from Sichuan. Sichuan cuisine is famous for its spicy and numbing flavor arises from the use of Sichuan pepper and Chili peppers. Kung pao Chicken is a traditional Sichuan dish made with chicken, chili, Sichuan peppers, peanuts, and vegetables (Annie 2018). The level of spiciness can vary depending on how much peppers are put in, but the soft texture of chicken does not change. Hunan cuisine is also famous for its spicy flavor, but it can be even spicier than Sichuan cuisine. The high agricultural output of the regions enables the use of diverse ingredients when making food. A typical Hunan dish is a numbing spicy chicken made with red chili peppers and spicy ingredients.

The Southern minority cuisine includes many preserved foods as people in this area are mountain farmers who usually preserve foods that they cannot eat immediately. This regional aspect determines the type of cuisine of that area such as picked vegetables and tofu that have sour flavor.

These diverse regional cuisines from Northern China to Southern minority all come together to form the distinctive Chinese food culture. Being acknowledged for its versatility, the Chinese food culture had impact on the food culture of other countries especially in the United States. The influence of the Chinese food culture on the American food culture dates back when the Chinese people first moved to the San Francisco Bay. In 1849, the rumors of gold nuggets that drew thousands of East Coast get-rich-quick hopefuls out of California during the Gold Rush also resonated across the Pacific with the merchants of Canton in South China (Rude 2016). The Chinese merchants, who had good feelings of success of their business in America, became the first immigrants to provide services for the miners in the San Francisco Bay. This first wave of immigration fueled later waves of Chinese immigrants who buckled down to work as pioneer agricultural laborers to manage their American life. All of these workers were undoubtedly also hungry for good Chinese cooking that reminded them of land they have left behind (Rude 2016). To satisfy their yearning for home food, the Chinese immigrants became the restaurant owners by impressing the patrons with cleanliness and professionalism. The restaurants owned by Chinese people became popular not only for the appetizing dishes they served, but also for the cheap price. Nevertheless, the relationship between Americans and Chinese people was not in a good shape as both wages and job opportunities declined due to the depletion of gold resources. The animosity towards Chinese people grew bigger and bigger and eventually became law. In 1882, “The Chinese Exclusion Act” was passed banning all Chinese workers entering the United States. This law continued until 1943.

Despite the social turmoil, the Americans were still captivated by the Chinese food. However, the food was mostly derived from only Cantonese cuisine. The liberalization of American immigration policy in 1965 brought new arrivals from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Mainland, who in turn brought with them the foods they had enjoyed in areas like Hunan, Sichuan, Taipei and Shanghai (Rude 2016).

President Richard Nixon’s famous visit to China brought a big culinary impact on the United States. At that time, the Americans had not much knowledge about the authentic Chinese food, but only knew about Chinese dishes like chop suey, chow mein, and egg rolls and paid no more attention to them. However, after witnessing their president eating Pecking duck, the traditional dish of Beijing on a live broadcast, they became curious about the authentic Chinese food. The Americans went exploring in Chinatowns and fell in love with the flavor that they have never experienced before. The Chinese restaurants thrived in the United States than ever before.

Today, according to the Chinese American restaurant association, there are over 45,000 Chinese restaurants currently in operation across the United States. This number is greater than all the McDonald’s, KFCs, Pizza Huts, Taco Bells and Wendy’s combined (Rude 2016). The investigation demonstrates that the Chinese food culture is forming an ever-greater part of the American food culture.

The anthropological study about ‘Golden Buddha’, the Chinese restaurant in the United States further illustrates what is the impact of the Chinese food culture on the American society. In the interview with the restaurant manager, Steve, he claimed that his restaurant has two main kinds of foods: the Americanized Chinese food and the Korean style Chinse food. These two types of cuisines are the identity of not only this particular restaurant, but also the American food culture as they were made from the taste of the American people. As shown in the one of the popular Chinese restaurants in the United States, the Chinese cuisines are a big part of the American food industry and they are not the authentic Chinese cuisines, but the Americanized Chinese dishes that captivated the customers in America who are from all different countries.

In conclusion, the Chinese food culture of today is comprised of the different regional cuisines that come from agriculture, climate, palate, geographical isolation, and religion. Each region has its own unique flavor and cooking style that distinguishes itself from others. Since early times, the Chinese food culture had impact on the American food culture and its influence has increased recently due to brisk cultural exchanges from the globalization. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Chinse food culture shaped the identity of the American food culture as the most hip food that the most Americans enjoy eating is the Americanized Chinese food. The big boom of Chinese food in America will still go on and more and more younger generations will fall in love with this amazing cuisine just like their parents did.



