We recently hunted down a Chinese restaurant while in Italy. I spent the first 20 years of my life in Malaysia, whose cuisine and culture are heavily influenced by China, and sometimes you just need food that reminds you of home even if you're traveling through a land overflowing with its own excellent cuisine.
As I read through the menu below, I was struck (again) by the similarities between China and Italy.
The food is the largest and most obvious example. Noodles are dominant in both Italian and (northern) Chinese cooking, acting as the backbone of nearly every meal. Beyond that, both cultures also emphasize the use of fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients - the key to creating the tastiest dish is to use the freshest ingredients possible, which almost always means choosing from local and seasonal options. (Can you see why I am so excited to be making fresh pasta from local ingredients?)
Both China and Italy are food-centric cultures. By comparison, does Finland make you think of food? Does Bulgaria? England? But go to any city in the world and you are likely to find Italian and Chinese restaurants. In both countries, eating is a key part of the day, with Italians and Chinese relishing their meals, not just getting through them.
China and Italy are so proud of their food that they have "exported" it across the planet. And nowadays in many major American cities you'll even find Italian-Chinese fusion restaurants serving dishes like miso-ricotta ravioli or gnocchi-inspired rice cakes with ragu sauce.
That embrace of eating is intimately tied to the value of family and relationships in both places. The stereotype of the large, loud, ever-talking Italian family crammed around a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs is based in the reality of warmth and welcome you find in any Italian home; it would be tough to decide which was more important, food or family, as they are so linked together.
A similar emphasis on family permeates Chinese culture as well. Although perhaps not quite as loud and effusive as the Italians, the Chinese hold parents, grandparents, and ancestors in the highest regard, with creates very tight bonds amongst generations of family. The honor and status of any individual is irrevocably linked to the family (which is much the same in Italy as well).
At the end of the day, we are all humans sharing this planet and in that sense we are all similar. But as I straddle these two cuisines and cultures - Italian and Chinese - on a daily basis, I am particularly attuned to noticing what they have in common.