Chinese Food vs Japanese Food | 3 main differences explained

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 25, 2020
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Every country in the world has its cuisine, which is a true reflection of its values and culture.

Nevertheless, food is a universal language, understood by everyone, and people need it to survive.

But, everyone has a different interpretation of what their preferred cuisine should look like. However, this all depends on where we come from.

Chinese vs Japanese food

For example, European cuisine is very different from Asian cuisine. However, Asian cuisine also does vary, especially when it comes to Japanese cuisine and Chinese cuisine.

Many people mix up Chinese and Japanese food because there are many similarities between the two. However, there are many notable differences in ingredients, cooking methods, and flavors. In this post, we shall look at the difference between Japanese food and Chinese food. 

Chinese Food

Also known as Chinese cuisine, Chinese food refers to the cooking style of meals in China, as well as its surrounding regions.

Chinese cuisine has a rich and interesting historical background, which dates back to over 1000 years ago, under various dynasties.

However, Chinese cuisine has changed over the period, and the main reason for this has been to accommodate different preferences of the local people.

One of the most notable things when it comes to Chinese food is that dairy products are rarely used.

Today, we have around 8 recognized foods in Chinese cuisine, which include:

The main carbohydrate served in Chinese cuisine is noodles and rice, together with vegetables in every Chinese meal. Chinese food also uses different types of sauces and seasonings.

The most popular types of Chinese food

Here is a list of the most popular Chinese dishes that most people are familiar with. Many of these are staples in Western Chinese restaurants, not only in Asia. Who doesn’t know of tasty spring rolls?

Japanese Food

Japanese cuisine is greatly influenced by the traditional culture of the Japanese people. In this cuisine, rice is served as the main course, and at least two more side dishes are served to complement the rice. One thing that makes the Japanese cuisine unique is the use of fresh ingredients, as well as the healthy and light appearance of the food.

For instance, Miso soup, which is the most popular soup in Japan, is a simple and healthy stock made out of miso paste and seaweed. Also, another notable thing about Japanese cuisine is the use of raw food, which is very common, and most foreigners visit Japan just to taste it. This is evident in the popularly of sushi, which has become a common delicacy in different countries, far away from Japan.

Unlike in western culture, different meals are served distinctly in the Japanese cuisine, each meal in its own small bowl or plate. The main reason behind this is that the Japanese don’t like the taste of various foods mix with each other. This means you should always have a divider, especially when packing food dishes into a bento box.

Japanese people also love tea, particularly black or green tea. The Japanese people use matcha leaves, in traditional tea ceremonies.

Matcha is a very versatile ingredient used in a lot of Japanese snacks and we even have a Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream recipe here on the site.

The most popular types of Japanese food

Most of these Japanese dishes are popular all over the world. You’ll find them in all kinds of Asian restaurants in the West. Some dishes, like sushi, are so popular, it’s hard to find a city without a sushi restaurant. 

Chinese-food-vs-Japanese-food

How is Chinese and Japanese food similar?

The most notable similarity between these two cuisine cultures is the use of fresh ingredients.

Whether we think of fresh seafood or fresh vegetables, the dishes almost always require fresh meats and produce. 

You can see that there are similar traits in both of these foods. For example, both cultures are huge consumers of soy sauce and tofu. As well, both cultures consume rice and noodles dishes. 

What differentiates Japanese food from Chinese food?

It is important to note that Asian cuisine is very unique when you compare it to cuisines from different parts of the world.

However, both the Japanese and Chinese cuisines have certain cooking and food preparation styles, which make them somehow similar, but also different.

In this post, we shall highlight the few differences between Chinese food and Japanese food.

One of the first things a foodie can notice about these two types of cuisine is that Japanese food showcases more subtle flavors than Chinese cuisine.

Here someone’s made a video on Youtube explaining the differences going through Pinterest which might be nice to watch, but I’ll go more in-depth below in this post.

