Interview Michael Cheng


  1. When and why did you go to US?
  2. Do you like noodles, do you cook noodles?
  3. Do you remember experience about noodles when you were a kid?
  4. Did you still eat noodles after you went to US?
  5. Besides Chinese noodles, did you also eat other kinds of noodles?
  6. When and why did you come back to China?
  7. After you come back, did you notice any changes about noodles?
  8. Do you still eat Mac and chees now?
  9. Why?
  10. Many thing changes, what does not change?

The name of my interviewee is Ms. May. She was born in Beijing but she spent seven years in the U.S to work and study. Just like most of the Chinese, she considers noodle as a key part of her diet and the Chinese food culture. She has experienced the changes of the noodle culture of China in the past 40 years. It is a great pleasure to have Ms. May as my interviewee and her story reflects the cultural changes of Chinese food.

Ms. May was born in the 60s. When she was a child, China was still greatly undeveloped, where the both the type and quantity of food were spare. Because of that, the government need to manipulate the quantity of food purchased by each individual. Under such circumstances, there was no noodle sold in grocery stores. Instead, each family bought flower and handmade noodles themselves. Unlike potatoes and Chinese cabbage which is plenty in quantity, flower was spare and expensive, and is consider as luxury food. Because of that, the product of flower – noodle was not something you were able to eat every day, and the noodle made by each family tended to be short. Only during spring festival or birthday was Ms. May able to taste such luxury food. Thus, noodle was associated with happiness for Ms. May in her childhood. Much like that for Ms. May, during the undeveloped era of China, noodle is luxurious and was often associated with happiness and holiday spirits for most people.

As the economy of China became more and more developed, the status of noodle in food culture changes gradually. Although still associated with special occasions, noodle was no longer consider rare and luxury. The excitement you got when your family was making noodle faded. Noodle officially became a key part of Chinese people’s common everyday diet. As noodle became more and more common, people were able to buy fresh noodle at grocery stores like other food. During the 70s and 80s, China started to become industrialized. A lot of product that was used to be made by hand started to be able to be produced by machine, including noodle. The noodles that were sold in stores were often made by machine.   Also because flower supply grew, noodle was able to be made longer and longer. People started to associate long noodle with long life. During people’s birthdays, they eat exceptionally long noodle name ‘Long-Life Noodle’, which carries the wishes of having a lone life. As an essential part of the Chinese people’s food culture, noodle is also associated with other Chinese traditional holidays. Every year’s Summer Solstice, Ms. May’s mom would made noodle for the whole family. It’s a tradition that Chinese people eat noodles on Summer Solstice.

During the 90s, Ms. May went to the United States for career reason. During the time she was in the U.S, her habits of eating noodles changes. In the United States, it was hard for Ms. May to buy fresh handmade noodles, so instead she bought dry Chinese noodles. It is a kind of fast food that you can get in Chinese supermarket. Although not as tasty as fresh handmade noodle, according to Ms. May, dry noodles can be preserved longer and is more convenient. During her stay in United States, Ms. May’s diet was also affected by American culture. A new kind of noodle was introduced to her for the first time – Mac and Cheese. She started to make Mac and Cheese for her sons and they liked it. The habit of eating macaroni preserved after she came back to China but was modified. Ms. May found that macaroni is more delicious with Chinese sauce, so she often ask her mom to make Chinese egg and tomato sauce with macaroni. It’s an interesting kind of combination of two different cultures.

As China became more and more developed, the food culture changes once again – people not just pursue the taste of the food but started to value the healthiness. In the past, Chinese people preferred fine noodle that is made by white processed flower. ‘Only rich people were able to afford white noodles’ according to Ms. May. However, after she came back from the U.S., Ms. May found that people started to consume more and more whole wheat noodles. As the quality of Chinese people’s daily life rises, they start to consume more healthy food. Grocery stores start to sell potato noodles or whole wheat noodles. Ms. May found that the healthy noodles are just as tasty as the white noodles.

Over the past 40 years, China changes a lot. Accordingly, Chinese people’s food culture changes a lot. The way noodle is treated changes over time. However, no matter what changes, noodle is still and always will be a key part of Chinese food culture.



Interview Youtube link:

Summons of family

Oh son, come back! Don’t go out for fun all day.

All the chopsticks are on the table, your favorite food is ready.

Flour and starch, all rolled to long strip.

Salty, hot and spicy: this is your fave.

Sirloin boiled soft and juicy.

Shallot piece floating on the soup homemade.

