Do chinese people get sick of eating chinese food?
June 12, 2008 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Do chinese people get sick of eating chinese food? This is not a slam against chinese food, as its one of my favorites, but more of a question of people, not just in china mind you, of a particular culture, food wise, getting tired of eating that same food all the time.

I know growing up my tastes have been shaped by the plethora of food options that I had available to me, either at a restaurant, or through a cookbook. As such, I am unable to eat the same cuisine style more than 2 days in a row. Is the cookbook market as big in places like rural china? How about Africa or the Middle East(Dubai not withstanding). Now dont just come back and say that there is mcdonalds all over the place, I know that, I'm wondering about places where a variety of food is unknown.

Do you think they get sick of eating the same style cuisine all the time?

On a side note... what do people in china eat for breakfast, i know there are alot of restaurants out there that are not open for breakfast... i remember an Ethopian place in Los Angeles that was popular... did they serve breakfast? NO! what do they eat?
posted by Mesach to Food & Drink (60 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Chinese food is only a single style to your western viewpoint. There is actually a huge variety of "chinese" food.
posted by rocket88 at 1:07 PM on June 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Not to mention, what makes you think all they eat is Chinese food? I'm Jewish, but I don't subsist on a diet of matzoh and gefilte fish.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:09 PM on June 12, 2008

For your second question, Wikipedia has a great list of typical breakfasts by world region.
posted by contraption at 1:09 PM on June 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

rocket88 for the win. It is like someone saying, "Geez, you guys eat a lot of grains. Boring, huh?"
Well, grains can be served a trillion ways...
posted by Dizzy at 1:10 PM on June 12, 2008

Ah, just noticed the bit about "a variety of food is unknown", so I guess mine was not the most useful answer.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:12 PM on June 12, 2008

Yeah, to expand on rocket88's point, there's an incredible variety in Chinese cuisine. Northern Chinese cooking has as much in common with Cantonese cooking as Norweigan food has with, say, Nothern Italian food. Totally different staple grains (wheat versus rice), totally different approaches towards spicing and flavor, and cooking techniques used in one region but not the other (dumpling skins in the North, steamed whole fish in the South that are scalded with with hot oil).

And to the Wiki entry on breakfasts by world region, I'd add that a lot of Hong Kong people, especially retirees, go out for dimsum for breakfast.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:18 PM on June 12, 2008

There are hundreds, probably thousands of different types of Chinese dishes, so I don't think Chinese food is particularly useful as a benchmark. Also realize the type of oil-laden Chinese food in western society is usually nothing like the lighter fare they have in China.

Your question is a reflection of how immensely wealthy our (your?) society has become. In this day and age, your access to food and information on how to prepare that food is unimaginable to people of other times, and people currently in other places. If you want a personal answer to your question, you could probably ask a great grandparent or someone who lived during the depression, when there wasn't much of a choice in what to eat.

As I've heard older people say, "yeah, we did get sick of eating boiled potatoes everyday. But it's not like, we had a friggin' choice!"

I would imagine someone in a less wealthy country would also look at you with the same quizzical look, if asked this question.

Also, there are plenty of people in the world who don't eat breakfast routinely. 3 meals day seems pretty excessive to many parts of the world.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:19 PM on June 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Do you think they get sick of eating the same style cuisine all the time?

It seems very obvious to me that human beings do get sick of eating only one traditional cuisine all the time, since whenever conditions and income make it possible they do seek and enjoy culinary variety. The very plethora of food options available to a modern first-world person is testament in itself to the fact that people generally like variety.

So if you broaden your question from "chinese people," I think it's clear that just plain every kind of people get tired of a narrow diet.

There will always be some people who are sticks in the mud when it comes to food; people who just aren't adventurous eaters and prefer to stick to a plain diet that is familiar. For instance, our "meat and potatoes" eater or "picky" eater. but the very fact that we have those labels indicates that they aren't in the majority.

Ask your question of a Depression-era Southern American: "don't you get sick of eating oats and beans all the time?" Or a nineteenth-century coastal New Englander: "don't you get sick of eating codfish and cornmeal all the time?" Or a soldier: "don't you get sick of eating MREs all the time?" Most of the time the answer will be "yes - I wish I had more options." This is no different from your question about ethnic cuisines, which as someone pointed out, are not lumped together in their original context. We can talk about "American" food, but that's not very specific: do you mean hot dogs and burgers, or do you mean wild venison sausage, or do you mean strawberry shortcake, or do you mean cornbread, or do you mean fast food, or do you mean catfish? There are regional and economic differences in cuisines in their home contexts.

But it's safe to say that almost every culture tends to adopt new choices when they become available, hence fusion cuisine, global trade from the spice merchants to the present day, and hence the modern day mall-style (ahem) "food" court.
posted by Miko at 1:22 PM on June 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

So people in rural china on a farm, are able to get jewish food? Think about what i'm asking, I know that there are different varieties of chinese food also, I am wondering if, In a location that has very little variety of cuisine, do they get tired of eating that style, as much as I get tired of eating it too...

I'm talking about areas where the local town is pretty much just a place to get your supplies, most likely these people think that EVERYONE eats the same thing they do because they have no clue there is anything else to eat.