The Japanese cuisine is much lighter to the stomach

sushi in a plate

Japanese cuisine represents the ingredients, cooking, and way of eating in Japan. The food is much healthier, and also light on the stomach.

That’s the reason why Japanese food is considered to be healthier when compared to Chinese food.

Carbs and Grease

One of the main reasons for the difference between Japanese and Chinese food is the recipes used.

Chinese recipes need a lot of grease during food preparation, and this increases the calories in every meal.

In addition, the main staples in Chinese food include noodles and rice, which also contribute to the increased consumption of carbohydrates.

Even though the preparation of Japanese food might consist of some rice in some meals, they are in smaller quantities compared to Chinese food.

Pans

Another interesting thing about Japanese food, which also makes it better is their traditional preparations. Unlike Chinese cuisine, the Japanese love to use flat pans called teppans, rather than woks.

The use of flat pans allows the Japanese to cook different types of delicious recipes, without the need for using a lot of grease and oil.

Using a wok requires the use of oils such as sesame and vegetable oil. 

One thing you need to note about the use of the flat pans is that you can cook your food at very high temperatures, without damaging the nutritional value of the food you are preparing.

Generally, the flat pans used by the Japanese can be compared to a grill, which allows the chef to cook raw veggies while retaining the juicy texture inside these veggies.

That’s the reason why you will find Japanese food light and crispy and without most of the unwanted oils.

Also, as highlighted earlier, the Japanese have one rule of thumb—eating certain foods raw and uncooked. This is very prevalent in Japan, especially when it comes to seafood.

Also read: how you can benefit from the right rice cooker

Chinese cuisine requires a lot of preparation

Why Chinese requires a lot of preparation

The Chinese, on the other hand, cook most of their food using a wok.

Mostly, you will find a Chinese cook using a wok to fry different types of food, and this involves constantly turning and mixing the ingredients found in the food.

The main idea behind using a wok to prepare the food is to make sure that the food is cooked evenly, from inside out, or from outside in.

There is another interesting thing that you need to note about Chinese cuisine—it is considered to be a big and important part of the Chinese culinary arts.

That’s the reason why most of the Chinese dishes have names which are well-thought-out to be lucky.

For example, the moment you visit a Chinese restaurant, you will recognize some common dishes, like orange chicken, chicken chow mein, egg-flower soup, as well as other interesting dishes.

You need to note that these names make the foods standout. Also, the Chinese love using lots of spices and herbs in their dishes, to give the foods more flavors.

Restaurant-style Chinese Food

It’s important that you don’t confuse take out foods with traditional home-cooked Chinese foods which are much healthier and complex.

Fast food restaurants or Western-style Chinese restaurants offer quick recipes that are fried and loaded with unhealthy ingredients and additives.

One of the most problematic additives is a flavor enhancer called MSG (monosodium glutamate). It makes you crave this type of food and it is addictive like sugar.

MSG in common in dishes like sweet and sour pork. It is bad for your heart and waistline but the FDA considers it a safe additive. 

Asian teas

Both the Japanese and Chinese cultures have tea tooted as a staple in their cuisine too. However, it’s important to note that the teas consumed in Japanese cuisine and Chinese cuisine do vary.

For instance, the Chinese love to drink black tea while the Japanese love to drink green tea to complement their food.

However, both cuisines consume tea alongside the meal or after the meal to assist digestion.

Meat and seafood

Another interesting and common difference between Chinese food and Japanese food is the entrees consumed. For example, the Japanese love beef, chicken, and fish, while the Chinese love pork, chicken, beef, and fish.

What you can notice is that most Japanese foods do not use pork meat. They substitute it with an abundance of fresh seafood. This makes the dishes healthier. 

When it comes to meat, Japanese cuisine has a lot more raw seafood dishes than Chinese food. Think of foods such as sushi, uni, and sashimi.

Most often, these contain many raw ingredients, especially seafood.  For example, uni is raw sea urchin.