Sliced white radish tangled with white noodles.

Chili oil served on the side.

Your mom and dad sitting face to face, your pet waiting by the side.

Here is your favorite noodles, and here is your warm home.


I choose The Summons of the Soul to imitate. I choose this piece to imitate because the name of the poetry makes me think of my family. I was studying aboard for the most part of the year now. I only stay at home for vacations. When I went back to China, I often went out and spend time with my friends. Every time my mom would ask me if I would have dinner at home. If I said yes, they would prepare dinner for me. Sometimes they will make my favorite Beef soup noodles for me. However, I would often have dinner with my friends at restaurants. My parents will be disappointed if I said no. They want to have dinner with me. Sometimes I feel sorry for that, I should have spent more time with them. When I was imitating Qu Yuan’s poetry, I realized there are some unique things about the culture. 招魂,summons of the souls, is a Chinese traditions. In the past, Chinese believe that people have soul. If people did not died at hometown, their relatives should summon their souls back in order to rest in peace. In my culture, parents will expect children to come back home to have dinner together. Having dinner together is regard as an important family activity to get the whole family a chance to sit down, chat and enjoy the dinner. In Chinese culture, 家, which means family, is very important. A harmony family is regarded as the fundamental for everything else. There is a proverb, 家和万事兴,means that if you have a harmony family, everything will be prosperous.  Qu Yuan embedded some unique Chinese food in the peom. In China, tortoise is served as a kind of delicious food, and he also mention soup of Wu, 吴羹, in his peom.  While I mentioned chopsticks, the Chinese tableware used most commonly. Also, in Chinese peoms, writer tend to use the same sentence pattern. Qu Yuan use lots of repeated patterns, and I used repeated patterns to imitate his peom.

Identity of Noodles

Noodle has long history in Italy and China. From hundreds of years ago, if not thousands, noodle served as an important kind of food in the daily life. However, noodle is not just merely a kind of food for Italians and Chinese. It also plays an important role in their culture, becomes a symbol of Italian and Chinese food respectively.

Pasta was created or introduced to Italy in 13th century. It was first created as affordable food which is also easy to store for sailors on the ships. But it was after the renaissance that the sauce and the variety of pasta became abundant. At first, pasta was kneaded and dried in the sun, and then cooked with meat and vegetables. So at that time in Italy, streets were full of pasta drying in the sun. In the beginning, people ate pasta with bare hands and then sucked the juice on the hand. However, the upper-class people thought it was not elegant to eat pasta like this. Finally they adapted knife and fork for pasta. This was a great milestone of western cuisine. Thus, pasta plays and indispensable role in promoting the development of Italian food. The Americas brought spice and tomatoes back to Europe, further improved the taste of pasta. Pasta became the most popular food in Italy. Now, Italians consume more than 28 kilograms of pasta per year, per person, reflects how enthusiastic Italians love pasta. Different places in Italy has its own regional pasta, even each family has its own secret ingredients. There is also a pasta museum in Roam, exhibiting the tools Italians used to make pasta, telling people the history of pasta. Pasta becomes a symbol of Italian culture.

Noodle was first called “Tang Bing” in China. It was not until Song Dynasty that noodle was called “Mian Tiao” as it is called now. Noodle was recorded as a kind of so called “Zhu Shi”, main food, for two thousand years ago. However, archaeologists discovered a bow of noodle which is dated nearly four thousand years ago. This discovery greatly extended noodle’s history. In China, noodle is made with wheat flour. Because there is not plenty of river resources in the north, northern Chinese farmers plant wheat instead of rice in the southern part of China, where water resource is abundant. As a result, northern Chinese people choose “Mian Shi”, include noodles, as their so called main food, whereas southern Chinese people mainly eat rice. When I visit one of my best friends’ home, I found a very interesting thing during dinner. His parents prepared two kinds of main food. His father is from southern part of China, so he had rice. However, his mother had noodle sine she is from northern part of China. Like the situation in Italy, each region has its own noodle, like “Dao Xiao Mian” in Shanxi, “Zha Jiang Mian” in Beijing, “Yang Chun Mian” in Shanghai, etc. One can say that “Mian Shi” including noodles composes half of the Chinese diet. It becomes an important part of Chinese culture.