I knew that no matter how I asked the question I would pull the people out of the woodwork who wouldn't be able to understand that i'm NOT thinking small minded.
posted by Mesach at 1:22 PM on June 12, 2008

Although I couldn't find anything on a quick search, you may want to spend time digging into the dietary habits of highland tribes in Papua New Guinea. They apparently had a pretty limited selection of foodstuffs in the not-very-distant-past.

I could be wrong, of course, but isolated tribes are where I'd start searching.
posted by aramaic at 1:26 PM on June 12, 2008

(I am not Chinese but I lived in China)

Actual Chinese cuisine is shockingly diverse and can vary extensively from region to region, they have also been developing it for thousands of years and consider it (in my opinion with some substantial justification) to be the finest on the planet. I know a lot of Chinese folks who get along quite happily without ever trying Western food, or that of their neighbors (caveat is that they do drink soda or enjoy a nice ice cream bar, or cucumber shrimp flavored chips). There are a lot of foreign restaurants in China (typically McDonalds or KFC) but if you go in you will usually only see young people or children eating there, and the parents are often eating something local they brought in while the little Emperor eats his Big Mac.

What you need to think about here is that ethnic restaurants in America, when they are not specifically catering to their respective expatriate community (even then they often only focus on a few dishes in that case), are designed with American tastes in mind and are not the real deal at all.

As for breakfast the Chinese have us beaten by lightyears in my opinion, somethings I came across pretty frequently were handmade beef noodle soup, dumpling soup, fried beef dumplings, fried rice, egg and tomato, yogurt, rice porridge, and my personal favorite Jidan Bing (sort of an egg wrapper around bean sprouts and cilantro, and fried doufu - recipe varies substantially from city to city).

Now I am hungry and six thousand miles away from a decent Chinese restaurant, thanks a lot asshole. ;)
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Contraption, That is a great link. Thank you
posted by Mesach at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2008

It's not so much that the question is small minded, Mesach, but just a bit uninformed. What we have as "Chinese food" here in America (where I assume you are - but the same is true for many other cultures that try to replicate Chinese cuisine - those menus in a Ristorante Cinese in Italy aren't too far from what we get here in the States) is not representative of cuisine in China. It's much more diverse than we conceptualize it as - i.e. their staple dishes are not moo goo gai pan and General Tsao's chicken.
posted by AthenaPolias at 1:29 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also keep in mind that in addition to all the various types of Han cuisine China is home to 56 different recognized minority groups, and yes there are some Jews too.

Generally they are pretty happy with their local cuisine and a Gansu restaurant in Beijing will still mainly attract folks from Gansu and more adventurous locals.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:30 PM on June 12, 2008

Think about what i'm asking,

I think people did.

I am wondering if, In a location that has very little variety of cuisine, do they get tired of eating that style, as much as I get tired of eating it too...

I think the answer is yes, and history is the evidence, as many a traditional culture with limited food habits has evolved into today's culture of choice.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

1) It depends on the person. I know some Americans who would be perfectly happy eating steak and potatoes every day for the rest of their lives. Others would get tired of it. It's pretty common for immigrant households to keep making the food of their home country (my family included); people just like eating what they're used to.

2) Of course people get tired of eating the same thing all the time, but they don't really have much of a choice. Obviously food is more of a necessity than a luxury in rural China, and foreign eating options are limited (and expensive!) in large Chinese cities. China just doesn't have the history of immigration that the US has had, so foreign food is more of a novelty than anything.

what do people in china eat for breakfast
Buns and fried cakes are pretty popular in the North. Northerners also eat steamed bread (kind of like unfilled buns, I guess) with pickled vegetables. Rice porridge and millet porridge is also common. Some people eat noodles for breakfast or just yesterday's leftovers. In general, Chinese breakfast foods aren't very different from lunch and dinner foods.

Also, you've probably heard this before, but Chinese food in China is very different from what you get in take-out places in the West. I couldn't survive a day eating that stuff. And I echo all the posters above that Chinese food (within China) is actually quite diverse.
posted by pravit at 1:33 PM on June 12, 2008


No offense, but I find your question really strange. The answer would be different for each culture in question, as you are talking about billions of people with different cultural, economic, religious and biological backgrounds, each with their own reason of "why we eat it this way and not another."

Is there a specific culture you have a question about? Some town in China that has really got you wondering?

It would help some of us , cuz your question seems to have a myriad of answers (i.e., too difficult to prepare, too much energy to grow different ingredients, too difficult to get whole family to eat the new dish you slaved 3 hours over, lactose intolerance, against our religion, the food we have is already of excellent variety, etc. etc. etc.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:34 PM on June 12, 2008

If all you have is roses - and I understand there are lots of kinds of roses, but roses are the only things that grow in your country - do you sometimes wish you had peonies?

Say you're Gutenberg's wife, do you sometimes wish you could read The Da Vinci Code?

If a tree falls in the forest with no one around, does it make a sound?

I'm really not sure how we're supposed to answer the first part of your question, especially since you don't want speculative answers that take perspective into account. You want to know the thoughts of people you can't ask, whose untouched perspective you'd spoil by asking. So yeah, a bit tough to answer, there.

But breakfast, lots of people in other parts of the world just eat regular food for the morning meal. Koreans eat rice, fish or meat, kimchi, banchan, and soup, just like at every other meal.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:35 PM on June 12, 2008

This is not about China, this is about Africa, specifically Ghana (since you said this wasn't about a specific culture...).

