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Travel, Teach, Live in China

Korean & Chinese Food Culture
By:Rachel Bennett

In Southeast Asia, food acts as a social lubricant, bringing families and friends together. This is particularly applicable in both China and Korea where food has strong historical traditions and is seen as an integral part of the culture.

In both China and Korea, food is an important part of life. Sharing a meal is the common way to socialize in the same way that Westerners may go to a bar or pub for a drink. Furthermore in both countries, there is a strong "waste not, want not" ideal, leading to a range of utilitarian dishes.

Both China and Korea are traditionally agricultural nations. In fact, in China, 80 percent of the population still live in rural areas. Consequently, both countries use rice as a common staple. This is used in a similar way to bread in a Western culture.

China proudly declares itself one of the first centers of rice cultivation, and rice and noodles have been eaten in the country since the East Han Dynasty (25 A.D. to 220 A.D.). Consequently, in Chinese culture five grains of rice are perceived as more important than pearls or jade. In Korea, traditional farmers made rice synonymous with wealth by using the amount of rice they had as a measure of their net worth. Today, instead of asking, "have you had a meal today?" Koreans ask "have you eaten rice today?", and a type of rice gruel is thought to have enormous curative and health benefits.

In China, dim sum, meaning touch of heart, is a popular snack. This consists of a series of bite size foods including spring rolls, dumplings and shrimp balls. Soups are also popular, particularly wonton soup, which involves a liquid soup with balls of ground pork in it. Another favorite is sweet and sour pork, which is often served with rice or noodles.

In Korea, Bibimbap is one of the most popular dishes. This is a simple dish made of boiled rice mixed with seasonal vegetables and meat. Hoe is another favorite; this is raw meat or fish, served with a dipping sauce such as red chili pepper paste and soy sauce. Another popular dish is Ssam, which is rice, seaweed and soybean paste wrapped in a vegetable leaf such as lettuce or Chinese cabbage.

Food is served in different ways in the two countries. In China, multiple small dishes are placed in the center of the table and people help themselves to their favorites using chopsticks. On special occasions, or in wealthy households, a circular spinning dish is used to move the dishes round the table.

In Korea, dishes are also served at the same time, but spoons are more frequently used to serve and eat food, particularly rice. Unlike the Chinese, Koreans do not pick up their rice or soup bowls, and table arrangements vary depending on whether the dishes are rice or noodle based.

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