Food and Chinese Homestay Students


Jesse at a meal with former homestay students and their parents in Shenyang, China.

One of the questions we often get from new homestay families waiting for their Chinese student to arrive is: “What should we feed her?” This question can’t be answered definitively. Similar to kids from the US, Chinese children have different likes and dislikes. However, there are some generalities that tend to hold true in regards to food preferences which I’ll outline here. Perhaps this will help you on your last trip to the grocery store before your homestay student arrives. But before I delve into the common likes and dislikes of Chinese people, keep in mind that a homestay experience is cultural immersion – this includes food. It’s okay if the meals you cook are strange to your homestay student. That’s part of the experience and it’s what they’ve signed up for. But for those families inclined to branch out and offer a culinary selection that feels closer to home for their students I offer the insight below.

Breakfast

One of the most difficult meals for kids from China to adjust to can be American breakfast. The reason is that Americans tend to eat sweet foods for breakfast: pancakes, waffles, cold cereal, cinnamon rolls, etc. The sugar content in these foods is quite high and it’s about as far as you can get from a traditional Chinese breakfast. In China, breakfast is usually full of savory flavors and often consists of dishes from dinner the night before. A family of Chinese friends that recently stayed with us here in Washington for two weeks would fry fish that they would eat with vegetables and congee (rice porridge) in the morning. Because we are close friends they felt comfortable passing on our breakfast in favor of their own.

Breakfast meats such as sausage and bacon are generally liked by Chinese kids and eggs are usually appreciated as well. When serving eggs you might want to have soy sauce on hand as that is often the condiment of choice, especially with fried eggs.

Fast food

The American food that Chinese youth are most familiar with is fast food. McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC and many other fast-food restaurants are scattered throughout all of China’s major cities. These companies have been extremely successful with young consumers and the younger generations in China have developed a taste for these foods. I’m not personally a fan of fast food, but the fact remains that many Chinese kids look to it as comfort food in the same way American kids do. Need an easy meal that your Chinese student will probably enjoy? Pizza or a hamburger is almost always a winning choice.

Cheese, butter and cream

Cheese is an acquired taste that most Chinese people have not acquired. Cheese on pizza is fine. But don’t expect your homestay student to appreciate a cheese platter after dinner. Butter and cream probably won’t be as disliked as cheese, but most Chinese cuisine does not use these ingredients. Don’t be surprised if your guest isn’t excited about buttery or creamy sauces. Pasta dishesIn my experience pasta dishes such as spaghetti are well received. Noodles are one of the staples of Chinese cooking and though the western way of preparing noodle dishes is different, noodles are usually appreciate.

Ice water

Dangerous substance. Human beings should never drink cold beverages. At least so goes traditional Chinese thought on this matter. It is believed that water should be drank warm or hot to maintain inner equilibrium. Even room temperature water is sometimes considered too cold to consume.

I could continue on this subject, but a good summary of the Chinese opinion on western food is that it’s bland and lacks the strong and distinct flavors of the cuisine in China.

What have your experiences been? Have you hosted a Chinese student? How did he or she cope with the food in your home?

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