Chinese Food Quotations

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Wit, wisdom and observation on Chinese cuisine. Quotes, idioms, proverbs and sayings from philosophers, writers and others, both ancient and modern.

“The art of Chinese cooking,” says Master James Wei, Taipei gourmet and prince of hospitality, “is to make the meat taste like vegetables and the vegetables test like meat, without either the meat or vegetables losing their original texture.” –Foreign Devil, Richard Hughes

“Live in Hangzhou, marry in Suzhou, dine in Guangzhou, and die in Luzhou.” (These cities are said to have the best view, the prettiest women, the best food, and the best coffin wood, respectively).

“Fish brings heat, meat brings phlegm, but vegetables, and tofu keep you well.” 魚生火,肉生痰,青菜豆腐保平安 (Yú shēnghuǒ, ròu shēng tán, qīngcài dòufu bǎo píng’ān.)

“Eat more vegetables, less meat.” 多吃蔬菜,少吃肉.(Duō chī shūcài, shǎo chī ròu.)

“One can manage without eating flesh; but one cannot manage without the bamboo.” –Su Dongpo, Song Dynasty poet

“Seeing all men behaving like drunkards, how can I alone remain sober?” –Tang Dynasty poem

“Waitresses bring you beer and nibbles, including such staples as chicken’s feet.” – China, The Rough Guide (2000)

In heaven, dragon meat, on earth, donkey meat.
天上龍肉,地上驢肉 (tiān shàng lóng ròu, dì shàng lǘ ròu)

If you have ever chomped, chewed, gulped, or even smelt something that shocked or repulsed your senses – chilli, wasabi, lemon juice, stilton cheese,  stinky tofu, spoiled food – doubtlessly you puckered up immediately. In China that unsightly creased face embodies resentfulness. For example, to speak of a person in a relationship with another as ‘eating vinegar,’ chi cu, (吃醋) indicates jealousy, the cause of which is likely a perceived interloper.

“The things that people cannot do without everyday are firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea.”
–Phrase coined in the late Southern Song dynasty.

“Although nobody has been poisoned, this at the very least is an irregular way of slaughtering poultry.”
Chongqing health official on the practise of some restaurants using snakes to kill chickens –BBC

Well, a full belly conquers all.
–From the film Saving Face

All food tastes good to the starving man’s mouth.

The plum trees are in bloom for the second time. (A second marriage, possibly with a concubine) or a second round of sexual intercourse in the same night.

bu-4 wei-4 wu-3 dou-3 mi-3 zhe-2 yao-1
Not bowing for five pecks of rice. (Unwilling to do anything demeaning for material gain)

dou is an old Chinese measuring vessel (10 litres/2.642 gallons), roughly equivalent to a British or an American peck.

When you go to Beijing, you see what low rank you hold. When you travel to Canton, you realise how little money you’ve got. But when you come to Chengdu (Sichuan), you find out how large your appetite is.

Sichuan is known as the land of plenty. 天府之國 (tiānfǔzhīguó).

The richer the ear of grain, the more the head bends. (The greater the intelligence and learning, the more humble one should be).

A peasant must stand a long time on a hillside with his mouth open before a roast duck flies in.

Eat first, talk later.

Raise sons for old age, pile grain for times of famine.

There is no feast that does not come to an end.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

We the Chinese conquered the world through our food.

The incorruptible government official will have nothing but salt to eat with his rice.

Qi fen bao (七分飽), is an age-old, oft-repeated Chinese dietary adage: eat only until you are ‘seven parts full’ (70 percent full).

He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.

Eat liver, fortify your own liver.

Have you eaten yet?
(A common greeting, indicating prime concern for the state of fullness of another’s belly)

Every grain of rice in your bowl is won by the sweat of the brow.

The rice is cooked. (It is too late to change, or regret something)

Talk doesn’t cook rice.

A good breakfast is no substitute for a large dinner.

Eating is even more important than the Emperor.

The honourable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table.
– Confucius

The superior man does not, even for the space of a single meal, act contrary to virtue.
– Confucius

The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live.
– Confucius

My old friend’s prepared a meal of chicken and millet,
And invited me to join him at his farmhouse.
The village is surrounded by green trees,
Blue hills slope up beyond the city wall.
The window opens onto the vegetable garden,
Where holding wine, we talk of mulberry and hemp.
We are looking forward to the autumn festival,
When I’ll return to see the chrysanthemums bloom.
– Meng Haoran (Tang Dynasty poet), Visiting An Old Friend On His Farm source

A nation looks upon citizens as its roots, while citizens depend upon food for living.
– Sun Yat-sen

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.
– Chairman Mao Zedong

“If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.”
– Chairman Mao Zedong

Chink, Chink, Chink, Chinaman
Eat dead rats;
Eats them up
Like gingersnaps.
– Saying from America circa. 1930s.

“All we have is guns and millet.”
– Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping to Henry Kissinger, American Secretary of State, Dec. 1974.

“Harm will befall young people should their bedrooms be located next to the kitchen. This sounds superstitious but on closer examination it is a practical point to consider. Should the kitchen be next to the bedrooms the latter would be badly polluted. Moreover fires often start from the kitchen in domestic buildings.” – Chinese Geomancy, Evelyn Yip

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.
– Alice May Brock

I just love Chinese food. My favourite dish is number 27.
– Clement Atlee, former British Prime Minister

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s
Going to get himself a big dish of beef chow mein
Werewolves of London
– Warren Zevon, (1942–2003). ‘Werewolves of London’ lyrics

Looking over Hong Kong harbour
Throw a shrimp in yellow wine
Eat it when it ceases moving
Just before is fine too
There’s an ancient Chinese saying
Always seems to slip my mind
Does it really die with honour
Does it really matter
It’s a big world, so much to do
– Joe Jackson, ‘Big World’ lyrics

I like Chinese
I like Chinese
Their food is guaranteed to please
A fourteen, a seven, a nine and lychees
– Monty Python, ‘I Like Chinese’ lyrics

Tea is better than water as it does not carry disease or act as a poison like water when wells contain foul and rotten material.

Tea tempers the spirit, harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude, relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness.
– The Classic Art of Tea, by Lu Yu

Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one.

Most probably the relatively lower efficiency of Chinese government officials is due directly to the fact that all of them are subject to an inhuman routine of three or four dinners a night. One-fourth of their food goes to nourish them, and three-fourths to kill them.
–Lin Yutang, My Country and My People

There is nothing a man will not eat when hard pressed by hunger. And no one is entitled to condemn until he knows what famine means. Some of us have been forced in times of famine to eat babies–and even this must be humanly rare–but, thank God, we do not eat them raw as the English eat their beef!
–Lin Yutang, My Country and My People

As to drinks, we are naturally moderate except regarding tea.
–Lin Yutang, My Country and My People

For tea is invented for quiet company as wine is invented for a noisy party.
–Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

De Quincy says quite correctly that tea “will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual,” but the Chinese seem to go further and associate it with the highminded recluse.
–Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

“If Christianity is wine, and Islam coffee, Buddhism is most certainly tea.” –Alan Watts, The Way of Zen (1957)

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? – how did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.
– English essayist Sydney Smith, early 1800s.

Our trouble is that we drink too much tea. I see in this the slow revenge of the Orient, which has diverted the Yellow River down our throats.
– J.B. Priestley, British writer

Tea, although an Oriental,
Is a gentleman at least
– G. K. Chesterton, (1874–1936) The Song of Right and Wrong