Food

The War Between Salty and Sweet in Chinese Food

First of all, please answer a question: is the moon cake sweet or salty in your impression?

Moon cakes is a kind of food which originated in the Song Dynasty. Chinese people have eaten moon cakes for over a thousand years. In recent years, with the popularization of Chinese culture overseas, some foreign diners began to eat mooncakes.

But before an Internet debate, many diners, including the Chinese people, thought that there were only sweet moon cakes in the world.

As a matter of fact, moon cakes are both sweet and salty, which are traditional foods.

The debate about whether the same food is sweet or salty first appeared in a Chinese food that foreigners do not know much about.

On June 8,2011, Chinese photographer Wang Yishu wrote on Weibo: “On the issue of whether beancurd jelly are salty or sweet, the difference between the North and the South is the most obvious. Both sides of the debate will feel sick when they see each other. “

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Within hours, the Weibo post had been retweeted tens of thousands of times, although Chinese people always eat the same food and speak the same language. But for the first time, many people realize that people in other areas eat the same food and have completely different taste from what they eat.

The dispute over whether the same traditional food is salty or sweet has turned into a long-running dispute, with people coming up with different evidence in order to boast that their taste is “authentic”.

To some extent, the salty-sweet battle of Chinese traditional food is the best embodiment of China’s vast territory and rich resources—even if people eat the same food, they have a completely different taste. Even the simplest rice has a similar controversy.

In recent years, this kind of debate has gradually become a network meme. People use “Sweet Party” and “Slal Party” to divide camps and distinguish “friends” from “enemies”. Of course, this is not a real war, but if you ask the wrong food taste in the wrong place when traveling in China, you may get some contempt.

The war between salty and sweet actually exists in all aspects of Chinese food, including snacks and meals. However, memes are mainly formed by the following traditional foods, which have a long history and are widely eaten, but there are significant differences: Douhua( tofu pudding), Zongzi, Glutinous Rice Balls, Moon Cakes and Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes.

Let’s explain these foods in detail one by one.

Douhua

Douhua (Chinese: 豆花; pinyin: dòuhuā) is also known as tofu pudding in English.

This is a kind of traditional Chinese snack which originated in the Western Han Dynasty. Tofu pudding is a kind of high nutrition food made from soybean protein, and it is a semi-finished product in the process of making tofu.

Boiled hot soybean milk reacts after contact with coagulant, and the protein of soybean milk precipitates. If the ratio of reactants is appropriate and the reaction conditions (temperature, concentration, stirring degree, etc.) are appropriate, the soybean protein will be completely solidify to form tofu pudding.

It tastes as smooth as silk, with strong soybean flavor, and different ingredients and sauces have completely different tastes. But the problem is the ingredients and sauces.

In northern China, Douhua is salty, and people add vegetables such as cauliflower, fungus and shiitake mushrooms on Douhua. In coastal areas, people also add shredded kelp, Laver and shrimp skin to Douhua. In addition, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar or chili oil will be added as seasoning. Northern diners generally eat salted Douhua for breakfast with Youtiao or steamed buns.

In southern China, Douhua is sweet. People put Douhua in cold sugar water and add a small amount of sweet bean paste and sweet peanuts. For southern diners, Douhua is a dessert. To some extent, it is the ice cream of ancient China.

Salty-sweet Douhua camp map made by Chinese netizens. The blue area is the salty Douhua occupied area, the yellow is the sweet Douhua occupied area, and the green is the swing area. People in white areas don’t eat Douhua.

Therefore, salty Douhua and sweet Douhua are actually two completely different foods, but they both use solid soy milk as the main material.

Zongzi

Zongzi is a kind of Chinese festival food, and all Chinese people eat it during the Dragon Boat Festival.

However, the stuffing of zongzi has developed into two schools of salty and sweet, and contains many different tastes. Zongzi is sweet in the north and salty in the south.

All zongzi are made of glutinous rice and wrapped in leaves, but the northern ones are usually filled with bean paste or red dates, while the southern ones are usually filled with all kinds of meat.

Northern zongzi does not contain white sugar, but the sugar in red dates or bean paste will make zongzi slightly sweet, and people will eat it with extra sugar or honey when eating zongzi.

Most zongzi in the south is salty, but different provinces have different ingredients. Taking Guangdong zongzi as an example, people wrap chicken, ham and mushrooms in zongzi. After cooking for more than 6 hours, the soup will be completely absorbed by glutinous rice to obtain the best taste. In recent years, some merchants began to add some precious ingredients to zongzi, such as abalone, scallops and shark fin.

This salty-sweet difference crosses the border of China. In Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, zongzi is mostly salty.

It is worth mentioning that, according to the Local Records of Western Jin Dynasty, it turns out that zongzi was “bitter”. At that time, people used plant ash water to cook zongzi, so the taste of zongzi was bitter. Sweet zongzi appeared in the Tang Dynasty and salty zongzi appeared in the middle of the Ming Dynasty.

Tangyuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

Tangyuan is also a kind of festival food, and Chinese people will eat it during the Lantern Festival.

Tangyuan is sweet in most parts of China, but there are both salty Tangyuan and sweet Tangyuan in Guangdong, Sichuan, Guizhou, Suzhou provinces and Wenzhou city.

Tangyuan is a kind of sticky food. It is made of glutinous rice flour and contains different fillings. For sweet Tangyuan, the stuffing is generally black sesame paste, red beans, peanuts and so on. The filling of salty Tangyuan is usually pork.

The war on Tangyuan is more about the way it is made than it is salty and sweet.

