People generally have two ideas of a Chinese meal: there are those who believe in China they get full with tons of rice and the dishes you find in almost every restaurant In the USA and Europe, then there are those who believe they eat stuff like dog meat or bats. Of course, both are wrong statements (or simply true for small minorities and not surely for the overall Chinese population): Chinese food is completely different from what commonly believed. After having introduced this, one could then start to imagine this kind of cuisine as very exotic and far from what are the Western eating habits. This may be partially true but, again, there are also various things in common between the two traditions. In particular, Chinese cuisine shares a lot of things with Italian food: in this article you will discover many Chinese dishes that have something in common with the Italian ones, plus some cultural things that make Italy and China so similar than you have ever imagined. By looking at Chinese food habits I find these are even closer to Italy than those of many other Western countries too.
Italy Has Pizza & Piadina: What About China?
Pizza does not need any presentation. Despite the differences between how it is made in Italy and in the USA, almost everyone can recognize a pizza. Another popular dish in Italy is 'piadina', an Italian flatbread which is wrapped and filled with several ingredients.
Despite being pizza and piadina symbols of Italy, there are also some dishes that can be a little similar to the original ideas of a base of dough topped with some ingredients or of a flatbread wrapped and filled. China makes no exception with their various kinds of ‘bing’: when you hear a Chinese dish ending with ’bing‘ we are talking about something like pancakes, wraps and yeah, pizza-like dishes too. Two examples of these dishes are the Jian Bing, a salad crêpe made with eggs, fried flour and then topped with several ingredients, and the Cong You Bing, a flatbread with scallion and oil which is basically not so much different from various Italian salad pies or 'focaccias'. Ingredients change, but the basic idea of a pie or of a flatbread topped/filled with something makes Italy and China not much different.
Noodles in Italy & in China
One of the most evident similarities between Italian and Chinese cuisine is the variety of noodles and pasta dishes we feature in our food traditions. In Italy we have various kinds of long-shaped pasta like 'spaghetti', 'fettuccine', 'tagliatelle', 'tagliolini' and several others. In addition we have various other kinds of pasta. Talking about China, most people know the basic rice noodles almost every restaurant serves. Still, what they do not know is that Chinese food tradition, just like Italian one, features several other kinds of noodles: for example the Biang Biang Mian (or You Po Che Mian), a traditional pasta from Xi'An, are large-shaped noodles that look very similar to Italian Fettuccine or Pappardelle.
Another kind of noodles popular in Hong Kong and in Guangdong is the Cheung Fun: these are literally large-sized 'rolled noodles' and filled with several ingredients of your choice. These are very particular, so that I cannot find a dish in Italy which is completely similar. The closest dish we have is 'cannelloni', that are basically large rolls of pasta filled with spinach and ricotta cheese or with meat. In this case Italy & China are sharing the idea of a roll of pasta which is then filled with something, despite Cheung Fun and 'cannelloni' are still completely different dishes.
Chinese vs Italian dumplings
Dumplings are another thing in common between Italy & China: the idea of a piece of pasta filled with something is basically the same. The only difference is in shapes, fillings and in the way dumplings are eaten: in Italy they are a main course (just like other pasta dishes), while in China they are eaten together with the other dishes at the centre of the table (Chinese people are used to share all the dishes, while having only a personal bowl of white rice as a staple dish). Chinese dumplings can be filled with several ingredients, like meat or vegetables. The same happens with Italian ones, that can be filled with ingredients like meat, ricotta cheese and spinach, pumpkin or other ingredients. Italian dumplings have different names, based on their shape: for example, we have 'ravioli' (generally squared pieces of pasta), 'tortellini' (a ring-shaped pasta) and 'tortelloni' (similar to 'tortellini', but larger in size). Also China features several kinds of filled pasta, not only the classic 'dumplings' everyone knows. One in particular is very similar to Italian 'tortellini': the 'wontons'.
Smelly but delicious food in Italy & China
This is quite weird to explain: there are some kinds of food that have a bad smell but a delicious taste. Italy features several cheeses with this characteristic: one of the most famous is 'gorgonzola', a kind of blue cheese with a strong smell but delicious taste. Talking about Chinese food, it is interesting to note that they feature some 'smelly but yummy' food too. One of my favorite smelly Chinese dishes is a popular street food you can find in some cities, for example Changsha: stinky tofu, a particular preparation made with fermented tofu which ends up to have a very strong smell, but also a delicious taste.
Food is important both in Italy & in China
After having compared some kinds of Italian & Chinese food, it is time to focus on how food is culturally considered in Italy & in China. In Italy food is very important, so that people here tend to be proud of their culinary traditions. Here, just like in China, meals are very important and food is one of the most valued convivial elements. The importance of eating slowly and together is still very radicated in both countries, despite the growing alternative represented by fast foods and people eating quickly and alone, maybe when they are working. Independently from situations like those of employees having a quick bite before coming back to the office or of students in the same situation, here, just like in China, food has still a big importance, so that everyone, whenever it is possible, can't wait to have a good meal with their beloved ones: a lunch or dinner to spend by eating slowly and passing some time together. Because that is the real thing that makes Italy & China so similar: we always think about food.
© 2020 Alessio Ganci