Ghanaian food is nice, but there's a relatively small number of dishes, and a somewhat larger number if you take the staple ingredients and mix them up a bit (does tomato sauce with tilapia count as a different meal than tomato sauce with beef? what if you have spaghetti instead of rice with the tomato sauce with beef?)

* Even relatively wealthy families, who know foreign food and have lived overseas, eat the same small number of dishes. Everyday.
* Part of this is a consequence of availability of foreign foods (limited, at high prices) or shelf life (since nothing is air-conditioned), and part of it is just due to quality (real-US-restaurant prices for pizza that looks like school lunch? Um.)

* A specific anecdote: living in Accra, we went with our boss's cousin to the Volta Region, and were having lunch in a hotel restaurant.
Us: "Yao, what do you want?"
Yao: "kenkey"
Us: "But you get kenkey at work everyday, do you want something else? They have some fresh crab dish, and a lasagna..."
Yao: "nah, that's ok"
Us: "A lot of this sounds really good."
Yao: "But I like kenkey."
Us: "Ok."
It may sound trite, but true story. People want foods they are familiar with and like. (Actually, in doing business there you find that people are really quite hesitant to try new things in general until someone they trust has already done it. Leads to some slow adoption of everything from new food to bank accounts.) (And of course this is a generalization; I've also met a few of the early adopters who will try out anything that meets their needs.)

* In general, real sit-down restaurants have a high number of ex-pats in them, especially if they serve non-African food. Part or most of this is an economic issue.

* I have never seen a Ghanaian cookbook in Ghana. You learn to cook from your family. And actually, I never saw a stand-alone bookstore there, come to think of it.
posted by whatzit at 1:39 PM on June 12, 2008

By people, I mean this hypothetical rural villager in your question, the one who only knows the food of his region and doesn't know any other kind exists.

you're getting the answers you are because "Chinese Food" and "Chinese People" come off as pretty glib in a question like this. It's not a monolithic people or culture.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:40 PM on June 12, 2008

I doubt that I am uninformed AthenaPolias, I eat a wider variety of food styles than 95% of people, I am willing to try anything without hesitation, hence why I grow tired of eating the same foods.

I have never understood why people turn their noses up at foods from different cultures just because its different, I figure if someone out there eats it, then it must be at least partially tasty, and how am I to know that its not the greatest thing I have ever eaten if I do not at least try it.
posted by Mesach at 1:41 PM on June 12, 2008

when i was growing up and ate at the table, yes, i pretty much ate chinese food every day because my mom is chinese and that is what she cooked (with the occasional mexican, vietnamese, cambodian—which are the cultural influences she's had). she's an awesome cook and i never got sick of what she cooked. but if i had to eat the chinese food that is found in most chinese restaurants every day, i would probably not enjoy it—not because it's not good but because it's not what i would really consider authentic. usually, one or two chinese restaurant meals does me for "chinese" for awhile but i could eat whatever my mom makes all the freakin' time.

that said, i agree with people who think your question is odd. chinese food does not mean one dish only (or the 20 or so dishes found in your typical chinese restaurant) and that's all you eat. just like with any cuisine, there are many different dishes, many variations, and room for new creation—sometimes, my mom would just make something up depending on what she had in the fridge that day. i still consider that chinese because of the flavours she uses but you certainly wouldn't find them in your typical chinese restaurant.
posted by violetk at 1:47 PM on June 12, 2008

Fuzzy as it is, I think there are cultural differences in desire for variety. I recently spent a year living in northern Italy and can attest that many of the other foreigners I knew got rather tired of the "4 P's" (pizza, pasta, pork, and panini) whereas the locals generally weren't too interested in trying ethnic/non-local foods.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2008

sometimes, my mom would just make something up depending on what she had in the fridge that day.

actually, make that, she did that almost all the time. and i still consider her cuisine chinese.
posted by violetk at 1:49 PM on June 12, 2008

Mesach, I never said you were uninformed - I said the question was. Important difference. I'm not casting any aspersions about you or your perspectives - just the phrasing of this question - which, as others have also pointed out, is a bit odd.

You asked, we're answering.
posted by AthenaPolias at 1:55 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

It seems like most people answering here still don't understand the question, even after the OP's clarification. He is not interested in Chinese people in particular - this was just an example. He is talking about anyone sufficiently isolated from the rest of the world to eat the same food all the time and not know that there's anything else out there.

There is nothing weird or small-minded about the question. The fact that authentic Chinese food is different from that served in America and that Chinese cuisine varies greatly from region to region is irrelevant to the question - the OP is interested in someone from one particular region with a monotonous diet. And it is perfectly normal for someone easily tired by one type of food to wonder how billions of people in the world feel about eating the same thing every day.

As peachfuzz noted, the subset of people able to answer this question is very limited. One would have to have grown up in a completely isolated village, and then somehow made the transition to modern civilization with access to a variety of cuisines (and, for our purposes, to the internet) to truly answer the question.
posted by Sar HaPanim at 1:56 PM on June 12, 2008

At a basic level food is food, something to eat to keep from starving. I don't think anyone would ever get tired of eating something. Many foodstuffs are an acquired taste. Caviar, sheep brains, oysters, sushi, haggis, testicles, etc are not things most people would enjoy on first taste. If that's all you had, then that's what you ate.