Although the appearance is similar, there are actually two ways to make Tangyuan, one is “package” and the other is “shake”.

In the former, people need to fill the sticky rice flour dough with both hands like making dumplings.

In the other, the wet stuffing is put into a container filled with sticky rice flow, and constantly shaking the container, sticky rice flow will gradually become a ball.

This kind of Tangyuan, also known as Yuanxiao, which is made by shaking, usually appears in the northern part of China. As a result of the full collision, its outer skin is thicker and more resilient. The outer skin of ordinary Tangyuan is generally very soft.

Yuanxiao is on the left and Tangyuan on the right.

It is easy to distinguish from the appearance, the skin of Yuanxiao is rougher than Tangyuan.

Tangyuan originated in the Song Dynasty, when this kind of food first appeared in Mingzhou (now Ningbo, Zhejiang Province), and the earliest Tangyuan was sweet.

Moon Cake

Moon cake is another kind of festival food. Chinese people mainly eat it during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Although all moon cakes look similar in appearance, like all foods with stuffing, Chinese diners are divided into two groups, one likes sweet moon cakes and the other likes salty moon cakes.

Traditional sweet moon cakes generally include egg yolk lotus paste moon cake, olive nut moon-cake, bean paste moon cake and jujube paste moon cake.

Egg yolk moon cake is probably the most popular moon cake in China. It is a kind of sweet moon cake. The other part of the egg yolk is the sweet lotus seed paste.

Among them, the yolk in the yolk lotus paste moon cake is salty, but the whole is still sweet. The filling of the olive nut moon-cake is made of syrup mixed with five kinds of nuts: walnuts, almonds, olives, melon seeds and sesame. The filling of bean paste moon cake is red bean paste or mung bean paste. Jujube paste moon cake is made of red dates, eggs and sugar as stuffing.

This is a ham moon cake from Yunnan. You can notice that its skin is completely different from that of sweet moon cakes.

Salty moon cakes are mainly stuffed with fresh pork or ham. In order not to let the gravy leak out, its outer skin is slightly different from that of sweet moon cakes.

To make sweet moon cakes, the dough does not need to be fermented. When making salty moon cakes, the dough needs to be fermented. Therefore, the dough of sweet moon cakes is soft and combined with the stuffing. On the other hand, the dough of the salty moon cake is crisp and there is a gap between the dough and the stuffing.

Diners in the south of China like to eat salty moon cakes, while diners in the north of China like to eat sweet moon cakes.

But in fact, with the improvement of the level of consumption, Chinese people have invented many new moon cake flavors in recent years, breaking the distinction between salty and sweet. But on the whole, sweet moon cakes have the upper hand.

For example, American ice cream brand Haagen-Dazs and coffee shop chain Starbucks sell ice cream moon cakes in China every year during the Mid-Autumn Festival. As its name suggests, these moon cakes are filled with different flavors of ice cream and completely change them into another kind of food.

There are also lava chocolate moon cakes, which are basically made of lava chocolate cakes into the shape of moon cakes.

In addition, snowy moon cakes also belong to the category of sweet zongzi, which basically only uses the common filling of sweet zongzi and then changes the method of making dough, making the taste of moon cakes more refreshing.

According to historical records, the earliest moon cakes in China are sweet, so it can be said that sweet moon cakes are “authentic” moon cakes. The origin of salty moon cakes cannot be tested, but it is at least more than a hundred years old.

Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes

Scrambled eggs with tomatoes is a home-cooked dish popular in Asian cultural circles. It may be one of the least difficult home-cooked Asian dishes, and one of the only Asian dishes that diners in many other cultures can cook is scrambled eggs with tomatoes.

However, whether there is sugar in the formula of scrambled eggs with tomatoes is controversial in China. Like tofu pudding, whether or not to add sugar to scrambled eggs with tomatoes has aroused extensive discussion on the Chinese social networking site Weibo.

Weibo Vote

In November 2012, a controversy was quickly sparked controversy when a netizen posted a Weibo post saying that it was unacceptable that his boyfriend put sugar in his scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and that “my grandparents and grandchildren do not put sugar in scrambled eggs when making tomatoes for three generations.” In the subsequent abnormal voting, more than 50,000 people participated in the voting, including 27,839 people, who thought that “scrambled eggs with tomatoes should be added with sugar.”

According to the statistics of a reporter at that time, Chinese people living in southern regions such as Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong were more likely to put sugar in cooking scrambled eggs with tomatoes, while Chinese living in the north were difficult to understand.

In the dish of scrambled tomatoes with eggs, a small amount of sugar can improve the flavor of eggs. But in fact, for diners in southern China, they add enough sugar to their dishes to mask the taste of tomatoes. But diners in the north will not do so, thinking that the taste of the tomato itself is the essence of the dish.

Whether you put sugar or not changes the basic taste of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, which is essentially different from whether you put chopped onions or not.

But in fact, because the dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes was not invented until the beginning of the 20th century, its history is still very short. Therefore, whether authentic scrambled eggs with tomatoes with sugar may be a false proposition.


In fact, the war over salty or sweet food runs through almost all categories of Chinese food. In the field of Chinese cuisine, there is a vague summary called “sweet in the south and salty in the north”. But this summary is not accurate, and in the field of snacks, it is quite the opposite.

This reflects the fact that we have repeatedly stressed that China is a huge country with a large population, and the differences in people’s living habits between different provinces are not even smaller than those of European residents.

It is precisely because it has been in a state of “harmony but difference” for a long time that Chinese food can continue to innovate even though it has a history of thousands of years.

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