It is known that color, aroma, and flavor are the three musts for Chinese food. However, these are never the only principles to be followed in Chinese cooking; the nutrition is the first concern.
A theory of the “harmonization of foods” can be traced back to the Shang dynasty’s (16th to 11th century B.C.) scholar Yi Yin. He related the five flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, piquant, and salty to the nutritional needs of the five major organ systems of the body, i.e. the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys, and he stressed their role in maintaining good physical health. In fact, many of the plants used in Chinese cooking such as scallions, fresh ginger root, garlic, dried lily buds, and tree fungus have properties of preventing and alleviating various illnesses. The Chinese have a traditional belief that food and medicine share the same origin and that food has a medicinal value. This view can be considered the forerunner of nutritional science in China. According to this theory, a correct proportion of meat to vegetable ingredients should be maintained. One-third of meat-based dishes should be made of vegetable ingredients, and one-third of vegetable dished should consist of meat vice verse. In preparing soups, the quantity of water used should total seven-tenths the volume of the serving bowl. Basically, the correct ingredient proportions must be adhered to in the preparation of each dish or soup to ensure optimal nutritional value.
The Chinese have a number of traditional rules and customs associated with eating. For example, food must be eaten while seated. Also a set order of who may be seated first among men, women, old, and young exists. Furthermore, one must eat main courses with chopsticks and soup with a spoon.