Your example of China seems very simplistic and naive. I'm sure you're basing your idea of a limited amount of knowledge of what is available in Chinese-American restaurants. But China is a huge country and there is a much larger variety of things you can find in that country than you can imagine. The same goes for many ethnic foods you find at restaurants here in the US. It is a small sample of what is found in those countries. Italian food is not all pastas, Mexican food is definitely not tacos and enchiladas, etc, etc. Even cookbooks tend to limit their recipes of ethnic foods to what is popular and familiar to Americans. Some ingredients of native dishes are not readily available in the US.

Many people stick with something they are familiar with because it is safe. It's an evolutionary safety feature. Eating strange and unfamiliar foods may lead to sickness or death.
posted by JJ86 at 2:00 PM on June 12, 2008

Sar HaPanim

Nailed it, thats the wording I wish I could have used.
posted by Mesach at 2:02 PM on June 12, 2008

To answer your question frankly, no, my parents do not get sick of eating Chinese food. They are Chinese- born and raised in Taiwan came to the US in their early 20s; they've been in the US for about 30 years now.

They eat either real Chinese food (can't stand the chop suey cream cheese crab rangoon Americanized stuff), Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese. They cannot STAND Mexican or standard American-fare, but there are things here and there they will eat- the fishburger at McDonalds but nothing else, or a steak with A-1 sauce but can't do any time of potatoes. They hate cheese. They hate butter. Again, this is just my parents and not reflective of all Chinese people. However, many of my Chinese friends parents are the same.

Oddly enough, my father's brother and sister who moved to Los Angeles in their early 20s- again, been in the US for 30 years like my father- can eat Mexican food no problem.

I always thought it was weird when my SO's family says "Nah I don't feel like eating X" today and if they have to eat hamburgers the same night ( could be cooked differently, different sauce, different toppings doesn't matter) in a row it's like impossible. It's like death or something.
posted by Jimmie at 2:08 PM on June 12, 2008

I lived in Romania in 1994 and I sure as hell got sick of eating the same food all winter long when there were only four spices on the shelf and the supermarket didn't have any fresh fruits besides oranges from Israel and almost no vegetables except potatoes and cucumbers [again I think from Israel].

I think part of this, however, has to do with coming from someplace where there is a lot of variety, there aren't seasonal scarcities [thanks to transportation and storage, whatever you think about the crappy tomatoes you have in winter in the US at least they're not in a jar] and frankly you don't know much else. Most people that I ate with in Romania sort of ate a few basic dishes and then they'd have "special occasion" meals that they didn't have frequently -- often expensive ones with meat in them or with difficult ingredients like tripe -- and these were sort of the fun meals that mixed things up. I often thought it was the reason they really enjoyed company so much is that it was an excuse to eat something different. However, I don't get the feeling they were "sick" of doing this, I just don't think it occurred to them that there was anything else. We'd often whip up foods that we liked form home -- pancakes, brownies -- and they were new tastes to them but there wasn't this "oh my god, we need to make this" sense to that event and if anything I found the people there a little hesitant to try new things, so it's hard to say totally what cause and effect were.

The whole notion of "consumer choice" in a place like post-Socialist Romania [this was two years after the fall of Ceasecu] was sort of ludicrous. Fancier spices or different meats were possibly available at exorbitant prices [i.e. only to people from away, you couldn't afford any of this on $90/month pretty much at all] and some things like fruit were just not available at any price unless you took the train to Hungary and brought them back, and some people did. This was in a city of 500,000 people too, not in somerural area, but the issues are the same. Even the restuarants basically had the same five things on the menu ALWAYS. The fanciest restaurant in the city -- Club 100, full of westerners only -- had a HUGE menu but in the winter an awful lot of the stuff wasn't available and it was easier to get frog's legs than it was to get, say, fresh spinach or grapes.
posted by jessamyn at 2:08 PM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am wondering if, In a location that has very little variety of cuisine, do they get tired of eating that style, as much as I get tired of eating it too...

I think that the answer here is "sort of" and "sometimes." People everywhere I have been have enjoyed variety, but most people in most places can't afford much variety, and people are often very reluctant to step outside of their comfort zones with food -- try feeding a live octopus to your average American and see how far that gets you.

I lived in a very poor place for a while, and the food was extraordinarily repetitive. Two or three meals, every day, were based on the same staple, and sometimes the entire meal was the same again and again and again. It was fine for the first few days, then it got really old and I had all kinds of food cravings (mostly for fast food which I never really eat anyway, go figure) for months, and then it started to just seem normal and comforting. Now, unlike my neighbors I had a lot of breaks from this repetition -- whenever I traveled around I would eat different foods, go into the capitol and eat foreign foods, etc. And I had the money to buy variety in my diet -- there just wasn't very much variety for sale.

What was interesting to me was that when I would bring back food from a trip, my neighbors would really enjoy trying it and sampling bites and so on. But at the same time, they were really happy with the comfort of their familiar diet (just as is your average American or Austrian or whomever). Trying something new was fun, but they were not compelled to rearrange the available parts of their diet into new dishes, or to spend scarce resources on variety for variety's sake.

