Asian Lunch Traditions: What’s on the Menu in China, Japan, Korea & the Philippines?

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Lunch is one of the most important meals of the day. It’s a time to take a break from work and enjoy a quick bite with friends or family. But how does this differ in Asian culture?

Let’s look at the lunch tradition in Asian culture.

What is an asian lunch

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The Fast and Affordable Lunch Tradition in Asia

When it comes to lunch in Asia, fast and affordable options are always available. Local eateries offer a variety of dishes that are quick to prepare and easy on the wallet. These dishes are perfect for those who are on-the-go and need a quick meal during their busy day.

Utensils and Sides

Most of these local eateries serve their food on metal skewers, making it easy to eat while on the move. Sides such as rice and vegetables are also served in small portions, making it a simple yet filling meal.

Arranged for Value

The food is arranged in a way that offers the best value for the cost. These local eateries understand that their customers want a lot of food for a low price, and they deliver just that.

Special Fresh Foods

Some of these eateries also offer special dishes that are made with fresh ingredients. These dishes may cost a little more, but they are worth the extra cost.

Simple Eating

The best part about these fast and affordable lunch options is that they are simple to eat. You don’t need any fancy utensils or a lot of time to enjoy them. Just grab a skewer and start eating!

The Lunch Culture Clash: Eastern vs. Western

When it comes to lunch, the Chinese and Western cultures differ in various ways. Here are some of the key differences:

  • **Food Dishes:** Chinese lunch dishes are mainly vegetables and soy-based, while Western dishes are meat-based.
  • **Portion Size:** Western lunch portions are bigger than Chinese lunch portions.
  • **Knife Usage:** Chinese people usually use chopsticks to eat, while Westerners use knives and forks.
  • **Quick vs. Slow:** Chinese lunch is usually quick and convenient, while Western lunch is more of a sit-down meal.
  • **Sweet vs. Spicy:** Chinese lunch dishes are often sweet, while Western dishes are often spicy.
  • **Sauce Usage:** Chinese lunch dishes are served with plenty of sauce, while Western dishes usually have sauce on the side.
  • **Freshness:** Chinese lunch dishes are usually fresh, while Western dishes can be canned or frozen.

The Importance of Lunch in Eastern and Western Culture

Lunch is an important part of both Eastern and Western culture, but the reasons and features differ. Here are some of the key differences:

  • **Internal vs. External:** Chinese lunch is mainly about internal health, while Western lunch is mainly about external appearance.
  • **Variety:** Chinese lunch dishes offer a wide variety of flavors and textures, while Western dishes usually stick to a single type of cuisine.
  • **Structure:** Chinese lunch dishes are built on a structure of main dishes and sides, while Western dishes are often a single dish.
  • **Reason for Eating:** Chinese people believe that lunch brings incredible energy to the body, while Westerners often eat lunch out of convenience.
  • **Importance of Technique:** Chinese lunch dishes are highly valued for their technique, while Western dishes are often valued for their recipe and ingredients.

Discovering the Unique and Rich Lunch Traditions in China

Chinese lunch dishes are steamed, boiled, or stir-fried, and the food is popular for its cooking style, variety, and elements. People in China believe that lunch is an essential time to break from work and nature, allowing the body to maintain a balanced and natural diet. Lunch is a super important occasion in China, and people take it seriously. Here are some examples of what a typical lunch in China looks like:

  • A set meal in a restaurant: Chinese restaurants offer a large variety of lunch sets that customers can choose from, depending on their taste and budget. These sets are affordable, quick, and convenient for people who work in the city. They usually come with a main dish, rice, and a sweet soup or fruit.
  • Local street food: In China, there are many local street food stalls that offer a wide range of lunch options. These stalls are convenient for people who want to grab a quick bite during their lunch break. Some of the most popular street food dishes include Jianbing (a Chinese crepe), Roujiamo (a Chinese sandwich), and Xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings).
  • Traditional Chinese dishes: Chinese people love to eat traditional dishes for lunch, such as Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo Tofu, and Hot Pot. These dishes are rich in flavor and loaded with meat and vegetables. They are usually served with rice and are perfect for sharing with friends and family.
  • Vegetarian dishes: Vegetarianism is becoming more popular in China, and many restaurants now offer vegetarian lunch options. Some of the most popular vegetarian dishes include Braised Tofu, Stir-fried Vegetables, and Buddha’s Delight. These dishes are prepared with fresh and healthy ingredients and are perfect for people who want to maintain a healthy diet.