The meaning of food to me

The foods that are important to me and my family and cultural background are dumplings and Beijing zhajiangmian. Dumpling is one of the most famous and meaningful foods in China, which is a part of Chinese culture and tradition. In some particular festivals, every family makes dumplings together and celebrates. For example, in Chinese New Year, since the color and shape of dumpling are similar to the ancient silver ingots, people think it will bring wealth to the family. And traditionally, when people make dumplings together at New Year’s Eve, they usually hide a coin in one of the dumplings, and the one who finds the coin will have the most fortune in the coming year. Also, since the shape of dumplings is similar to ear, and people’s ear will turn red when suffering cold, then in the winter solstice day, Chinese will have dumplings which symbolizes they will not suffer from cold and hunger in the winter. Zhajiangmian is the special food in Beijing, and has a special history that when Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China and conquered Beijing, The Empress Dowager Cixi, Emperor Guangxu and their retinues were in their trip to Xi’an city and were amazed by the taste of zhajiangmian, then bring the chef who made that zhajiangmian dish to Beijing and palace. Dumplings and zhajiangmian are traditional Chinese food, and are important to me because they represent my home and my culture.

Dumplings and zhajiangmian also have special meaning for me. Every time I leave home for travel, my parents will make dumplings for me, and wish I will have a safe trip, since the filling inside the wrapper symbolizing completeness and completeness. I have been in US for three years, because the New Year Festival is in February, and I can’t celebrate with family in China, so I always make dumplings with my friends on New Year’s Eve. When I was little, my grandmother usually prepares fillings of minced meat and finely-chopped vegetables, my brother and I will wrap fillings in a thin and elastic dough skin, though my dumplings always look ugly. Usually when you have Chinese dumpling for dinner or lunch, you will not have to cook anything else, except for some big occasions. The dumpling itself is good enough for dinner. This is one of the advantage of Chinese dumpling over other foods, so when I always have dumplings in my refrigerator. I grow up in Beijing, and zhajiangmian is definitely one of the most important food in Beijing. The price of zhajiangmian is acceptable to everyone, and you can find zhajiangmina in every corner in Beijing, compared with Beijing roast duck, zhajiangmian is more like a standing dish. The method of making zhajiangmian is simple, just prepare various sliced vegetable, noodles, and fired yellow soybean paste. Noodles also have special meaning in China, since Chinese noodles are usually quite long, which symbolizes longevity. Thus, they are sometimes served when celebrating birthdays for elderly people, wishing them “longevity” of course. And I remembered most of my birthday were served with zhajiangmian. In China, dumplings and noodles are common selection as the last and first meal for hosting, especially those who have traveled a long distance, as in the common idiom “when leaving, eat dumplings; when arriving, eat noodles.”

I know there are a lot of Chinese people in Atlanta, especially in Buford and Duluth. Most Chinese restaurants serve dumplings, but only some serve Beijing zhajiangmian, since it is a dish popular in Beijing and northern area in China. Most Americans only try dumplings in Chinese restaurant but not zhajiangmian, and some people even think it doesn’t look good because of the dark sauce.



Dumpling’s receipt:

Mix pork, cabbage, 2 tablespoons chives, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Place a dumpling wrapper on a lightly floured work surface and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling in the middle. Wet the edge with a little water and crimp together forming small pleats to seal the dumpling. Repeat with remaining dumpling wrappers and filling.

Heat a large pot of water to a boiling, add a small pinch of salt. Then cook the dumplings in batches. Slightly move the dumplings with a large ladle or scoop so they will not sticky to the bottom. Then the water begins to boil again, add around 1/4 cup of cold water. Repeat once. When the dumplings become transparent and expand because of the air inside. Transfer out.


Beijing Zhajiangmian’s receipt:

In a bowl, dilute dry yellow soybean paste and sweet bean sauce (or hoisin sauce) with water. Set aside. Heat up oil in a wok (or a frying pan) over a medium high heat. Add star anise, spring onion (the green part) and ginger. Leave to sizzle until fragrant. Stir in pork and rice wine. Cook until the pork becomes pale. Pour in the diluted sauce. Bring it to a boil then leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Then boil on a full heat to thicken the sauce to the desired consistency. Stir in the white part of the spring onion.

Blanch beansprouts and green soybeans in boiling water (cucumber and radish are served raw). Take them out then drain. In the same pot, cook noodles. Drain and rinse under cold water for a few seconds.

Place noodles in four serving bowls, stir in the sauce then top with vegetables.




How to Make Chinese Dumplings from Scratch. Omnivore’s Cookbook.


Zha Jiang Mian (炸酱面): Beijing’s signature noodles. Red House Spice.

Michael Cheng