Chinese cuisine is one of the most diverse and unique cuisines, nowhere in the world you will not find such a variety of products, flavors and spices.
China is a country with ancient history which is very different from the western countries. That’s why, China is dominated by specific cultural, literary and musical trends as well as its own culinary preferences and traditions.
Chinese cuisine Its variety and diversity are striking: taste preferences can vary greatly from province to province: in the North they prefer meat dishes, in the East – seafood, in the Centre – spicy, in the South – bland, and in the West cuisine is more similar to that of Central Asia.
For this reason, the concept of Chinese cuisine is not quite correct; it is divided into several major trends which differ from each other in products, sauces and spices, and cooking technology. In addition, in China there is a wider variety of flavors than in the West (there is such a concept as unleavened, golden, numbing Sichuan spicy and other flavors).
What is Chinese cuisine?
It should be clarified that there is no strict concept of Chinese cuisine. Dishes vary greatly from region to region, and sometimes from city to city and even village to village. Let’s list the main areas of Chinese cuisine:
Shandong Cuisine (Lu/ 鲁菜) is China’s most seafaring cuisine.
It is the cuisine of Shandong and Liaoning provinces. Due to the seaside nature of the region, a lot of seafood and fish and various soups are used here. From the taste characteristics one can distinguish a preference for original flavors of products with a minimum amount of spices and sauces. Fried and stewed dishes predominate. The most famous representatives of Shandong cuisine are squid in sweet and sour sauce, and sea cucumber with onions. Among specific dishes we can single out swallow’s nest products which are very expensive, as well as various delicacies made of shrimp with various greens added.
Sichuan cuisine (Chuan/ 川菜) is the spiciest cuisine in China.
It is common in Sichuan Province and in the Southwest of China. They are particularly spicy, and have their own taste of Mala 麻辣. The taste of Mala can be described as “a numbing spicy taste,” and is due to the use of a special Souchuan pepper. The foods used are fish, river crustaceans, meat, and mushrooms. The dishes are mostly boiled or stewed. The most famous dish of this cuisine is HotPot or Hogo (Chinese samovar). Spicy Mapo tofu and Gongbao chicken can also be considered a kind of trademark of this province.
Cantonese cuisine (Yue/ 粤菜) is the healthiest cuisine in China.
It is considered the healthiest and most natural cuisine in China, which preserves the natural flavor of foods. It is widespread in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. This cuisine is popular in the West since the majority of Chinese immigrants all over the world are from this region.
Because of its proximity to the sea, seafood and fish, plenty of vegetables and herbs, pork and poultry prevail here. Cantonese cuisine is characterized by an unleavened taste with little or no spices and minimal heat treatment; most dishes are steamed or stewed over a low heat. The most famous dishes of Cantonese cuisine include pork in sweet and sour sauce, dim sum, white chicken, braised pigeon, and oyster scrambled eggs.
Suzhou cuisine/ (Su/ 苏菜) is the most exquisite cuisine.
It is common in Jiangsu Province. The main ingredient here is river fish and the gifts of the Yellow Sea. Suzhou cuisine is mainly dominated by sweet flavors. In restaurants you can order a variety of fish soups, as well as carp, which is served with orange sauce.
The cuisine of Fujian Province (Min/ 闽菜) and the island of Taiwan.
It is also called Fujian, Minh or Hakka cuisine. The dishes here are characterized by a light flavor, which are prepared with the addition of rice wine. Various shellfish and seafood are used in the cooking process, including such exotic ones as shark fins, swim bladder fish, etc.
Northeast Chinese cuisine (东北菜) is the closest in taste to Russian cuisine.
It is common in Northeast China: Harbin, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, and is called Dunbei cuisine among our compatriots.
It is characterized by an abundance of meat dishes, potatoes, noodles, and dumplings. The dishes are dominated by salty and sweet flavors, and the only spices used are salt and pepper. Here you can find such familiar dishes as garlic sausage, dumplings, sauerkraut, sweet and sour pork and even cold cuts.