What are the differences between Chinese lunch habits and other Asian countries?

Chinese lunch habits are similar to other Asian countries in terms of the types of dishes and cooking techniques used. However, there are some differences:

  • Chinese lunch dishes are usually spicy and influenced by the Sichuan style of cooking, which is known for its use of chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.
  • Chinese lunch dishes are often prepared using ancient cooking techniques, such as steaming and boiling, which help to maintain the natural flavors and nutrients of the ingredients.
  • Chinese lunch dishes are often served in large portions, which is a reflection of the Chinese culture of sharing food with others.
  • Chinese lunch dishes are often accompanied by tea, which is considered an important part of the meal and helps to aid digestion.

What are some of the most famous Chinese lunch dishes?

China has a wide variety of lunch dishes to choose from, but some of the most famous ones include:

  • Kung Pao Chicken: This is a spicy stir-fry dish made with chicken, peanuts, and vegetables.
  • Mapo Tofu: This is a spicy Sichuan dish made with tofu, minced meat, and chili bean paste.
  • Hot Pot: This is a communal dish where people cook raw meat, vegetables, and noodles in a boiling pot of soup.
  • Xiaolongbao: These are steamed dumplings filled with meat and soup.
  • Fried Rice: This is a simple dish made with rice, eggs, and vegetables.

What are some of the essential elements of Chinese lunch culture?

Chinese lunch culture is rich and diverse, but some of the essential elements include:

  • Sharing: Chinese people love to share food with others, and lunch is a perfect time to do so.
  • Balance: Chinese lunch dishes are often designed to provide a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Convenience: Chinese lunch dishes are often quick and easy to prepare, making them perfect for people who work or have busy schedules.
  • Tradition: Chinese lunch dishes are often prepared using traditional cooking techniques and ingredients, which reflect the rich history and culture of China.
  • Material: The material used in Chinese lunch culture is often simple and affordable, making it accessible to a wide range of people.

Exploring the Creative and Nutritious Japanese Lunch Tradition

In Japan, a typical lunch is called teishoku, which means a set meal. It is served hot and usually includes miso soup, rice, a main dish, and some vegetable sides. The main dish can be beef, fish, or fried chicken, and it is often roasted or served in a curry sauce. The vegetable sides can be served cold or hot, and they are always plentiful.

Healthy Options and Nutritional Balance

Japanese lunch menus are designed to provide a balanced and healthy meal. Nutritionists work with schools and restaurants to create menus that include a variety of food groups and seasonal vegetables. Salads and green vegetables are common, and small servings of meat or fish are included for protein.

Creative and Seasonal Menus

Japanese lunch menus change with the seasons, and chefs often get creative with their dishes. In the spring, for example, cherry blossom rice balls are a popular option. In the summer, cold noodles and chilled soups are common. In the fall, roasted vegetables and hearty stews are served.

Lunch Options for Students

In Japan, school lunch is a big deal. Students eat together in their classrooms, and the meals are prepared by a team of cooks. The lunches are designed to be healthy and nutritious, but also appealing to children. Milk is served in a small glass, and the meals are often served in bento boxes with cute designs.

Overall, the Japanese lunch tradition is focused on providing a healthy and balanced meal that is also delicious and creative. With a variety of options and a focus on seasonal and fresh ingredients, it’s no wonder that the Japanese are known for their nutritious and satisfying lunches.

The Korean Lunch Tradition: A Guide to the Impressive and Unique Main Dishes

Food plays a significant role in Korean culture, and lunch is no exception. Koreans take pride in their local and traditional dishes, which are often designed to present a wide variety of flavors and ingredients. The lunch tradition in Korea is a reflection of the country’s history, geography, and people.