So I think the vast majority of people eat from a pretty limited array of options, even people in places like America and France where most people have the resources to make at least some dietary choices. Some people, perhaps like yourself, seek out variety at every turn. And as Miko notes, with increased resources come increased options and the ability to add variety to a diet.

Lastly, I think your Chinese example is pretty flawed -- although I've not been to China, every article I read about food in China emphasizes its variety and complexity. Poor people in China, like poor people anywhere, no doubt eat a very restricted diet, but people who can afford to eat all kinds of things that make foreigners go "whoa, you eat that?"
posted by Forktine at 2:10 PM on June 12, 2008

You might be interested in the book that this NPR article talks about. It doesn't say much about whether different cultures are bored by their limited diet (my guess would be some people yes, some no, and more of one than the other in different cultures) but it provides insight into what it looks like.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:14 PM on June 12, 2008

Every place I've been that is populous and rich enough to support a diversity of ethnic cuisines has in fact had a diversity of ethnic cuisines. Clearly, when you get a bunch of people of means all together in one place, some of them are going to be gastronomically adventurous. So you can find Romanian restaurants in Tokyo, and Burmese restaurants in San Francisco.

But not everyone is so adventurous. I have an in-law who's quite wealthy, lives in a wealthy Chicago suburb, and would have access to pretty much anything he wanted. What he wants is bland food that's either white or brown in color, and no different from what he ate last week/year/decade.

Part of your question boils down to economics and demographics: it's unlikely that anyone will open an extremely exotic restaurant in a wealthy but sparsely-populated area, simply because it probably won't draw enough customers. Part of it boils down to psychology and what different individuals like.

Much of what we think of as distinctive national cuisines are in fact the result of cross-fertilization between cultures, as this recent thread on the blue discusses.
posted by adamrice at 2:15 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have nothing to offer except the small anecdote on how my mom's first encounter with the banana after the war filled her with contempt for the yellow berry. Rationing was just lifted and all they got was rotten fruit. She's a meat and potatoes kind of person.
posted by uandt at 2:17 PM on June 12, 2008

Jebus, I only chose china because of its size, with only several locations of economic and commercial concentration, leaving for a very large area, that this argument could be posed.


BTW, this question has done exactly what I intended it to do. How many of you think about the variety of food you eat and have the luxuries of enjoying and then think of all the people out there who have never even tried some of it... how many people do you think have had pancakes? hamburgers? fried chicken(southern, I know people in china eat a form of fried chicken) how about things like BBQ? I doubt anyone reading this now has had Balut, I have, I'm Filipino!

Kinda shoots the whole argument of my western mind, not being able to grasp this concept.

posted by Mesach at 2:21 PM on June 12, 2008

[rerail please, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:44 PM on June 12, 2008

Mesach, stop shouting. You yourself pointed out that your question wasn't worded very well. Sit back and relax and understand that when your titile is "Do Chinese people get sick of eating Chinese food?" you're going to get response to that, even if that's not exactly what you meant.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:49 PM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

BTW, this question has done exactly what I intended it to do. How many of you think about the variety of food you eat and have the luxuries of enjoying and then think of all the people out there who have never even tried some of it...

If your goal is to make people think about things, rather than to answer a specific question or problem, this might not really be suited for Ask Metafilter.
posted by box at 2:49 PM on June 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

If the people in question are truly isolated enough (culturally, geographically, etc.) to not be aware of other foods or other methods of preparation, then no, they're not going to want anything new. This is your proverbial fish-aware-of-the-water-in-which-it-swims problem. On the other hand, if a person from the people-in-question is exposed to new food and new food preparations, either s/he will either desire to try these new things or s/he won't, a decision which would be more informed by personal curiosity and interest than anything else I can think of. Is the question, then: "Do other cultures tend to be curious about each other?" Because I don't think that one is definitively answerable.

I think this is what people are getting at when they say the question is unclear, or seems shallow or uninformed. What "Chinese" people do or think (for any value of Chinese) is unknowable, because widely varied. The only way to respond to your question as it stands is to give you specific anecdotes, none of which will actually suffice to answer anything.
posted by penduluum at 2:54 PM on June 12, 2008

I agree that eating the same food all the time may be a comfort thing. Anecdotally, my ex's mother grew up very poor on a farm in rural Brazil, eating primarily the rice and beans they grew themselves. Thirty years later she lived in a large Brazilian city where virtually any food was available, she still ate rice and beans at least once a day. She said it didn't feel like a real meal without them.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 3:15 PM on June 12, 2008

What you need to think about here is that ethnic restaurants in America, when they are not specifically catering to their respective expatriate community (even then they often only focus on a few dishes in that case), are designed with American tastes in mind and are not the real deal at all.

Even in Chinatown? I was walking through Chinatown this morning as the markets were setting up their wares, and I didn't see another white guy for ten minutes. Presumably it's not just tourists who eat there.

I also have a hard time believing that the place I usually go to get dim sum in Toronto is inauthentic when 90% of the tables are having conversations in Chinese.
posted by oaf at 3:16 PM on June 12, 2008

Also, look at it the other direction. I travel a lot, and, especially in Asia, I get asked the question: "In my country here [Thailand, Viet Nam, Japan...] , we eat some particular food [e.g. rice] every day. What do Americans eat every day?"

