If your answer is rice, you'd be mostly right.
While we frequently think of rice as the staple grain in Chinese cuisine, in Northern China, other grains such as wheat, millet, and maize are just as common.
As my father told me about mid-1950's life in rural Shandong, China, I was shocked and fascinated to hear that where he was from, "Only rich people ate rice. Poor people ate corn, and very poor people ate...sweet potatoes". Every house owned a mill where the family would grind their corn into porridges, breads and polenta-like foods.
I talked with an older Chinese American man at a talk recently. He told me that a lot of people of his generation would avoid certain foods (such as corn) because they served as a reminder of lean times and monotonous foods eaten solely for survival. I told him my father probably felt the same way for a very long time. Lately though, he has been interested in experimenting. He and my mom remembered a food they ate as children and have been trying to recreate - it was some sort of cornbread, smoother than our Southern American cornbreads, with a finer grind and perhaps a more glutinous feel. Definitely less sweet. I suppose enough time as gone by that the curiosity of the foodies inside of them think it would be a fun challenge to recreate this bread.
Northern Chinese cuisine is also known for wheat flour based foods - dumplings, steamed buns, breads and noodles.
While we may think that any Chinese dish would naturally be served alongside a small bowl of rice, it doesn't even make an appearance in many of the cuisines of China! (photo credit: Sarah Culver)
I'm Wendy Kiang-Spray, gardener, home cook, and author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden. Learn more about the book here. Enjoy the blog and be sure to like The Chinese Kitchen Garden Facebook page for notifications when there are new posts.