I grew up, like many Chinese people, in a ‘tea’ environment. My parents, grandparents, my relatives are all tea drinkers. In the morning, the first thing they would do is to make a pot of tea, they call it ‘grab a tea-cup’, then start the day. But they normally like red tea, as red tea is more stronger than green tea. They would refill it with water until the tea loses its taste and colour — that can actually last till afternoon (while green tea probably only last around 4 refills).
But for us, when we were little, living with our most beloved grandma, she would also prepare a big jar of boiled water, because we were too little to have tea, or to appreciate tea. In China, tap water was never safe. It is called ‘raw water’, we were told that it would be bad for your stomach. :) But when I say ‘boiled water’, I don’t mean ‘hot’ water, but rather boiled water which has been let cool down for serving. So my grandma used to get up really early in the morning, to boil the water and allow it cool down, just in time for us to drink, oh, and of course, she also prepared a big breakfast for us. In fact, she always made sure that jar was full all day long, I just liked grab a glass of water from the jar to ease my thirst after playing outside.
Nowadays, with so many different drinks, (just those fizzy drinks, one can never name them all), we are so spoiled. Red wine goes with meat dishes in Western cuisine, and white is for seafood; but for Chinese cuisine, it is actually a completely different concept — it is not really for combining or assisting the taste, rather what is good for a healthy stomach. — I know … Chinese have lots of sayings, here I can only talk a little bit what I know.
Ok, this is probably surprise you — having drinks to accompany your normal meal, when the staple food is rice or noodles, water or tea is actually not advised — at least, since I was little, I was asked never drink this way. The theory is that water can harden the rice in stomach, give you stomachache, and it can make the noodles ‘inflate’, you will get ‘over full’ feeling, which is very uncomfortable. But if there is no staple food, just dishes, then all different kinds of drinks are ok, (although fizzy drinks are still not advised, because of the gas, which can ‘fool’ your appetite).
Sometimes, depending on what food you are having, different kinds of tea are suggested. For example, if you are having meaty dishes, say, hot pot, then Pu’er is good, as it can actually help ‘wash-out’ the ‘greasiness’ from your digestion system while you are eating.
Apart from tea, there are other drinks for having during the meals. For example, in summer, the most popular one would be ‘Sour plum drink’ (Suan Mei Tang). The real one is made from plum, it tastes sour, but not as sharp as Haw. It helps cool down the (inner) body heat in summer, ease thirst and increase appetite. Especially among young people, it is a very popular drink with (or without) meal.
There are some others, for example, hot coca cola. — I bet you are frowning, but, yes, it was trendy for a long while in restaurants. Coca cola is boiled with ginger, and served hot. It is said it was good for stomach, especially during meal. It tastes more like the ginger and dark sugar drink I mentioned before for cold, nothing taste like coca cola anymore.
Of course, having beer or Chinese rice wine accompanying a meal is also popular for people drinking. In this case, there is rarely rice or any staple food served at the same time. And when you know you are drinking, there are normally some dishes we call it ‘accompany alcohol’ dishes. Probably you have noticed it for some recipes I put it down it is good for alcohol, and so on.
So in China, (at least in Northeast China), when we go to restaurant to order a meal with the purpose for chatting and gathering, we rarely order rice to go with the meal, just tea or beer, and we can take our time to chat. But if it is, for example, lunch time, you just want to have a meal for filling up stomach, you can order rice or any other staple food, but not much liquid.
— Too many sayings in Chinese food culture? Ha… I cannot even explain them all logically.
Anyway, enjoy eating, and have a good week!!