Do you realize there is no one answer to that question? So many people boil down the national cuisine to one staple that just about every dish is eaten with or based on, and it just isn't possible for the States. (Maybe some other countries too, but I don't know them as well, so I won't go there.)

The same conversation often involves something like "wow, you must really want some American food about now. How long can you go without eating American food?" Um, months? Because I can eat and/or make food from like any other country I want to? "ORLY? Because wow, I can barely survive a week without [national food or staple - again, rice comes up often here]."

The poster above who brought up the different scales of variety is definitely on to something.
posted by whatzit at 3:21 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Now with added MSG MeTa!
posted by mudpuppie at 3:24 PM on June 12, 2008

My guess is that your appetite for novelty, which is the product of a highly developed global consumerist culture, is at the far end of the range of human variation.

In other words, your wanting to eat a different kind of food every two days is what's unusual, not people in isolated villages eating the same thing every day.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:25 PM on June 12, 2008

I think here in America (where I live) there's a culture in which eating diverse foods makes you cultured or educated or a gourmand, so if you know what thousand-year eggs taste like and you've also had haggis, then wow, you're admired.

My family is Chinese, and when we go back to China, quality rather than variety is emphasized. The foods in expensive restaurants are more elaborately prepared, the winter-melon soup served in bowls of carved melon rather than a bowl, the meatballs so tender they almost melt into your spoon, and the fish still flopping before they cook it in front of you at the table. (There is actually one dish in which the live fish are poured over hot stones and cooked that way.)

I would also argue that Chinese people have greater variety of foods than Americans do. Americans eat primarily beef, pork, and chicken. Some turkey. A little lamb.

In China, I've had rabbit, duck, eel, a million different kinds of fish that aren't salmon, frog, turtle, dog (yes, but dogs-for-meat are different breeds than dogs-for-pets), snail, sea cucumber, and all kinds of other animals I really can't name because I haven't ever seen them outside of China. The variety of fruits is greater (lychee, logans, pomegranates, chinese peaches which are really sweet and really delicious), the variety of vegetables is greater (tons more choices than just bok choy), and don't get me started on snacks - dried plums, roasted chestnuts, tons of things with seaweed, milk candies and dried tofu...

And breakfast! Breakfasts in China are almost never cold. There's (rice) porridge, served with stick of fried dough and green onion tortilla-like things, and there's always some salted cucumber or duck egg or shredded pork fu or fermented soy bean curd.

I get bored eating in America, actually.
posted by reebear at 3:26 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ah, and here's a last thought from me:

You know how you can find (particularly) low-end diners and street stalls selling countryside food in urban areas, in some parts of the world (I'm thinking Bangkok, Brazil's megacities, Ha Noi...)? Those aren't there because city people love country food (really, in a lot of places those city people often comment on how provincial the outlanders are), they're there because many people have moved from the countryside to the urban area, and even though they have access to many more things in the city, they still want the local staples they grew up with. (In the end I think a lot of them end up staying in "low-end" because these rural exoduses (exodes?) tend to be groups with lower education levels moving for unskilled labor work.)
posted by whatzit at 3:27 PM on June 12, 2008

When I lived at home ten years ago (small town, Kansas) my parents had a steady supply of about ten meals that they would make. All the meals were pretty much American (with you know, pizza and spaghetti which is SO Italian).

I don't think that I minded eating such a small diet at the time, nor did I even notice that the choices were so limited until I went to college and proceeded to try every new type of food that I could. Now that I go home, I realize how limited my food choices were, but I certainly don't cook such a small portion of meals at my house!
posted by aetg at 3:27 PM on June 12, 2008

And the different parts of animals: mmm liver, kidney, gizzard, chicken feet, fish heads that just get tossed out here in the states!

Yeah, loads more variety.
posted by reebear at 3:32 PM on June 12, 2008

tastes have been shaped by the plethora of food options... I am unable to eat the same cuisine style more than 2 days in a row.
I think your question is a bit self-fulfilling. That you are able to express the inability to eat the same cuisine more than 2 days in a row is a result of your knowledge, experience, and desire for other cuisines.

It's like asking someone who has lived in the desert his whole life if he ever gets sick of seeing endless plains of sand. He doesn't know anything other than landscapes and dunes of sand. If you did ask him the question, he may answer that yes he would like to see something different but unless he had seen pictures of snow or the ocean, all he could answer would be something like "anything other than sand." But in his universe, there is only the desert and there is no choice for anything specific other than sand and the desert.

how many people do you think have had pancakes? hamburgers? fried chicken
Yes, many of us are fortunate to have been able to try these. But at the same time, do you feel as if those who have not been able to try these foods are somehow worse off or lacking something? I don't. People live and thrive in different environments and circumstances. They have a different set of knowledge, customs, and standards. At the grand level, I don't think Western culture is any more superior in any sense, just different. While I have skills and knowledge that allows me to succeed in my world, my counterpart in a remote part of the globe has his/her skills and knowledge that allows him to succeed there.

