For many, food is an experience. It is both a science and an art. It is meant to be savored and enjoyed. In a culture with such passion for food, it is no surprise that we also like talking about it. While the Chinese share that love of food, they also have a love of language.
Over their centuries-long history, the Chinese have composed an innumerable collection of proverbs, or short general truths and pieces of advice, that cover an endless number of topics—including food. These Chinese food proverbs come from many sources, be they literature, history, or from the mouths or pens of famous people and philosophers.
Quotations and Proverbs
- "Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven is edible."
(Cantonese saying. Source: The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo)
- "He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician."
- "Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think."
- "Talk doesn't cook rice."
- "Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one."
(Ancient Chinese proverb)
- "Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish—too much handling will spoil it."
(Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher)
- "The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live."
- "If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people ."
- "To be truly happy and contented, you must let go of what it means to be happy or content."
- "The superior man does not, even for the space of a single meal, act contrary to virtue."
- "To the ruler, the people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven."
(ancient Chinese proverb)
- "Tea tempers the spirit, harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens the thought and prevents drowsiness."
(Lu Yu, The Classic Art of Tea)
- "Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand."
- "Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?"
- "He who asks is a fool for 5 minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever."
- "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."
- "The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table."
- "Preserve the old, but know the new."
- "Beneath these green mountains where spring rules the year, the irbarbutus and loquat in season appear, and feasting on lychee—300 a day, I shouldn't mind staying eternally here."
(Su Shih, Chinese poet)
- "Many a heavy sigh I heaved in my despair, Grievinggrieving that I was born in such an unlucky time...I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix-figured car, And waited for the wind to come, to soar upon my journey."
(Qu Yuan, ancient Chinese poet)
- "Born to the earth are three kinds of creatures. Some are winged and fly. Some are furred and run. Still, others stretch their mouths and talk. All must eat and drink to survive."
(Lu Yu, Ancient Chinese Philosopher)
- "Coarse rice for food, water to drink, and the bended arm for a pillow—happiness may be enjoyed even in these."
- "Cutting stalks at noontime, Perspiration drips to the earth. Know you that your bowl of rice, Each grain from hardship comes?"
(Cheng Chan-Pao, Chinese philosopher)
- "Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?"