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Chinese Food & Cuisine

Chinese Food

Chinese people began to cook staple foods and dishes in the New Stone Age 5,000 to 6000 years ago. When it comes to food, the Chinese have a common saying, "The masses regard food as their heaven," which means that food is people's primal want. It should clearly justify the importance that "eating" holds in Chinese people's lives. Eating is not just meant to fill the stomach; having food at one's disposal, being able to consume a good amount of food, and knowing what and how to eat are all viewed as a good" fortune." Those who promote food culture often use the words of Chinese philosopher Confucius," diet and lovemaking, all primal needs of every human being," finding an aspiring and positive thought basis for such an epicurean lifestyle. There's probably not another place in this world that has as great a variety of delicious fate as China. The Chinese, who see eating as a fortune and life as an art, not only created various kinds of regional food styles in its own vast lands, but have also spread Chinese food culture to far across the seas.


Chinese Cuisine

It is a too exaggerated saying that Chinese people will eat anything and everything that moves, and no part of an animals or plant is wasted and their cookery is famine cooking. Indeed Chinese survival from famine or no abundance life in the long past helped them enrich their cookery, which contributed something to the variety of Chinese food. Many people who go to China expect a marvelous banquet to be available on every street corner. There is indeed a lot of excellent food available in China, some fascinating culinary exotica but it's in limited supply, in Canton, Shanghai, Beijing and Guilin. Chinese cookery methods formed in the Shang Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago. Yi Yin, a prime minister of the Shang Dynasty, was the forefather of Chinese culinary art. "On Original Tastes," a section of Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals, recorded Yi Yin's profound understanding of cooking techniques in ancient china. It was also the earliest culinary treatise in the world. "On Original Tastes" includes detailed, pertinent description of such cooking matters as ingredients, species, heat nourishment and hygiene.


The vastness of China's geography and history echoes through the polyphony of Chinese cuisine. Chinese cookery developed and matured over the centuries and entered its heyday in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Qing cuisine is characterized by its large scale and meticulous cooking techniques. Most famous are the Qing and Han Royal Feast, Thousand-Elderly Banquet and Confucius Mansion Banquet.


Now, a variety of cuisines have formed out of different local products, climates, traditions and eating habits. Chinese food and drinks are featured by local cuisines. Each local cuisine has its own characteristics. To begin, it is best to divide Chinese cuisine, with all the appropriate disclaimers and caveats, into that of four major regions: the northern plains, the fertile east, watered by the Yangtze River; the south, famous for the Cantonese cooking of the Guangdong Province; and the fecund west of Szechwan and Hunan Provinces. Thus Chinese cuisine as a whole is divided into four major schools – Shandong, Sichuan, Huaiyang and Guangdong. These can be expanded into eight – Shandong, Sichuan, Yangzhou, Guangdong, Hunan, Fujian, Anhui, and Zhejiang. Sometime Beijing and Shanghai cuisines are added.


Beijing and Shandong food comes from one of the coldest parts of China and uses heaps of spices and chilli to warm the body up. Bread and noodles are often used instead of rice. Beijing is capital of the country. As it is a cultural melting pot, traces of Muslim, Mongolian and Manchurian influences can be seen, and indeed it was the Manchu Dynasty which instituted the tradition of Imperial food, with its famous three-day feasts. Peking food is elegant and exotic, with subtle, delicate seasonings and is often barbecued, deep-fried or cooked in chafing dishes. The chief specialty is Beijing Duck, eaten with pancake and plum sauce. Another chicken specialty is Veggar's Chicken, supposedly created by a beggar who stole the emperor's chicken and then had to bury it in the ground to cook it –the dish is wrapped in lotus leaves and baked all day in hot ashes.


Some good Beijing dishes: chicken or pork with soya-bean sauce; bean curd with pepper sauce; fried shredded beef with chilli sauce; stewed mixed vegetables; barbecued chicken; fried shrimp eggs and pork pancakes. Another speciality is Mongolian barbecue – assorted barbe3cued meats and vegetables mixed in a hotpot. Birds' nest soup is a speciality of Shandong cooking, as is sweet and sour Yellow River carp. The latter is served singed on the outside but tender inside.


Shanghainese and Jiangzhenese, referred as Huaiyang in the past, food is noted for its use of seafoods. It's heavier and oilier than either Beijing or Cantonese, and uses lots of chilli and spices. Eels are also popular and so is drunken chicken—the bird cooked in shaoshing a potent Chinese wine which tastes a bit like warm sherry. Other things to try are Tientsin cabbage, some of the cold meat and sauce dishes, ham and melon soup, bean curd and brown sauce, braised meat balls, deep-fried chicken, and pork rib with salt and pepper. Jiangzhe cooking specializes in poultry and seafood, and the dishes are cooked in their own juices to preserve their original flavor.