Seasoning and Flavors

The Chinese love a good spicy dish. In general, they use more spices and herbs in their dishes. The food is more flavorful.

For example, you find a lot of recipes that call for garlic. Not so in Japan – garlic is rarely the main seasoning ingredient in Japanese dishes. 

In opposition, the Japanese prefer minimally seasoned food. They have a unique flavor profile called umami – which translates to savory.

You don’t find umami in Chinese dishes. Umami is a light type of salty or savory flavor that is not too empowering on your taste buds. 

Let’s examine some of the most common spices, herbs, and seasonings used in both cultures. 

Common Chinese Spices, Herbs, and Seasonings

Common Japanese Spices, Herbs, and Seasonings

What you notice is that the Japanese prefer seafood flavors, while the Chinese like spicy flavors more. 

The differences in a nutshell

5 differences between Chinese and Japanese Food

We can break down these differences into three points:

Health

The first difference between Japanese and Chinese food is how healthy the dishes are. As we saw earlier, Japanese foods are more nutritious and lighter compared to Chinese food.

Mostly, Japanese food involves the use of fresh ingredients and doesn’t have heavy seasoning. Chinese foods, on the other hand, they are oilier, mostly because of the frying methods used.

Japanese, on the contrary, they love grilling, or even serving their food when it’s in a natural state. This makes Japanese food fresher and healthier for consumption.

A typical Chinese stir-fry is high in calories and sodium. It is not the ingredients that are unhealthy, but the oils and grease.

For example, consider that stir-fried vegetables have up to 2,200 mg of sodium which is bad for heart health.

Many Japanese recipes call for steamed vegetables instead, which are low in calories. 

Ingredients

The ingredients used in these two cuisines do vary significantly. Chinese cuisine involves the use of more meat compared to Japanese cuisine.

Traditionally, Japanese cuisine relies on seafood for protein rather than meat. However, meat is becoming popular in the country, especially after its modernization.

China, on the other hand, relies on meat on a variety of its cuisines.

Research has revealed that there has been an increase in the demand for meat in China for the last 30 years. This demand has increased almost 4 times.

Cooking techniques

Lastly, the cooking techniques used in these two cuisines also vary greatly. The Chinese use a lot of seasonings in their cuisine to make their food stand out.

Also, they give it the flavor required by their culture. Don’t let the mixture of ingredients take you by surprise. There are combinations that you don’t see mixed together in other meals.

Therefore, if you see a dish consisting of meat, fish, mushroom, as well as different vegetables, and the dish has lots of seasoning, then there is a probability that’s a Chinese dish.

Also, Chinese cuisine loves using exotic meat, but Japanese cuisine doesn’t.

The Japanese mix things as well, but you will see it used in numerous side dishes instead of mixed together on one plate.

They love keeping the natural taste of fresh fish and also some meats and grilled on a flat surface Teppan grill or grates like on a Hibachi grill and then add some nice sauces.

Frying is a big part of cooking in both of these cultures. Japanese food is often deep-fried, whereas Chinese food is pan-fried in a wok. 

Hibachi style of cooking – is it Chinese or Japanese?

The term hibachi probably sounds familiar and that’s because hibachi cooking is extremely popular. Hibachi refers to a Japanese grilling technique that evolves throughout the years. 

It involves cooking on a large cast-iron or sheet metal flat pan. Usually, rice, meats, and vegetables are cooked on this hot flat pan.

Teriyaki is a popular food cooked this way. Cooking in the hibachi style actually enhances the flavors of the food, which makes them tastier. 

Bottom Line

Although most people love eating Asian food, it is absolutely important to understand the difference between these two cuisines.

You should be able to make a distinction when comparing Chinese food and Japanese food. However, you will notice that the greatest difference is in the taste.

As well, these cultures use different ingredients in their foods.

Also read: is Benihana authentic Japanese food?

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.