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Aug 24, 2006 01:48 PM

Cheese and Asian food [moved from General Topics board]

Why is it that cheese is not used in Chinese (or other Asian)cooking? (obviously it doesn't go with the dishes, but that's not really my point of the question) Why don't people in China eat cheese? I have heard it is becoming more common now there but overall I'm unclear.

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  1. Chinese eat very little dairy of any kind - milk, cheese, cream, yogurt etc. I saw no dairy cows in China when I was there. I think it's never been part of the culture. Perhaps dairy cows weren't adapted to local farming? Many Chinese find even the smell of dairy unpleasant. My mother absolutely refused to eat any cheese unless it was unrecognizable.

    1. I'm guessing it has something to do with lactose intolerance being more common, and I've heard they traditionally consider it "gross".

      10 Replies
      1. re: deibu

        Ha. And i find soy milk 'gross'. though I've never tried it.

        1. re: welle

          once you make the transition to soy milk - trust me - you will never go back to milk

          1. re: kare_raisu

            why? I am happy with regular cow milk

          2. re: welle

            How would you find it gross if you'd never tried it?

            1. re: PeterL

              The same way Chinese find milk 'gross' I guess. I can stomach almost anything but the idea of soymilk turns my stomach for some reason.

              1. re: welle

                Try any of the dishes that have "fried milk" at the Cantonese places around town. It has the consistency of cheese.


                1. re: welle

                  Thanks, Eric. I just googled up 'fried milk' and it sounds like they use real milk:

                  But it sounds more like a main dish, and your description sounds like it was more of a dessert. Was the fried milk in your case more like Gulab jamun?

                  1. re: welle

                    Fried milk is typically not served as dessert, but just a course out of many. You will notice that Hong Kong will have a higher proportion of milk products used simply because of long periods of interaction with the British. We also have a variation on milk with tea.

                    1. re: welle

                      Chinese who find milk gross after they experienced drinking it, not before.

                2. re: deibu

                  Lactose intolerance is only prevalent in southern China, IIRC.

                3. It goes both ways: no dairy <=> lactose intolerance. I heard that tolerance to lactose is something you acquire by consuming dairy from young age. Some tribes in Africa that herd cows can drink milk, though most Africans are lactose intolerant.

                  BTW, not all Asian cultures do not consume dairy. In most Central/Northern Asia dairy is a main staple.

                  1. Because the Chinese geography (hilly, lots of people, not much land) does not cater to raising grass feeding mammals such as cattle or goats, until you get far west or north.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PeterL

                      Cattle in the river basins of China were for labor, not dairy, and lands where grazing would be possible and more productive than other uses were as you noted not as extensive as in other areas.

                      Central Asiatic peoples (eg, Mongols, Turks, et cet.) did make considerable use of dairy, and the Chinese likewise developed a negative cultural association with the dairy-based diets of those peoples, who were regularly at war with (and sometimes conquered) China.

                      The precise etiology of widespread lactose intolerance immediately south and east of lactose-loving peoples is a kind of chickey-egg question given the above....

                    2. I won't say that cheese is completely absent from Chinese/Asian diets. Cheese made from yaks, sheep and goats play a prominent role in Monoglian and Tibetan cuisine.

                      But it is true that dairy products are generally absent from Asian diets. I think PeterL is right that geography has a lot to do with it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mielimato

                        Mongolian is worlds apart from Chinese, but that's another topic...

                        1. re: welle

                          ...but it is a part of Asia which was what was meant by "Chinese/Asian diets."