Sichuan is the hottest of the four categories and is characterized by heavy use of spices and peppers. Specialties include frogs' legs and smoked duck; the duck is cooked in peppercorns, marinated in wine for 24 hours, covered in tea leaves and cooked over a charcoal fire. Other dishes to try are shrimps with salt and garlic; dried chilli beef; vegetables and bean curd; bears' paws braised in brown sauce; fish in spicy bean sauce and aubergines in garlic.


Cantonese is southern Chinese cooking—lots of steaming, boiling and stir-frying. Canton is, perhaps, the most famous of the food areas. It's the best of the bunch if you're worried about cholesterol and coronaries, as it uses the least amount of oil. It's lightly cooked and not as highly spiced as the other three. Long, warm, wet days throughout the year create the perfect environment for cultivating most everything. The coast provides ample seafood; the groves are filled with fruits. Lots of seafood, vegetables, roast pork, chicken, steamed fish and fried rice.


Culinary Exotica Guilin is the place to go for strange animals; anteaters, pangolins (a sort of Chinese armadillo), cats, owls, monkeys and snakes can be found in cages outside several restaurants on the main street. Headless skinned and roasted dogs are quite a common sight in many of the markets in China. Turtles, tortoises, toads and frogs can be found in abundance in Canton. If you like seafood then the coastal towns of Shantou, Xiamen and Guangzhou will stuff you full of prawns, squid and octopus. One of the stranger Chinese delicacies is pig faces; having removed the meat from the head, pour hot tar over the pig's face and wait until dry. Then peel the tar off, removing the hair and leaving the skin intact. The skin is then used as an ingredient in soup. Live rat embryos are a southern delicacy from Guizhou Province, I believe-and really I don't know whether this one is true or whether someone just made it up. The dish is nicknamed the 'three squeals' since the embryo squeals when you pick it up with your chopsticks, once again when you dip it in Soya sauce, and finally when you put it in your mouth…


Tea is probably the most commonly served brew in China. Tea is available in tea house around city and towns, and is frequently used to cater to guest at home by Chinese people. One of the interesting brands of tea in China is the 'Silver Needle Tea' which is grown on the island of Junshan in Dongting Lake in Hunan Province. The tea is supposed to stand upright in the water like tiny needles and emit a delicate fragrance, though the stuff I had wallowed around on its back or sank to the bottom.

Beer is probably the next most popular drink, and by any standards it's great stuff. The best-known is Tsingtao made with a mineral water which gives it its sparkling flavor. Local brews are found in all the major cities of China and are of varying quality but almost always very good. (Chinese women, by the way, don't drink or smoke, but it's considered permissible for western women).

At the bars in the town and city, beer, coca cola, coffee, milk are generally available. Fizzy soft drinks are available everywhere; they're also locally brewed, manufactured in backyards by entrepreneurs who mix together a bit of artificial coloring and flavoring with bicarbonate-of –soda.


China is plagued by innumerable local wines and spirits; the sort of thing they run tanks on. the Dynasty whit-wine is produced near Tianjin in conjunction with the French company Remy Martin. Hejie Jiu is 'lizard wine' and is produced in the southern province of Guangxi; each bottle contains one dead lizard floating perpendicularly in the clear liquid. Mao tai is a favorite of the Chinese. It's a spirit made from sorghum (a type of millet) and is used for toasts at banquets. You can get drunk very quickly on this stuff – personally I like it, though it's probably what methylated spirits taste like.


Getting fresh fruit is not a problem in China. Good quality oranges, mandarins and bananas are commonly sold in the street markets, but good fresh fruit is much easier to get in south than that in north of China. Good watermelons are sold all over China, and there is good fruit ( oranges, pineapples, bananas, lychees and longyans) along the south-east coast, but other than that there is a little limited to seasons. Lychees and longyans come into season around April to August. The lychee and longyan are evergreen tree grown mainly in Guangdong, Fujian and Guangxi; the fruit of the tree is called the lychee nut which has reddish colored skin enclosing a jelly-like pulp filled with sweet, milky juice. Canned and bottled fruit is readily available everywhere, in the department stores and food stores and is also sold in the dining cars on the trains.


Chopsticks in China are blunt at the end, unlike those in Japan which are pointed. Most public restaurants and privately-run restaurants use wooden chopsticks. Some people think that the wooden chopsticks are unhealthy, harboring dirt in the cracks that may be a source of hepatitis and they buy their own chopsticks rather than using the restaurant's. plastic chopsticks are commonly sold in China.

The best way to master chopsticks is to be hungry in a place where there are no knives and forks; hopefully the following diagrams will help; Don't worry about making mess on the table – everyone does. If you want to, raise the bowl right up to your lips and shovel in the rice – this is how the Chinese eat so don't be embarrassed, though it will probably take a lot of practice to master the shoveling process.

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