Works Cited

DUNLOP, FUCHSIA. SHARK’S FIN AND SICHUAN PEPPER: a Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. W W NORTON, 2019.

Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: an Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2018.

Eric Fish, Asia Society. “How Chinese Food Got Hip in America.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 Mar. 2016,

Hinsbergh, Gavin Van. “China’s 8 Great Cuisines – Best 8 Culinary Classics.” China Highlights, 9 Aug. 2018,

Liu, Junru. Chinese Food. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Rude, Emelyn. “Chinese Food in America: A Very Brief History.” Time, Time, 8 Feb. 2016,

Wei, Clarissa. “An Illustrated History of Americanized Chinese Food.” First We Feast, First We Feast, 20 Oct. 2016,

Wu, Annie. “China’s Regional Cuisines – Chinese Food Types North–South.” China Highlights, 8 Aug. 2018,

Wu, Annie. “Discover China’s Regional Food Through 10 Dishes.” China Highlights, 23 May 2018,


Naengmyeon, the Korean style cold noodle soup

Naengmyeon, the Korean style cold noodle soup

By Haerim Lee


Green are the thinly sliced cucumber,

white are the sugar dissolved radish.

She picks them and mix them with the beef slices.

Thin, chewy potato starch turns into fresh noodles,

they are mingled with the green, white, and the meat.

The combination of beef and dongchimi(Korean Kimch during summer) broth makes a clean finish.

I and my sister are on the table, keeping eyes on each other,

we are ready to eat more, worrying that it will soon be gone.

The sunshine from the window brightens the broth like gold ,

the colorful slices of green and white make us lick our lips.

The noodle stripes go through my throat and just melt away.

I urge to my neighbors and offer them Naengmyeon,

at the same time, worries about my Naengmyeon left along in the table.

Now, living far away from my home,

alone in a strange land,

just one bottle of Naengmyeon is all I need.

Late in the day when I am done with all the work,

this flavor of my country is all I need.



  1. I chose to imitate the poem “Cold noodle soup with Sophora leaves” by Du Fu.
  2. I firstly liked the flow of the poem. The way the poet unfolds the story of “old noodle soup with Sophora leaves” was methodical as he first describes about the basic ingredients of the food and then moves on to a broader perspective in connection with people who enjoy the cold noodle soup including the ruler. Not only that, I loved the part “Emerald freshness shines in my chopsticks, fragrant rice along with reed shoots. Passing my teeth it is colder than snow” as it shows the vivid description of the food itself as well as his feelings when he actually tasted it. When I read this part “I eat more, worrying that it will soon be gone”, I could form a bond of sympathy with the author as I also eat the food involuntarily when served with delicious dishes, but at the same time, worry about the food that will take to itself wings. Then, I was reminded of my childhood when I and my sister fought over our favorite food Naengmyeon, the Korean style cold noodle that my mom made.
  3. While imitating the poem by Du Fu, I could learn about the distinctive Chinese food culture and connect it with the aspects of food especially noodles that we discussed during the class. The poet only mentions about the cold noodle soup with Sophora leaves in the poem, but China actually has many different kinds of cold noodles depending on what ingredients they use when making them. The ingredients also vary from region to region mainly affected by the different climate of each region. By reading the poem, I could also tell that how important the food culture is to Chinese people. The author is not the only one who enjoys eating the cold noodle, but he also offers it to other people. They have the culture of sharing food with their neighbors treating the dish as important as ‘a pearl’. Most importantly, it was interesting to find out that the cold soup noodle was loved by all the Chinese people at that time from ordinary people to the ruler of a country. The cold noodle definitely was and has been the national dish of China.
  4.  By imitating the Chinese poem about food, I could also learn about the food culture of my own country, Korea. As I explained in the poem, the ingredients used in making the cold noodle are very healthy such as radish, potato starch, and cucumber. The traditional Korean food Kimchi is also famous for its health and nutrition. Furthermore, through the story of giving food to neighbors when making delicious dishes, I could learn the culture of sharing that exists in my country. In Korea, when people make delicious food, they usually share it with their neighbors and we think this attitude comes from the love and affection that we have towards people which we call it “Jung”. As a somewhat extreme example, while people in other countries have their own bowls when eating food and put soup into their own bowls separately, in Korea, we have just one big bowl and everyone shares it together. We also have a tradition of giving rice cakes to neighbors when you move to a new place to live. I think all these instances show the distinctive culture of Korea.
  1. The cold noodle soup is popular dish in both China and Korea. By reading the poem by Du Fu and writing my own piece followed by his writing style, I could find some common features between the Korean and Chinese food culture. One of the cultural DNAs embedded in both pieces was the sharing of the food. I think this cultural DNA exists in almost every country, but China and Korea are the countries that are born with the culture of sharing. According to the book called “Introduction to Chinese food”, the author claims that Chinese people make many kinds of dishes when they make food so that everyone can eat to their fill and this culture started from a long time ago. In Korea, there is a special word called “Jung” to describe the sharing culture of food as mentioned before. For example, when my mom makes Naengmyeon, the Korean style cold noodle, she makes a whole bunch of noodles and gives it to the neighbors.