On a recent trip, I watched a Discovery mini-series called The Curious Tribe. It chronicled 6 members of a tribe from Papua New Guinea during their 2-week trip to London. If you can watch it, I think you'd find it fascinating to see how they react to London against the baseline of what they've grown up with and been accustomed to.
posted by junesix at 5:38 PM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

They love them some rice and beans in Nicaragua, I can tell you. I was there for about 10 days and I got reeeally tired of rice and beans. It was there at every meal. There were other things, but always that too. For a lot of the population, that was a very central part of the daily diet. My friend who taught English there asked her students what their favorite food was. Rice and beans, all of them. Every day rice and beans rice and beans. I wish we had some rice and beans. I don't know how this made it past chatfilter, but there you go. Yes no maybe it depends la la laaa.
posted by Askr at 5:54 PM on June 12, 2008

....I don't think that this is a matter of ethnicity, or rural/urbanity, or class, or money, or any of those things. I think it's a simple individual thing -- no matter where you go, and no matter where in society you are, you're going to have some people that like the familiar, and you're going to have some people who like novelty.

Consider: here in New York, the high-end burger places do just as well as the McDonald's when it comes to the tourist trade. Similarly, the little tratorrias in Little Italy do just as well as the Olive Garden; the Oyster Bar in Grand Central does as well as the Red Lobster in Times Square....etc.

Everybody's different.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:33 PM on June 12, 2008

As peachfuzz noted, the subset of people able to answer this question is very limited. One would have to have grown up in a completely isolated village, and then somehow made the transition to modern civilization with access to a variety of cuisines (and, for our purposes, to the internet) to truly answer the question.

Or be older than, say, 30, and not from a major city. Heck, I grew up in middle-class suburbs on the east coast of the US in the 70s and 80s, and a lot of folks just didn't eat "ethnic" food at all.
posted by desuetude at 6:51 PM on June 12, 2008

I lived in rural Central America for awhile, after having spent most of my life in the US and Europe, eating a wide array of ethnic foods. I went from shopping at stores that had aisles devoted to juice, to shopping at stores that had only orange or apple juice. I think if the local people had traveled around and explored different cuisines, they'd probably get tired of eating simple meals of beans, rice, chicken and fruit. After all, you can't miss or crave something you've never had. I, on the other hand, went nearly insane with food cravings. I made elaborate lists of meals I wanted to prepare and food I wanted to eat.

Back in the states, I worked at an Indian restaurant. After the restaurant closed after lunch/dinner the staff (mostly Indian, Nepalese, Bhutanese people) would cook up a family style meal that was totally different than was served at the restaurant. They'd explain that the food from the menu was too rich to eat every day.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:00 PM on June 12, 2008

To answer your question directly: I'm chinese, and I will never get sick of chinese food. I could eat the same shit all day, every day.

Sure, sometimes I might fancy a fillet mignon, a linguini al pesto or some murg tandoori but I would NEVER turn down a bowl of rice with veggies & meat cooked in soy sauce.

Unless you offered me Peking duck. Or beef brisket in noodle soup. Or congee. Or Shanghai fried noodles. Or wonton noodle soup. Or Beijing dumplings. Or "beggar's chicken". Or shark-fin soup (down to the last living shark). Or any veggie stirfried in garlic and "5 spice powder". Oh wait, that's all chinese food, and I'm not even scraping the surface.
posted by randomstriker at 7:24 PM on June 12, 2008

OK, so I can actually answer this question. A friend of my aunt and uncle's went on a cruise with them (and the friend's wife). he's from rural Ontario. All he ate all week was turkey. When presented with turkey he ate it every single time. He actively disliked when he wasn't offered turkey as an option (except for breakfast I suppose).

Some people just like routine. Is that so hard to understand?
posted by GuyZero at 7:26 PM on June 12, 2008

Also worth noting that your scale of "variety" is skewed by that plethora of food options. What seems like "the same thing" to you is not necessary "the same thing" to the folks who combine even limited ingredients and cooking styles to produce relative variety.

Even eating take out from restaurants of different ethnicities each night may only be superficially diverse. Aside from spices and presentation, how different is that food, really? I'm often amused by how many types of cuisine (Mexican, Vietnamese, Italian, southern US, other) we cook by recombining largely the same ingredients.
posted by desuetude at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2008

Since you specifically mentioned Ethiopia... I spent over a month in Ethiopia, which was hard because I had tried Ethiopian food before and know I didn't really like it. There's a variety of dishes available but almost all are eaten with injera (sort of a sour spongy bread). In the capital there are cafes with pastries, great coffee (Italy's influence), Italian restaurants and even an American-style place that serves salads and Mexican food. Expats are the main customers but well off Ethiopians eat there too.

Outside of Addis Ababa the "foreigner" meals include eggs for breakfast, and spaghetti with spicy oily "sauce" for the rest. Sometimes they will have bread. There's a few larger cities where they may serve pizza or some more western stuff, but it's mostly young people hanging out in those places.

Okay, for breakfast it can be regional, but they love avocado juice, sometime mixed half with orange juice. It appears as if they are eating similar meals they eat the rest of the time, but there is one dish that is eggs mixed with one of the spicy sauces that is eaten for breakfast with injera.

I found it surprising that people in a lot of Asia can eat noodle soup for breakfast (and sometimes lunch) every day of their life. Two days in the row was enough for me. It seemed that people in poorer areas of Asia ate simpler diets, whereas you could get an amazing array of Chinese food in somewhere like Beijing.