Chinese restaurants in Russia mostly cook just northeastern cuisine. We advise you to try meat in Gobaozhou batter, meat straw in fish sauce and stuffed eggplants.
Zhejiang cuisine (Zhejiang) is based on fish and rice.
River and sea fish are used in cooking and bamboo is added. The signature recipe is the so-called “chicken plutishka,” in the preparation of which the bird is wrapped in lotus leaves, then a layer of clay is applied to it and baked in an oven. 8. Hui dishes from Anhui province. Local recipes involve the use of medicinal plants and natural ingredients. The signature dish is the meat of a rare animal called civet, which is offered in boiled form.
The most common side dishes in this country are rice, followed by noodles and numerous flour products (pampushki, dumplings, etc.).
The most popular Chinese dishes
What to eat in China?
When going to China, many people are afraid that they won’t be able to eat anything there. We assure you that China has a lot of delicious dishes, and we’ll tell you about the ones that are very popular.
Peking duck / 北京烤鸭
This is a treat tourists should definitely try in China. The popular recipe is offered in many restaurants, but not everywhere is the duck cooked using the correct technique. The weight of a “correct” duck must reach 2.5 kg. The birds are raised on special farms. The quality of the meat depends on many factors, including the ingredients in the sauce and the type of wood on which the dish will be cooked. The poultry is roasted and then cut into 120 pieces in the presence of the restaurant guests. After that, the dish is poured with sweet sauce, garnished with onions and pancakes. Such a treat is ideal for a small company.
Hot Pot / 火锅
This is not really a dish, but rather a way of making and serving it. The Chinese are a friendly and hospitable people; they often get together in large groups. Chefs have invented the so-called “hot samovar,” that is, a combination of ingredients that are served with a cauldron, which has an element for heating. The cauldron contains broth with the products ordered by the restaurant visitor (for example, meat or fish). The ingredients are served raw, thinly sliced, and the guests themselves must boil the food. They are cooked rather quickly, but you should not be in too much of a hurry, especially when cooking seafood (otherwise you can be poisoned). One more delicacy: this way of serving this dish assumes the company of visitors, that is why this delicacy is not suitable for lonely guests.
Dim Sum / 点心
These are Chinese appetizers that are small dishes and are designed for just one bite. They are small dumplings, meat balls and other snacks that are served in steaming baskets or on a small plate. Dim Sum can be eaten with Chinese tea, a combination that is a traditional Cantonese breakfast. Many Chinese prefer to eat this dish at noon, at tea time – in the South, there is such a concept – afternoon tea (下午茶), which implies a snack of dim sum with green tea. As for the dumpling toppings, they can be different (meat, vegetables, shrimp, crab roe). Dim sums also include spring rolls,
Gongbao chicken 宫保鸡丁
Gongbao chicken is one of the most famous Chinese dishes in Western countries. It is finely chopped chicken with nuts (peanuts or cashews) with a special sauce, and sometimes with the addition of red pepper.
Wontons 云吞 and dumplings 饺子
Although dumplings are considered a truly Russian dish in Russia, this dish came to us from China more than 600 years ago and has already managed to become traditional. Wontons (in the south) and dumplings (in the north of China) were known 1,800 years ago and are considered a traditional Chinese dish. Dumplings in China are an obligatory dish for the New Year table, and wontons are traditionally eaten on the winter solstice.
As for dumpling fillings, there are more than a hundred of them in China: with pork, lamb, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, crabs, peanuts, corn, herbs, mushrooms and many other combinations. Wontons are usually made with meat or seafood and served with soup. In China, dumplings are made by boiling, frying, and steaming.
In eastern China, there is a variety of wontons – hundongs – as well as xiaolongbao – dumplings with broth inside steamed.
