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Food in Chinese Culture

For the preparation of cai, or dishes, the use of multiple ingredients and the mixing of flavors are the rules, which above all means that ingredients are usually cut up and not done whole, and that they are variously combined into individual dishes of vastly differing flavors. Pork for example, may be diced, slice shredded, or ground, and when combined with other meats and with various vegetable ingredients and spice produces dishes of utterly diverge, shapes, flavors, colors, tastes, and aromas.

The parallelism of fan and cai and the above-described principles of cai preparation account for a number (other features of the Chinese food culture, especially in the area of utensil To begin with, there are fan utensils and ts'ai utensils, both for cooking an for serving. In the modem kitchen, fan guo ("rice cooker") and cai kuo ("wok") are very different and as a rule not interchangeable utensils. . . . To prepare the kind of ts'ai that we have characterized, the chopping knife or cleaver and the chopping anvil are standard equipment in every Chinese kitchen, ancient and modern. To sweep the cooked grains into the mouth, and to serve the cut-up morsel of the meat-and vegetable dishes chopsticks have proved more service able than hands or other instruments (such as spoons and forks, the former being used in China alongside the chopsticks).

This complex of interrelated features of Chinese food may be described, for the purpose of shorthand reference, as the Chinese fan-ts'ai principle. Send a Chinese cook into an American kitchen, given Chinese or American ingredients, and he or she will (a) prepare an adequate amount of fan, (b) cut up the ingredients and mix them up in various combinations, and (c) cook the ingredients into several dishes and, perhaps, a soup. Given the right ingredients, the "Chineseness" of the meal would increase, but even with entirely native American ingredients and cooked in American utensils, it is still a Chinese meal.

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