Variety is the key to Chinese food. Over the ages, geography and climate have played a major role in the evolution of China”s markedly different cooking styles, with recipes varying according to regional preferences and the availability of fresh, local ingredients.
Chinese Cooking Different Styles
Defining the various types of Chinese food and regional cooking styles is a subject of much culinary debate that continues to defy even experts on Chinese cuisine. The general consensus, however, is that Chinese food and cooking styles can be divided into four main regional categories:
- eastern China and the Yangtze River area
- the northern region including Beijing
- the south including Guangdong Province, famous for its Cantonese Chinese food
- the western region, covering the Sichuan and Hunan Provinces.
Chinese Cooking: Recommended Regional Dishes
Northern China has hot, dry summers and freezing cold winters. Rice cannot grow in such a climate, so the staple grain is wheat. Noodles made from wheat constitute a large part of a northern Chinese diet. Steamed dishes are also popular.If you find yourself in the north, try:
- Beijing duck
- braised spare ribs in soy sauce
- egg and tomato soup
- steamed bread and pancakes
- steamed crab
- stewed pork with rice noodles.
Eastern-style food is a nice blend of rice and noodles. The defining characteristic of most Eastern cooking is the liberal use of sugar, and not just in desserts. Eastern China is also famous for its red cooking, where meat is slowly simmered in soy sauce to impart a reddish tinge.Look for specialties of the region including:
- cold spiced beef
- fried crab with salty egg
- pigeon in wine sauce
- quick-fried freshwater shrimp
- Shanghai dumplings
- smoked fresh yellow fish.
Cantonese-style cooking is the most popular style served in the United States, and for good reason. With their subtle use of sauces, Cantonese chefs can stir-fry, roast and steam anything. The Cantonese are also the originators of dim sum, which literally means “touch the heart.”Recommended regional dishes include:
- barbecued pork
- deep-fried shrimp
- pork and shrimp dumplings
- rice-flour rolls with shrimp or pork filling
- spare ribs
- spring rolls.
Originally, traders journeying along the Silk Road heavily influenced the cuisine in the landlocked province of Sichuan. But, ultimately, the chefs in the Sichuan province developed a unique style of cooking that makes liberal use of various peppers and spices.Sichuan cooking is famous for its hot, spicy, chili-based dishes including:
- chicken with chili
- eggplant in hot fish sauce
- hot and sour soup
- pork slices in chili and spicy noodles
- tofu with pork in a spicy sauce
- spicy fish and cabbage soup.
Dim sum is a Cantonese term used to describe bite-sized delicacies. Dim sum has its origins in Cantonese-style cooking and relies for on top-quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients its flavor.Typical dim sum offerings might include a wide variety of seasonal ingredients, particularly fresh seafood, steamed or deep fried, such as:
- deep-fried egg rolls with various fillings
- mild peppers stuffed with a shrimp filling
- morsels of steamed shrimp
- pork dumplings
- taro-root dumplings.
Chinese Food: The Importance of Colors
Authentic Chinese food has a fine reputation worldwide for satisfying the senses as well as the appetite. Top-notch Chinese food is designed to tempt the taste buds with its delicate balance of colors, subtle flavors, textures and exquisite presentation.A closely guarded secret among Chinese chefs is the capacity of color to sway the senses. A perfectly presented entre, for example, will consist of at least three or more different food colors for the main ingredient alone, with additional, contrasting colors for the garnish and other ingredients. The same rules apply to the remaining courses and various accompaniments.
Medicinal Chinese Food
The Chinese commonly consume certain foods for medicinal purposes. Medicinal Chinese recipes consist of fresh herbs and other quality ingredients, prepared according to the methods used by traditional Chinese herbalists.
Did You Know That…
Did you know that soy sauce, the popular accompaniment for Chinese food, is possibly the oldest condiment known to mankind? Produced from soya beans, soy sauce was originally made from fish and game juices.
Proper Etiquette for Eating Chinese Food
Why use chopsticks instead of a knife and fork for eating Chinese food? The answer lies in the history and culture of a nation influenced by the moral principles of Confucius, the ancient philosopher who abhorred any form of violence.In modern day terms, a knife and fork symbolize weapons of violence and are therefore eschewed in favor of less offensive wooden chopsticks. Moral issues aside, one might also argue that the more leisurely process of eating Chinese food using chopsticks serves to enhance the flavor of the food and the whole dining experience.
Tips for Using Chopsticks
Use one stick as an anchor and the other to pick up pieces of food. Proper etiquette dictates that you always hold your chopsticks near the top third of the sticks. Keep in mind that waving chopsticks around while eating is also frowned upon in polite Chinese society. Last but not least: Never leave your chopsticks standing in your bowl, it”s considered a death omen.