Why is there no cheese in Chinese food?

I’ve always wondered why when I go to a Chineese take out or restaurant there is no cheese in the dishes or food for that matter. Why is this? With the Chinese culture being one of the oldest in the world, you’d think they would use cheese or even have invented it. Can someone explain?

Cheese is unknown in Chinese cookery. I have just reviewed the entries for both Cheese and Chinese in Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food. to confirm this. Yet neither essay mentions this remarkable omission.

Supposedly, the civilizations of Mongolia were based upon raw (horse) meat and raw (horse) milk. The Chinese rejected both as uncivilized. (I would point out the Mongols captured and ruled much of China, so take that with a grain of salt.)

In any case. The Chinese ain’t got no cheese.

Were cows or goats around in ancient China? Waterbuffalo or Yak cheese? Eesh!

A friend of mine from Taiwan once told me that milk products are rare in China, and that many Chinese people are lactose intolerant. When she first came to the U.S., she ate a cube of cheese, thinking it was tofu. She said it was the vilest thing she ever tasted (this from someone who eats “stinky tofu” and “hundred-year-old eggs”). She eventually did learn to like ice cream.

Well the Chinese horoscope doesn’t have a “year of the ox” for nothing. Yeah, cattle have a history in China dating back millenia. So that’s not the issue.

What do you think mozarella is?
BTW, the cultural bias against dairy products is rapidly dying in China and it had a dairy herd about 1/4 the size of the US herd last I heard.

Lactose intolerance comes from not eating dairy products as an adult. The little buggies in your tum-tum that break down lactose die off if they are not fed. It is not genetic.

Another ‘reason’ for avoiding dairy is the thought that it is baby-food.

(It is of minor interest that the Romans also did not have dairy foods.)

From China’s Growing Market for Dairy Products:

In response to the OP, it is a lot of factors. A high rate of lactose intolerance is chief among them, but also just the lack of a cultural history involving cheese and milk. Cow milk wasn’t really introducted until the 20th century. Also the climate and transportation systems aren’t particularly suited to dairies.

But, while its true that dairy products are more or less absent in traditional Chinese cooking, contemporary Chinese cooking does include them from time to time. I was at a great restaurant in Guilin (not a tourist restaurant by any means) that served a sort of cheesy version of traditional "bing"s or fried bready foods. They weren’t super-popular because of the aforementioned lactose intolerance, but a lot of people are overcoming that – what with all the McDonald’s and all. Soft serve ice cream is incredibly popular all over China.

The posts so far seem to support the idea that cheese production would be low since, historically, cheese was made to deal with surplus dairy products and find a way to “preserve” dairy products over a longer period of time. It would seem that the limited amount of dairy products that make it to market in China are consumed “fresh” thus not leaving much for cheese production.

Anedcote: saw this on an episode of Iron Chef (yeah, Japanese not Chinese, I know…but they often have Chinese chefs so it’s close enough…)

The theme was lobster. Iron Chef Sakai made grilled lobsters on the half-shell, SMOTHERED in cheese. Like, extra-cheese-pizza cheesy. It looked yummy! But as soon as he dumped the cheese on, the announcers freaked. They were screaming, “Oh my goodness!” and “I would never eat that!” and “What on earth is he thinking?” The tasters were similarly bewildered, but a couple of them did seem to like it.

So yeah…Chinese cheese is like American fish sperm. :smiley:

The anthropologist Marvin Harris has a book called *The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig *, in which he discusses the question of why Asians don’t eat dairy, why Americans don’t as a rule eat horses, how beef became our favorite meat, why some cultures are cool with eating dogs and others find this unthinkable, etc. I read it a long time ago and don’t have it at hand, so I can’t remember how he answers your question, but I know there’s a chapter in there that’s devoted to precisely this question, from a cultural anthropologist angle. I do remember that he says (or quotes someone as saying) that to many Asians, drinking a big tall glass of milk is about as appealing as drinking a big ol’ glass of saliva.

Then how do kids manage to be lactose intolerant?

What I want to now is why there’s no cheese in the cheese and ham sandwiches they serve here. It’s always Kraft “cheese”. (Have they entered into an exclusive partnership with Canadians?) No ham either, come to that. Just a rubbery oblong thing that died by drowning.

Bread isn’t much cop either…

Lactose intolerance certainly is genetic. And if you look at the history of humans, you will find that intolerance among adults is the norm.

However, there’s a fairly common mutation that occurs in all populations to some extent that causes people to keep producing lactase into adulthood. In societies that consumed milk products, this mutation was advantageous especially during famines, so after a number of centuries it became more common in those societies to be lactose tolerant. Think of it as evolution in action.

Soy and tofu replace milk and cheese in most Chinese cooking. There is something that is pretty akin to cheese (well, stinky cheese) and that is fuyu, which is salted and fermented tofu. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but is quite tasty once you get used to it. Then there is also stinky tofu, which is absolutely ghastly. I’ve walked by stores that make and sell this stuff and the smell is enough to make you retch! But some people love it the way others love Limburger cheese.

I am humbled by the Dopers about Lactose Intolerance.

It indisputably is genetic. As dtilque has pointed out it’s the norm in adult humans and other animals and is designed to assist in weaning. Some human populations are mutants with defective genes so the lactose intolerance kicks in much later and more slowly than it should should. The degree to which that occurs varies with populations and individuals, but in most populations there is a steady increase in lactose intolerance with age.

The gut flora for the most part play no role in digesting lactose. Indeed most of the problems associated with lactose intolerance such as cramping, wind and flatulence occur because intolerant people have a healthy flora that digests lactose and produces gas as a result. Lactose tolerant people don’t suffer those symptoms because the microbes never have a chance to digest the lactose.

The Romans had a long standing menu of dairy products including milk and cheeses. Honey or mead sweetened milk was a norm at many banquets but the common country people also indulged in milk whenever possible. In fact most Roman people would have consumed far more dairy products than meat in their lifetimes. The Romans even had a God of dairy cattle and dairy products

lhovis73 -

Thanks for the heads up on that book.

I’m not the OP, but that sounds fascinating. I’ll have to pick it up.

I re-read Davidson. You are correct, the Romans (and the Greeks) did have cheese during the Classical Period.

I suspect I am having one of those days when everything I know is wrong. :smiley:

I’m told that selling milk in Japan is extremely tricky because the Japanese typically do not buy milk that is more than a day or two old. They seem to to be much more concerned with freshness than we are on that score.