A small, but loving kitchen table(Hae Rim Lee)

Anyone who had ever been to WoodPEC might have noticed this guy posted at the center of the board. His name is Daniel Shin originally from South Korea who is now working as a personal trainer at Emory. I first met him at the welcoming party for the freshmen about five years ago and he was sitting right in front of me sharing the same dinner table. Naturally, we started our first rather awkward conversation, but soon became intimate by talking about each other’s interests and concerns. Since then, I realized that the dinner table is more than just a table and it has the power to connect people with each other and help them to relax and feel comfortable.

When I read this assignment to write about the kitchen table, no one else popped up in my head, but just Daniel as we became the best friends by sharing the same dinner table. Even though he was born in Korea, he lived in China for a couple of years as well as in the United States as he attended high school there. Since he experienced these diverse cultures from Asia to America, I thought it would be very interesting to observe and investigate his kitchen table.

The anthropological method I used for the investigation was the participant-observation involving a fieldwork accompanied with the interview. According to the book “Eating Culture; An Anthropological Guide to Food” by Gillian Crowther, the hands-on activities like a fieldwork help the observer to better understand and truly share the outcome of what he or she is trying to study. Following this notion, I thought the best way to fully understand Daniel’s kitchen table was to actually use the table together for a day under his permission and then carefully record how it is being used as a cultural artifact. In order to listen to his opinion about his kitchen table directly, I interviewed him as well after the fieldwork was done.

As I walked into his house, the first place that welcomed me was the kitchen. However, I could not see anything that looked like a “table” which was my main focus of today’s visit. I asked him where the table is and he simply pointed a small space in the kitchen. To me, it looked more of like a shelf rather than a kitchen table. On this small table just behind the sink, I could see his car key and water bottle, but the thing that caught my eye was a book about nutrition. He told me that before he eats a meal on the kitchen table, he reads this book about nutrition which is the field he is interested in and keeps studying for his future. Before the meal, I could find that the kitchen table was used as a place to study.

During the meal, I looked at the dishes he prepared and could better understand the quote in our prompt that “Every meal is a message, and where we eat is as important as what we eat in getting the message across.” The dishes included rice, Kimchi, bread, beef patties, broccoli, chicken breast, salted seafood, and curry. While the eating habit that has been established when he was young and the eating culture of his own country are the most crucial factors in deciding the menu of his table, the place where he stays is another important aspect that has an impact on his kitchen table. Since he is in the United States where he cannot get Korean food as easy as he could get when he was in Korea, he buys American food like Uncle Dave’s bread or beef patties at places with easy accessibility like Kroger or Walmart. It was also interesting to find three different sauces for the beef patties. One was a spicy sauce from Korea, another was the sesame teriyaki sauce from Asia, and the last was the classic barbeque sauce that most Americans enjoy eating. Just by looking at the different sauces, I could see the different cultures of Asia and America were merged into one plate. Daniel also told me that he often eats the meal with his brother.  By sharing stories about their daily life while eating together, they feel more connected to each other. They also enjoy eating food from Korea especially Korean curry and salted seafood that are sincerely prepared by their mom. By eating those dishes together, I could feel the affection and love from his parents and made me miss my family back in Korea too.

To Daniel, the kitchen table was more than just a eating table just as I realized in the dinner reception where Daniel and I became friends through the table.  It is a place of studying about his field of interest, it is a place of gathering where he feels more connected with his brother by sharing their concerns,  and it is a place of nostalgia that reminds him of the time he spent with his family by eating sincerely prepared food by his mother. Even though his kitchen table is relatively small and I am not even sure whether others would even regard it as a kitchen table or not, there is no doubt that the investigation of Daniel’s kitchen table through participant-observation led me to understand  Malinowski’s final goal of studying food, that is, “To grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world.”

