Trust me on this one, you'll be eating more Chinese food than you know....

Quite some time ago I wrote a piece about the distaste Chinese have for American food.  Rather, in my view how simplistic their interpretation of American food is.  (I could write the same about Hot Pot, too.) 

Still, through time, the meaning to me has become clear;  if one is to fall in love with China Girl, one must master Chinese food.  The palate, the taste, perhaps even the ability to cook it .   For if one cannot do this, one will find a barrier created between the laowai and China Girl that simply cannot be “eaten away”.  Asian culture, more than those of us situated in the vast “West”, considers its food a unique identifier of itself. 

The Chinese in particular, are proud to be part of a culture very much identified  by its  fondness and knowledge of food more so than anywhere else(with the obvious exception of India).

The differences in food available within China are analogous to the differences in dialect.   Case in point; America is a nation of 300 million people, yet from Seattle to Miami there are no dialects that separate anyone.   (We are not speaking of Latin America’s colonization of South Florida, of course.  

Where if someone chooses not to speak to you, they can simply choose not to speak English.  Something I never encountered while staying there. Maybe I was just lucky.)

The ability of dialects to develop within China is within itself something hard to believe, within today’s world.  Proof that every town was indeed a fortress unto itself.  A walled village perhaps where communication with the outside world meant travelling 10 miles over to the next village.   

How could such an array of culinary variety NOT develop over a few thousand years? 

Indeed, the vast variety of types of food within China today is a monument to the historical insularity of China.  Not on a global stage, but amongst themselves.  After all, dialects develop when people stop speaking to one another.  If they ever began.

As China identifies food as part of its national identity, it follows that by marrying a laowai, China Girl loses a part of that national sense of being. 

I know a pretty enough China Girl, married for several years now, with a daughter, an apartment, cars, etc.   I asked her one day who cooked at home, and without hesitation she uttered her husband cooks while she takes care of the daughter.

She is in Ningbo, a part of China they call 苏杭 encompassing Shanghai, Suzhou and Zhejiang Province where China Man himself does most of the cooking and cleaning.  She let on she is a bad cook.   I never got around to asking but I could tell upon marriage, when she was 26, that she did not know how to handle this chore.  Further, her father undoubtedly did most of the cooking.   It was just expected she would marry a Ningbo guy as well.  Thus he would handle the cooking.

Part of the problem for me and other laowai is upon marrying someone from 苏杭, the inlaws expect the son in law to be able to handle the same.   Upon finding out it is their daughter after all who will do the cooking, suddenly the howls of “辛苦辛苦” can be heard in protest. 

Of course, it’s never that way if the son in law is stuck with the task.  In their view that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

Food is probably one of the main reasons laowai and China Girl eventually fined unhappiness in their relationship.   The other of course being money.  The source of frustration for the former being cultural.  The Chinese I’ve found, much more so than other nations outside of East Asia and India, simply find it excruciatingly difficult to assimilate.   This can be seen by the inability of Chinese’ to eat the food of other nations, even when abroad.

You’ll notice I bring up East Asia.

I remember when I was a student in South China in the 90’s.  The Japanese during dinner time would always sit together at one of the round tables.   They would order together and commune everynight. Whereas the French and Americans simply did their own thing.

When I was in grad school in Beijing the Korean student contingent held a Korean Olympics.  

Nobody else was invited.

So the sense of exclusivity belongs to East Asians(at least) and not just to the Chinese My point is clear;  if laowai wants to have an enduring relationship with China Girl, he will have to be the one that makes the concession.   He will have to eat her food, on a regular basis.  Not the other way around.   The Chinese can only assimilate so much.   And perhaps in their eyes, it’s already enough to be swept away by a laowai.

Well, this is easy enough said(if for some reason), you both remain together in China.

But what if you both leave China and move back to your native country?  Then what?  Like I’ve said in the past, I know of no self respecting laowai that will not do this.  No self-respecting laowai raises a family in China.   Oh don’t pat yourself on the back like those laowai wumao on LinkedIn.  

Heaven’s no!

Never mind the obvious;  the sheer expense of planting roots in The Heavenly Kingdom is overwhelming. The best financial decision is always to return to your native country.

Still, I think this is where the shock for you sets in.   Were you expecting China Girl to assimilate in Holland or even France as you did in China?   (Quick observation:  for those of us lucky enough to have been to France, the Chinatown in Paris is impossible to find. It is that small.  It made China Wife more appreciate America.)