The Main Dishes

Korean lunch is typically a simple affair, with one main dish and several side dishes. The main dish is usually a type of grilled or picked meat, with beef being the most popular choice. Koreans love their beef, and the cuts available are wide and impressive. Some of the most iconic Korean beef dishes include bulgogi, galbi, and samgyeopsal.

Vegetables and Rice

Vegetables also play a significant role in Korean lunch tradition. Different types of vegetables are available depending on the season and the region, resulting in a vast array of dishes. Some of the most popular vegetable dishes include kimchi, japchae, and banchan. Rice is also an essential part of the Korean lunch, and it is often stored in traditional rice farms.

The Influence of Chinese Cuisine

Korean lunch tradition has been influenced by Chinese cuisine, resulting in unique styles and dishes. For example, jajangmyeon is a popular Korean-Chinese dish made with black bean sauce and noodles.

The Hot Leaf Guide

One unique feature of Korean lunch tradition is the hot leaf guide. This is a leaf that is designed to help people eat hot foods without burning their mouths. The leaf is placed on the tongue, and it helps to cool down the food before it is swallowed.

The Love for Tradition

Koreans take pride in their lunch tradition, and many people have tried to preserve it by creating traditional dishes using local materials. The lunch tradition in Korea is an entire experience, meant to be savored and enjoyed with family and friends.

The Filipino Lunch Tradition: A Nutritious and Flavorful Affair

Filipino lunch is a diverse and flavorful experience that consists of a variety of dishes served with rice, the staple food of the country. A typical lunch in the Philippines usually includes a mixture of meat, fish, and vegetables, all cooked with different ingredients and sauces. Some of the most famous dishes served during lunchtime are:

  • Adobo: a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and black pepper, topped with boiled egg and served with rice
  • Sinigang: a sour soup made with tamarind or calamansi, fish, meat, or pork, and vegetables
  • Lumpia: a Filipino version of spring rolls, filled with meat or vegetables and served with a sweet and sour sauce
  • Pancit: a stir-fried noodle dish with vegetables, meat, or seafood
  • Roasted chicken or pork: served with rice and a special sauce made with soy sauce, sugar, and calamansi
  • Ube: a purple yam that is widely produced in the Philippines and used in various desserts and pastries

The Unique Ingredients and Produce

The Philippines is primarily an agricultural country, which means that a lot of the ingredients used in Filipino cuisine are locally produced. Some of the unique ingredients used in Filipino lunch dishes include:

  • Calamansi: a small citrus fruit that is used as a souring agent in many dishes
  • Sticky rice: a type of rice that is steamed and has a sticky texture, often used in desserts and snacks
  • Lush greens and vegetables: the Philippines is known for its lush produce, including various types of leafy greens and vegetables that contribute to the nutritious aspect of Filipino lunch
  • Beef and pork: these meats are commonly used in Filipino lunch dishes, often marinated and cooked with soy sauce and other spices to add flavor

The Different Versions and Special Presentations

Filipino lunch dishes come in different versions and special presentations, depending on the occasion and the restaurant. Some of the special presentations include:

  • Bento boxes: a Japanese-inspired lunch box that consists of rice, meat, and vegetables, often served in small portions
  • Half plate: a serving size that is smaller than a full plate, often preferred by those who want to try different dishes
  • Priceless memories: Filipino lunch is not just about the food, but also about the memories and experiences shared with family and friends

The Contribution to the Filipino Culture and Health

Filipino lunch tradition is not without its controversies, as it has been blamed for contributing to the obesity cases among the elderly population. However, refining the lunch tradition to make it more nutritious and balanced is an ongoing effort. Filipino lunch dishes are not only delicious but also nutritious, as they include a variety of vegetables, fish, and lean meat. Moreover, Filipino lunch tradition is a way of preserving the country’s unique culture and heritage, making it accessible to everybody regardless of their social status.


So that’s how lunch is a big part of the culture in many Asian countries. It’s a quick and easy way to get some energy into your body. You can enjoy it with friends and family, and it’s a great way to unwind from a long day. So don’t be afraid to try some new dishes! You might just discover your new favorite food!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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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.