Introduction to Hakka Food Culture

Extract from the Hakka food culture courses of the Hakka Internet College


I. Culture and food


i) What is culture?

According to the definition of the core of culture proposed by American culturists Kroeber and Kluckhohn, culture can be divided into four parts: lifestyle, patterns of thought, patterns of behavior and the concept of value hidden among the former three. These four parts constitute all aspects of culture.


ii) How is culture represented? What are the methods?

1) Cultural specialties are represented by music, painting, literature, pottery and dance etc. Therefore, the represented content and forms may be different from other foreign cultures and form their own uniqueness. These are the cultures representing the system.

2) It is represented by the conventions or norms abided by families or the whole of society, e.g. customs or those norms of the clan or disciplines of the family formed by various communities or families, and the law, ethics, outlook on living, outlook on life, outlook on love and attitudes towards religion etc. These types of norms need a long time to accumulate and are abided by people living in this culture. These are the cultures regulating the system.

3) It is represented by the combination of the above two cultural specialties and social norms, e.g. the language of an ethnic origin. The expression of language has a certain order and cannot be changed randomly. Also, its language is usually the representation of the ethnic origin’s cultural specialties. Another example is the culture of food. Take the example of Hakka. Only those dishes made with Hakka’s special ingredients and cooked using their methods are Hakka’s dishes. This is a norm that must be abided by. Also, the Hakka ethnic origins represent the features of Hakka life and cultural specialties in its combination of ingredients and by the dishes.


iii) Food culture’s position in culture

The culture of food occupies the most basic and most important position in the cultural system, and the importance of this position is the most difficult to change. For example, when people become older and older, they wants to eat the food that they used to eat when they were a child more and more and they miss the taste of the food they used to eat when they were young. For Hakka people, this taste is the Hakka taste. Therefore, the soul of the food culture is the ingredients and the cooking methods, which are also the most basic, most difficult part to change in the food culture. For example, for Hakka stir-fried large intestine, the intestine cannot be washed too thoroughly, because if it is, the intestine will lose its original, special favor. Another example, for Hakka stir-fried pork, once you see the dish or you taste the dish, you will know whether it is a Hakka dish or not. Here you see the stability of the food culture’s position in the cultural system. In other words, if the food culture was to break up or mix with other cultures then it would be the collapse of the cultural system.


II. Factors forming the Hakka food culture


i) Environmental background and conditions: Hakka is a migrating ethnic origin. The tough living environment has given them the characteristic of using local materials, for eating fish when near the sea and for eating mountain products when near the mountains. On top of that, because hard work requires abundant physical strength and the replenishment of energy they have to consider preserving food for a long time therefore the Hakka food is known for being salty, aromatic and full of fat.

ii) Influence of traditional concepts: apart from the above being aromatic, oily, salty, well-cooked and year old etc due to the conceptual influence of their background, the Hakka people also have traditional food taboos, e.g. ingredients of cold or hot property and beef are usually not eaten.

iii) Influence of other dietary habits: for example, the influence of beef noodles, peppers or fast food culture.

iv) Changes in ingredients and cooking equipment: for example, the entry of flour and coffee into the market and the changes in cooking methods caused by the changes in cooking equipment. E.g. using ovens to cook chicken and using microwaves to heat dishes etc.


III. Comparison of Hakka and Holo food cultures:

i) Ingredients are different: most Hakka people used to live in hilly regions, therefore the ingredients they use are mostly hill products, e.g. taking sweet potatoes as the staple food accompanied with rice and corn etc. Holo people mostly use taro as the staple food, accompanied rice. Other special ingredients in Hakka regions also include bird nest fern, toon, bamboo shoots etc.

ii) Dietary habits are different: Hakka people use “table” as the unit for creating dishes, while Holo people give priority to carefully-made dim sums and snacks, such as the well-known snack culture in the central and in the south etc. Because Hakka people are mainly laborers, Hakka dishes are mainly dishes that are filling; Hakka people have more free time, therefore they mainly develop delicate dishes.

iii) The tastes of dishes are different: Hakka people mainly make dishes with one taste (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter), stressing one original and simple taste, while Holo dishes mainly have multiple tastes, e.g. sweet and salty, sweet and sour etc, and stress the variety of flavoring agents. Hakka dishes are mainly salty and have a strong taste, whereas Holo dishes have a light taste. Also, Hakka dishes have developed to be mainly dry and portable food to take into consideration the convenience carrying and preserving, while the Holo food has quite a lot of processing of sauces and soups.

iv) The Holo diet is more influenced by the Japanese diet compared to the Hakka diet.


IV. Features of the traditional Hakka food:


i) Obtaining ingredients locally: the inconvenience of traveling helps to form their unique food features, and different Hakka regions also have differences in food. However, the ingredients they use are mostly those that can be preserved for a long time, e.g. sour pickled cabbage, fermented mustard and dried bamboo shoots.

ii) The cooking is simple: to save cooking time and expense, Hakka’s ingredients and cooking methods are quite simple with no extra changes.

iii) Aromatic, oily, salty and cooked with year old ingredients: this is Hakka food’s representative feature. Because the ingredients are simple, they have various aromas. To maintain energy for working, the food is oily. To supply the salt needed for working, the food is salty. Also the food is mainly cooked very well-done, and often uses year old ingredients.


V. Future development of the Hakka food


i) Tradition and innovation taking steps together:

1) For the four features (aromatic, oily, salty, well-cooked), the parts which are salty and oily should follow the healthy trend of modern life and bring about some innovation and improvement, but the innovation should be made by maintaining the traditional features.

2) For the use of ingredients in Hakka dishes, apart from maintaining the special ingredients responding to their lifestyle from the past, natural and seasonal ingredients should also be used to suit modern life.

3) Strengthen the research of traditional Hakka recipes and food culture and encourage the innovation and research of Kaka dishes.


ii) The industry and culture taking steps together: The preservation of the Hakka food should not only depend on family inheritance but also commercial operation. Let cultural inheritance and commercial systems work together and take the culture as the foundation for the marketing of the food industry.