Conversation on Food: What’s Cooking for Dinner Tonight?

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For those of you who are familiar with Chinese cuisines, you are perhaps aware of the diversity of flavors and dishes listed on a Chinese menu. Such variety testifies to the creativity of the Chinese people, and their relentless, audacious pursuit of new things – an audacity that leads many of them to eat exotic items like lotus roots, snakes, cow stomach, and basically anything they can lay hands on. Unfortunately, this ingenuity and audacity also created a nation of picky eaters.

This can often be intimating to Americans who want to invite their Chinese friends over for dinner. What can you prepare to satisfy your guests’ palates? The truth is it may not be as difficult as you imagine, but there are certain preferences that your friends might be too polite to say. I hope the following suggestions can alleviate some of your anxieties and help your Chinese friends gain a deeper understanding of American culture along the way.

1. Cook something that you feel comfortable making. Just because you want to make your Chinese friends feel welcome does not mean you have to prepare Chinese food for them, and I would strongly advise against ordering Chinese take-out. This will only stress you out even more and make your guests feel awkward, creating a situation in which neither party is comfortable. If a Chinese friend accepts your invitation to dine at your house, it means she is also curious to learn more about your culture. Prepare something that you are familiar with, like your favorite holiday food or something from your own ethnic background. If it’s something that is not available at restaurants, even better! While you eat, share some of your memories associated with these foods. This can help your friends appreciate the food even more and may lead to further conversations about life in America.

2. Hold back on the diary and tomato sauce. It is perhaps not news to you that most Chinese people do not like cheese; one thing that is less commonly acknowledged is that some Chinese people also prefer less tomato sauce, because its strong flavor tends to dominate everything else. This does not mean you have to stay away from Italian food altogether, but if you can find a way to tone down the diary and tomato sauce, it may be greatly appreciated. Chinese people are more used to complex flavors. Creating a pleasing aroma is perhaps half the battle. If you can find a way to create a variety of flavors, your guests will stand up and call you blessed. If all fails, Tex-Mex or barbeque are always good go-tos.

3. Go for many, not simply more. It is characteristic for Americans to cook one large main dish, and share that with everyone at the table. If there are more people to feed, then Americans tend to just make more of the same dish. That is very different from the usual practices of Chinese people. Instead of making more of the same thing, we create a variety of different things and share among each other. Chinese people appreciate variety, and we prefer to have 2-3 bites of 10 different things to having 10 bites of only 2-3 things. That does not necessarily mean that you have to create more than one main dish. If your general practice is to have one main dish for your family, then consider preparing less of that and increase the number of side dishes instead. This will give your friends a chance to try out many different new things.

4. Go fresh. In many Chinese cities, it is very common for vegetables and meat to go from a farm to the dinner table without ever being refrigerated or processed. This is one reason why we have live seafood on display in Chinese restaurants. We like things fresh! We strongly believe that refrigeration and processing takes the flavor out of the food. This may be difficult for some people, but be creative in where you get your ingredients. The shorter the supply chain, the better it will taste!

5. But not that fresh. Having fresh groceries does not mean we prefer things uncooked. It is actually quite rare for Chinese people to eat uncooked vegetables. With that said, we also prefer vegetables that are not simply boiled. When you are serving vegetables, sauté them, add some spices, or just a little soy sauce. This can greatly enhance the natural flavors of the vegetables.

6. Cut down on the sugar. One common complaint I hear from my family and Chinese friends is that American desserts are way too sweet and too rich. Whenever I follow an American recipe to bake a cake for my family, I always use only half of the sugar suggested and cut down on the frosting. If you are not sure what to serve for dessert, fruit is always welcome and even preferred.

While I hope that these suggestions may be helpful to you, they are also influenced by my own personal preferences. Before you prepare anything, don’t forget to check with your guests what they like to eat. What they tell you may be a surprise to you, or me.


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Ryan currently lives in the Cincinnati metro area and is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He immigrated to the United States from China in 1999.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

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Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

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About Shanghai

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