It is more than reasonable to expect if not downright demand China Girl(and maybe by now China Wife) to eat your food on a damn near daily basis, as you ate hers for so long while you were oh so cuddly, cuddly in China. 

Except China Girl will not.  Indeed that oft heard phrase 入乡随俗 is a joke to all well knowing laowai.

After a few days the love and bliss have wafted away.   The underbelly is revealed.  You find China Girl growing irritable.  Her sense of humor and affection disappear.  Finally she manages to speak up

I need  rice.” She says.

You understand of course.  You rush to take her to a local Chinese restaurant.  Meanwhile, you search the aisles of your local grocery for said product.  Maybe you can find “instant rice”.   Perhaps even some overpriced shrimp.

Your wife starts complaining and can’t stop.  Day after day she simply complains about the taste of your hometown cuisine.   

“Too oily”.

“Too heavy”.

“Too sweet”.

Her sleep patterns become disrupted and the sex irregular and uneventful.  In short, the beast from within reveals itself.   The giggles stop.   Soon she is muttering “I want to go home”.

Only then do the dark shadows of disillusionment fall upon one’s face.

Her commitment to you is solid, as long as she can live in China. 

Obviously I’m overstating things a bit.  But you get my point.

The world is a better place now than it was twenty years ago.  That is, it is more attuned to the needs of the Chinese.   It is aware of China as a powerful nation more than ever before, and most of us, young and old, have come across Chinese families in our neighborhood.  We see their children at the bus stop.  We see them everywhere.   Vast Chinese markets the size of a Super Walmart spring up.  Authentic Chinese restaurants a short drive away.  Of course, some things never change.

We don’t see Chinese at the local Italian restaurant down the street.  Nor at the Indian buffet.  Nor at the NY style Pizzeria less than a mile from where I am writing this.   That small Japanese restaurant just past the Italian joint?  Nada.  I won’t even bring up Mexican food.

In fact, I can count on one hand in the decade I’ve lived in this house the number of times I’ve come across a Chinese family at a local restaurant, for either breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Alas I myself am no Culinary Saint.  I find after about two weeks in China the cool, sophisticated laowai persona I’ve created for myself falls apart if my stomach cannot destroy a burger and fries.   I am like Dracula drawn to blood.

But if Young or Inexperienced Laowai thinks he’s gonna marry China Girl and bring her back to Italy(yes, even Italy!) and teach her “’how” to eat his hometown cuisine, guess again. 
Chinese Pride filled with a lifetime of eating a bowl of rice per meal per day demands laowai bend to her culinary needs.  

It’s easier today though.  China Girl grew up on McDonalds’s.  And everything else the sneaky laowai has to throw at the Teflon wall of Chinese Culture.   Some of it has stuck.  The Chinese love their steak(date night!).  

It’ll be easier for you then it was for me.  My China Wife, thanks to me, is willing to eat and appreciate the cuisine of other cultures, on a regular basis.  Of course her favorites are Korean and Japanese.  But I take a look at her peers, all raised in the decade of the 80’s, and I openly shake my head with disapproval.

China Wife calls me arrogant and condescending.  And is genuinely bewildered when I refuse to eat rice with dinner in America.   I calmly explain(again) that rice and brussels sprouts just don’t mix.  Nor does rice with a porkchop.   But when I’m in China, on your turf, I’ll have not one, but probably two bowls of rice with my lunch.

My advice?  Keep low expectations.   Marrying China Girl is more than inviting the inlaws to move in.  It's about accepting their food as part of your life. 

You wouldn’t keep curry from your Indian gf would you?  
Sushi from your Japanese lover, or kimchee from your Korean babe, right?   All of whom will expect you, just like China Wife does, to eat their cuisine regularly in your country.   (Pardon my Donald Trump moment.)

Don’t argue with China Wife.  Just don’t.  Logic will not win.  Look at it this way.  Be a good chap and wash the damn dishes.   China Wife’s culinary contentment will be directly related to the satisfaction you obtain in your sex life.