I also traveled with Asian-Americans (Chinese and Korean) in Asia and Africa and I would say how I miss food from home. They agreed, but when I was talking about potatoes and sandwiches they were talking about the Asian food they grew up on.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:30 PM on June 12, 2008

I grew up in a small town in the north of England. My parents (this is the 70s) were terrified of eating anything they weren't used to. Spaghetti, unless out of a tin, was referred to as 'foreign muck'. I remember my mother, in a spasm of novelty, taking us to a Chinese restaurant, where we ordered chicken and chips.

I went through my 20s and 30s experimenting with every possible cuisine. The only thing I've ever encountered that I simply couldn't eat (although I got through about half of it) was fermented octopus served by a sushi restaurant in Madrid (go figure).

Now I live in rural Canada where our diet is relatively restricted, especially as we choose to eat a lot of local food. So there's lots of fresh veg, fresh local meat, local cheese and juice and so on. Plus the stuff that comes out of my vegetable garden. And I'm basically happy to eat the same thing over and over again because it's REALLY FLIPPIN' GOOD.

I went through a big enlightenment in my life when I realized that at most restaurants there was a dish I liked the best. Before I was enlightened I would order something different every time I went to a particular restaurant, then end up wishing I'd ordered the thing I really wanted. Now I just order the thing I really want, even it means eating the same thing every time.

(Flipside: if there's something weird on the menu that no-one else will eat, I always order it. I've discovered some amazing things this way. Pulpo a la Gallega being one.)
posted by unSane at 9:21 PM on June 12, 2008

I can answer this question. I lived for a year in Egypt. Egypt is a much, much better model for unvaried cuisine than China, in my opinion. Although there are plenty of restaurants in Cairo, and many people have relatively varied diets, for a majority of people there are only three real foods that are eaten on a regular basis: Fuul, Ta'amiyya, and Koshary. All three of them are vegetarian (actually vegan) and heavy in carbs.

Every single expat (myself included) quickly got a bit sick of Egyptian food. I could eat fuul maybe 4 or 5 times a week but I did need to mix things up a bit. Many expats "escaped", I guess you could say, to the western-style cafes. I mostly "survived" by cooking food for myself and also eating some less common Egyptian dishes. Many expats however swore off Egyptian food completely.

Well-off Egyptians, when asked where to get a nice meal, will not send you to an Egyptian restaurant. They will recommend you try out the wonderful local "Kentucky" [KFC] or the Bizza Hut. But on the whole, most Egyptians cannot afford to eat a varied diet. When I admitted to a driver that I had to wait weeks between eating Koshary, he told me that he ate Koshary three times a day.

So no, it's very possible that someone in China doesn't get sick of Chinese food, and not only because China has such a varied cusiine...
posted by Deathalicious at 9:48 PM on June 12, 2008

i don't think this is such a bad question. as a few others have pointed out, using "chinese" as the example for your question has thrown people off, for reasons already mentioned. also, i think it's worth noting that, in my experience anyway, the chinese are perhaps more "foodie" than some other cultures, which is reflected in the wide variety of dishes available in each area, and the overall sophistication of each regions cuisine...

anyway the leaving aside the use of "chinese" as your example, your question addresses something i've noticed living overseas that i think is kinda interesting. i've lived in SEasia for 8 years now, and i can say that, while obviously there are exceptions to every rule, in most places, yes, people are quite happy to only eat the foods they've grown up eating for every meal.

thai people for instance (especially those who haven't travelled much) are not only happy to eat thai food every day, every meal, they all but insist on it. of course thai cuisine is incredibly varied, and at least my sophisticated bangkok friends liked to mix things up and eat lots of incredibly different thai foods for each meal. but other quisines didn't get much (well, any, really) attention, it just wasn't really something anyone seemed to want.

and here in indonesia, i find people are generally less focused on eating a variety of foods, and will happily eat rice-with-vegetables-and-a-few-chunks-of-chicken day in and day out, with a few fried snacks (fried tofu, fried bananas, shrimp chips, and maybe some green fruit with soy and chili sambal every once in a while) in between meals. foreign foods, rather than seeming exotic and delicious, are actually seen as sort of weird and unappealing, and only eaten under duress!

i mean, i'm not trying to overgeneralize, certainly i've got a few indonesian friends that love trying different cuisines regularly, though they tend to be the ones who've travelled a lot. but overall this is generally what i've seen with my own eyes, hanging out with asian friends and collegues daily, for years now. in a lot of places, it wouldn't really even occur to people to eat other cultures' food on a regular basis, and even when there's access to it (like here in bali where there are tons of foreigners, and foreign restaurants) most people choose to eat what they always eat, every time.

ps. breakfast seems to be the same as lunch and dinner in indonesia - rice, veggies, & chicken. i believe there are certain foods that are favored for breakfast in thailand, but i can't really remember what they are. noodles in soup maybe? my chinese-indonesian friends seem to go for fried noodles, dim sum, or rice "gruel" (tastes better than it sounds, it's called "bubur" here) for breakfast.

pps. now i'm hungry for some bangkok street food! and dim sum! heck, i wouldn't turn down some bubur with sweet soy sauce, shredded chicken and chilli sambal now that i'm thinking about it...
posted by messiahwannabe at 1:41 AM on June 13, 2008

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