Chinese Diet Past and Present?

by Emma

What do people eat in China from the past and the present and what is the difference between each other?

Matthew's reply: Hi Emma, thanks for your question about the traditional and modern-day Chinese diet. Up until a couple of decades ago when the Chinese economy started to boom the typical diet consisted mostly of things like rice, noodles, soups and vegetables. A very common breakfast staple in many parts of China was a thin, watery porridge (congee) made by slow cooking rice with lots of water. Meat was not so common, not because Chinese people are vegetarians, but because meat was too expensive for the average person to consume very often. Typical cooking methods have always been steaming and stir-frying. So, a bowl of rice topped with vegetables cooked with garlic, chilli or soy sauce was a common meal.

These days people still typically eat the same foods, but a big difference is that due to the increase in people's income they are able to eat meat on a regular basis. All kinds of meats are eaten but especially pork, chicken, duck, goose and seafood like fish and prawns (shrimp). There are also lots of snacks available like steamed buns, nuts, seeds and of course fruits.

One unfortunate change (in my opinion) has been the huge influx of Western fast food restaurants and convenience stores which are massively popular with young Chinese. Hamburgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, soft drinks, ice cream and candy, etc, have become the new staple for many young city people here and it seems likely there will be a rise in diet-related problems in the future. In the town where I live, from my balcony I can see across the street a Pizza Hut, a KFC, a 7-Eleven and a McDonald’s and they’re always busy. This town actually has 5 KFCs, 3 McDonald’s and 2 Pizza Huts – and I always see them busy.

Despite this I see relatively few obese people compared to what I've seen in Western countries. This does seem to be changing though, I would say not just due to changes in diet but also the rise in car and public transport use instead of getting around on foot and bicycle as before. People nowadays are also working longer hours so they are getting less exercise and have more stress in their daily life.

In my experience though Chinese people still have a better knowledge of diet and health than the average Western person. With the country still growing and developing it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few decades.

All the best,


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