  1. I like Chinese food (and most food for that matter) and I would not have a problem eating it every day if I had to; but I think for many guys this is not the case. Still, I think most guys who meet women in their home country (i.e.-China Girl in China)should prepare for a life of eating her "food." So they should pick wisely. If you like Mexican food, pick a Mexican girl. Its a different story if you meet the girl in the US and Europe. At least talking about East Asia, I have known a number of ladies in the US who have gone "local" food-wise (or least are pretty open to a mixed diet). However, they tend to be the type that don't like their home country very much, and don't want to go back outside of vacations. Of course, they have often also picked up other traits of America or Europe and so may not be as "authentic" as some men would like.

    1. Nice comments and my apologies for the late response. Yes, I do upon occasion come upon the "strange bird" that doesn't like their own country. But that is everywhere right?

      I do believe one should be careful, because the Western diet is different from the Chinese(or East Asian) diet. It is my belief that if a Chinatown is nearby or a local Asian supermkt, than without question China Girl will be happier, as she will have her own food to eat. I think overtime, as in my situation, you and your wife or China GF will eventually have a 6 to 1 ratio like I do. Italian or Mexican once a week....Chinese the rest. And the older they get, the more "I just don't care what you think" attitude will present itself.

      Chinese girls are funny: they like to say,
      "Why did you marry a Chinese girl if you can't eat Chinese food?" The possibility of assimilation simply never occurs to them. It is your "duty" to eat her food. You better....we better...all be ready for it!

  2. Hey mate, I wrote a comment but it must have disappeared. Not sure if you remember me but we emailed for a bit and you helped me with my Chinese gf problems. Ive been living in China for 6 months and would love to buy you a beer if you are around. My email is still the same one, let me know if you are ever around.

  3. Also btw I really dislike most Chinese food and have eaten basically none while i have been here for 6 months. My gf loves it duck head, neck, chicken feet. But I cant bring myself to eat that stuff.

  4. Aaghh! Nor can I. Fish eyes, duck kids like it actually. Not for me.

    Where, Kurt are you? I will actually be in China next month for a long stay.

  5. My taiwanese mum in law (i know is not really the same) is a great cooker. Tasty and healthy meals all day long, just have one complain too much of rice - white rice.Damn that rice, even for breakfast. I love her food, and father in law keep her in check. Actually whole family, no bubble tea for them, no night markets, no mcdonalds. Wife was parents and sibblings princess, and ofc without cooking experience. With marriage we changed this fast, issue am having is i showed her italian, hungarian style of cooking(which am familiar with it) and she sticks with it. Every time, all the time. With taiwanese is like this, where you put em, there they will stand until you move em again. We having ridicolous situation, where am watching youtube videos about asian food, to teach my taiwanese wife about it.
    Yea china town is a rare thing in europe, whenever we see chinese, or chinese restaurant, she acts like they are bunch of laowai. None of my business. Lovely wife you can go there and chat a bit. Order bunch of chinese food. You know, you guys speak same language, called mandarin. I wanna have a minute for myself without you being half step from me,allways. Jesus, i get this political thing, but come on, you guys are cultural close, your folks came from china, so why such a distance. In asia, speacially, in chinese countryside, i was excited to see a white man. What a relief, hey buddy, weather is hot, you wanna have a beer? But not her. She adding only taiwanese to line account. And other taiwanese are the same.

  6. Haha funny. Yeah, the Taiwanese here have their own Chinese New Year Celebrations as well. We actually have several Taiwan friends here. They know all too well, even in America, they are outnumbered. What binds the Taiwanese and the Chinese together? Religion!! They all have Bible Study together. That is what binds them.

    I was a bit surprised when I went to London and Paris how small the Chinatowns were. Quite shocked actually. London's Chinatown is only a few streets and that's it. We had to ask a Chinese guy on a street corner in Paris how to find the local Chinatown. It was basically only in a big industrial building.

    Interesting your wife hangs around you so and my wife talk only just enough to not kill each other....

  7. There are some sad Chinatowns in the US too. Unless its changed, I remember the Chinatown in DC when I was living near there,was a big gate with a street or two of Chinese restaurants, a few grocery stores, and curio shops. Of course, NY is a different story. So is in SE Asia like in Bangkok.

  8. Yeah....DC's Chinatown isn't to die for. I think nowadays many a Chinatown is located in the suburbs. Not very dense. More spread out. Centered in hub and spoke fashion around a supermarket. Restaurants dictated by their exit off the freeway than anything else.


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