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The process of eating is very personal. The type of food that people eat is directly linked to their culture and social background. This paper aims to find out and describe how ritual and aesthetics influence how food is presented and how it is eaten. The paper is based on three-course readings: the article A Second-Century Chinese Kitchen Scene by Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens, the chapter Daily Foods from the book Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History by Pettid, and the chapter The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China by Waley-Cohen from the book Food – The History of Taste Contents.
Food is important both in China and Korea. There are some similarities between Chinese and Korean cuisines. For instance, rice is a basic component of Chinese and Korean meals. Nevertheless, some obvious differences between Chinese and Korean cuisines can be noticed too. These differences refer not only to food but also to dining etiquette.
In his book, Pettid describes an ideal Korean meal. He emphasizes that rice, vegetables, ‘kimch’i’, “a type of food made by salting and seasoning certain vegetables such as cabbage and radish”1, meat, fish dishes, and soup or stew are the basic ingredients of Korean cuisine. The Koreans cook a variety of different dishes mixing various grains and legumes. Sauces and condiments are important. It is difficult to imagine Korean cuisine without sauces called ‘kanjang’ is ‘toenjang’. It takes from two to five years of fermentation to cook these sauces. In general, Korean meals tend to emphasize harmony between flavors, colors, textures, and temperatures.
The Koreans have their ways of eating and cooking food. They are different from the traditions and manners of the Chinese or Japanese. The kitchen is a woman’s place in Korea. In the past, the meal was served for men first. Also, mealtime was not a time for conversations. However, these traditions are gone, and mealtime is family time nowadays. The Koreans eat sitting around a small table without chairs. There are rice and soup bowls, a spoon, and chopsticks on the table. Hot food is placed on the right side of the table, and a cold meal is on the left. In Korea, it is common to eat with metal chopsticks, whereas Chinese and Japanese people prefer wooden chopsticks.
All in all, it can be said that Korean cuisine is based on seasonal customs and foods according to Korea’s four seasons. The Koreans appreciate the aesthetics of mixing. Korean dining etiquette “reflects respect for one’s fellow diners”2. The Koreans are extremely polite, and it can be noticed in the way in which food is presented and how it is eaten.
China has one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Food plays a significant role in Chinese culture. There are several styles of cooking in China by the regions of the country. However, there are some general characteristics of Chinese food. Firstly, Chinese cuisine is extremely varied. Waley-Cohen underlines that even poor people can eat diversely due to “the infinite permutations of ingredients and seasonings”3. Secondly, the import of food had a great impact on Chinese culture in the past, and due to it, Chinese cuisine changed constantly. For instance, such ingredients as peanuts and sweet potato were imported from the West. Also, Chinese food is closely connected with health. According to Chinese, food is one of the most important paths to good health and longevity.
Chinese food can be divided into two groups: ‘fan’ and ‘cai’. ‘Fan’ contains rice, all other grains, and such foods like bread and noodles. ‘Cai’ is used to adding the flavor, and it is not as important as ‘fan’. The essence of cuisine is the combination of different forms of ‘fan’ and ‘cai’. The Chinese used to cook meals in the Han stoves, which are built-in brick. Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens identifies that these stoves have “remained the same up to the 20th century in villages of central and southern China”4.
The Chinese are concerned about health and nutrition meal, and it has a great influence on the selection and preparation of food. Also, table manners are important in China. As it is described by Waley-Cohen, “those who adhered to the rituals counted as civilized, while those who did not rank among the uncivilized or barbarian”5. Ritual behavior is one more essential part of Chinese cuisine. Chinese society organized the process of cooking and eating around it.
To sum up, it cannot be denied that ritual and aesthetics significantly influence how food is cooked and eaten. In the book Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History, the author is focused on demonstrating some Korean traditions, customs, and rituals related to the meal. The aesthetics of mixing and polite manners are the foundation of Korean cooking traditions. The authors of the article A Second-Century Chinese and the chapter The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China, describe Chinese cuisine. There are close relationships between food and health in China.
Pettid, Michael J. Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History. London: Reaktion Books, 2008.
Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens, Michele. “A Second-Century Chinese Kitchen Scene.” Food and Foodways 1, no. 1 (1985): 95-103.
Waley-Cohen, Joanna. “The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China.” In Food: The History of Taste 2007, edited by Paul Freedman, 99-134. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2007.
- Michael J. Pettid. Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History (London: Reaktion Books, 2008), 48.
- Michael J. Pettid. Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History (London: Reaktion Books, 2008), 159.
- Joanna Waley-Cohen, “The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China,” in Food: The History of Taste 2007, ed. Paul Freedman (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2007), 101.
- Michele Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens, “A Second-Century Chinese Kitchen Scene,” Food and Foodways 1, no. 1 (1985): 96.
- Joanna Waley-Cohen, “The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China,” in Food: The History of Taste 2007, ed. Paul Freedman (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2007), 100.