Works Cited

Eating Culture; An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther


Blog Post #1

My favorite Korean dish, Kimbap

  As an international student studying abroad at Emory, I usually go back home in Korea during vacation. I spend valuable time together with my family and friends and when it comes time to leave for the upcoming semester, my mom asks me what I want to eat for my farewell dinner. Every time I am asked about choosing the menu, Kimbap has always been my choice of dish without hesitation.

Kimbap is a traditional Korean rice roll wrapped with seaweed including a variety of ingredients. The direct translation just makes sense, as Kim means seaweed and Bap means rice. While Kimchi has been the all-time favorite dish for Koreans, Kimbap also put its name on the list of the national dish for its popularity that comes from having the unique sentiment of the people. It captivated the Koreans with fast serving and high nutrition to meet the so-called ’hurry-hurry’ mentality and the tendency to make more of health. I have been eating Kimbap since I was a child and it has become the signature menu of our family because all the family members loved my mom’s special Kimbap that was quite different from the classic one. Instead of using white rice slightly seasoned with sesame oil and salt, she used rice fried with Kimchi to make the dish more spicy and tasty. Every time I went on a school picnic or family trip, our family sat together on the kitchen table the night before and rolled the kimbap together with my mom’s fried Kimchi rice. By doing so, we could have the family time to share our daily lives and feel connected to one another. Every time I went on a school picnic, I was a popular guy because my mom’s kimbap tasted so good. I gladly shared it with my friends and felt excited just to see them eating deliciously. Even though I could not eat my fill, my mind was full of a precious memory and sincere love of my mom and family. Kimbap is more than just a simple delicacy. It not only has the power to unite our family both in physical and spiritual ways, but also makes me feel nostalgic for my youth and the love of my family.

Kimbap is my favorite dish not only because of its great taste and nourishment, but also for its convenience and variety. Kimbap has the perfect blend of cooked rice and various ingredients including yellow pickled radish, ham, carrots, spinach, egg and fish cake. The more I chew Kimbap, the more flavor I get from this mixture of nutritious fillings. Just by eating Kimbap, I can get all the demanding nutrients for my body like carbohydrates and proteins. In Korea, I can get Kimbap as easily as I can get sandwiches in America. Plus, it only takes about a minute to roll Kimbap, so I believe there is nothing more convenient than this food. The last thing I like about Kimbap is that there are a variety of variations depending on what kind of fillings you put in. Bulgogi, Tuna, cheese, and pork cutlet Kimbap are the most popular ones in Korea. Each variation tastes completely different, so people can choose a certain type of Kimbap of their own taste and enjoy it. Being recognized for its benefits, Kimbap recently started to find its way into the hearts of many foreigners as well. I once visited a Korean restaurant in the United States to eat Kimbap and found out that half of the customers were not Koreans. They were people from all different countries who just came to enjoy Korean cuisine including Kimbap. I felt a sense of satisfaction and pride to see these people who were fascinated with the Korean food saying that this is because it is healthy and tastes good at the same time.

This popularity arouses the curiosity about the history of Kimbap that kind of looks similar to Sushi and in fact, many of my foreign friends asked me about the origin of the food. The history of Kimbap is quite debatable and I want to introduce two main beliefs shared by a majority of Koreans. First, some people claim that Kimbap has its origin in Japanese influence during the wartime. Japanese people, who enjoyed eating sushi rolls called Norimaki, may have affected Koreans to develop Korean style sushi roll, Kimbap. Others believe that Kimbap originated from Korean food Kimssam, a rice wrapped with seaweed. Our ancestors may have evolved Kimssam into a more nutritious and fancy dish which is now called Kimbap. I personally think that it is not a single belief, but both ideas influenced the evolution of Kimbap. I cannot deny the fact that Koreans were influenced by Japanese about their life style in general during the war time, so food would not be an exception. However, the origin of Kimbap is deeply rooted as it contains the unique characteristics of Korean cuisine. This distinction is what makes me still proud of Kimbap and the Korean cuisine.

<the classic kimbap>

<pork cutlet kimbap>

<Me on a picnic with Kimbap>


  1. Prepare Kim, cooked rice seasoned with sesame oil and salt, and the fillings including yellow picked radish, ham, carrots, spinach, egg, and fish cake.
  2. Put Kim first and place cooked rice evenly on top.
  3. Place the ingredients on the rice.
  4. Roll Kimbap and cut it into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Enjoy it!