Pork in sweet and sour sauce (锅包肉/ 糖醋里脊)
An equally popular dish, both in China and in Russia and other countries, is pork in sweet and sour sauce. Moreover, there are several variations of this dish in China, in the north of China it is cooked in batter and called Gobaozhou 锅包肉, and in the south – Tan tsu liji 糖醋里脊. Dozens of variations of this dish from different types of meat and chicken have now appeared.
China is one of the oldest and most mysterious countries in the world with centuries-old traditions. National Chinese cuisine combines the culinary peculiarities of each of the 23 provinces of the country. Depending on the climate and geographical location of the region, the main ingredients in traditional dishes vary. It is said about the Chinese that they eat everything created by nature. This does not mean they are indifferent to their diet. The cuisine is so diverse that residents of the southern provinces, tasting the food of their northern neighbor, believe that they have taken a virtual trip to the north of the country.
A bit of history
China’s national cuisine has been evolving for more than 3 millennia. The first recipe book was compiled 1,500 years ago. Even back then, there were tea houses and eateries in the Celestial Empire. Chinese cuisine was formed under the influence of ancient Chinese philosophy. World-known Confucius dedicated his works to correct nutrition even in the IV-V centuries B.C. They became the basis of Confucian cuisine traditional for Shandong province.
Ordinary Chinese rarely ate their fill, so they used a wide variety of foods for cooking. Their main precept was the idea that there was no such thing as bad food, only bad cooks. Obligatory use of herbs, spices and vegetables with other products is a national feature of Chinese cuisine.
Balance of products creates three main characteristics of each dish: exquisite aroma (xiang), taste (wei), color (se). This condition is the basis for the art of cooking Chinese food.
Until recently, the cuisine of China was strictly class-based. The common people were not even aware of the products consumed by the nobility. Modern exotic recipes used everywhere in Chinese restaurants allow everyone to try them without exception.
- ramson (bear onion);
- dried fish;
- Haoliang (a plant of the cereal family that resembles corn);
- chumisa (head millet);
- cotton oil.
On the tables of the nobility there were absolutely original dishes of meat, seafood, exotic fruits, containing up to 30 different ingredients. Golden tea was intended only for the emperor’s table.
Peculiarities of Chinese cuisine
Despite the immense range of Chinese cuisine, there are certain rules of cooking, which are observed in all provinces. The Chinese treat food with respect, believing that it is served by Heaven . Eating is a national ritual observed for many centuries.
Important! According to Chinese canons, food can’t just be tasty, it must be healthy and even therapeutic.
Menu of holiday dinners includes up to 40 different items. Each guest is served a portion of rice in an individual bowl and chopsticks, other dishes are displayed on the table in common dishes. Great attention is paid to serving. All components of dishes are figuratively cut in the form of petals, straws, spikelets, skillfully laid out in the form of animals, plants and even small landscapes.
- All ingredients are cut in small pieces to eliminate the need for additional cutting during the meal.
- The dish should not have sharp variations in color.
- Dishes are cooked on an open fire for 1-2 minutes, firstly the spices are fried, which create the flavor of the dish.
- Herbs and spices are selected according to certain characteristics and added in a strict proportion.
It is very rare to see a whole product on a Chinese menu. Most often, it is a fish from which all the bones are carefully removed so as not to disturb the original shape. Every meal begins with a tea party. Green tea is served without sugar or milk. It is followed in sequence by cold appetizers, rice with gravy, rice wine, broths or soups, and tea with added butter. This order has long been recognized as ideal for digestion.
The Chinese sincerely don’t understand why cooked fish should smell like fish. Why should it be processed then? That’s why only in China can you find meat that smells like fish or has a fruity aroma. A real Chinese dish is never overly greasy or unleavened. Another national peculiarity is the slow meal, as a sign of respect for the food and the master of the house.
- Rice is equivalent to bread in the Celestial Empire and is appropriate at any time of the day.
- The soups are vegetable and flavorless meat broth (pork or chicken).
- Rice noodles (fen) or wheat noodles (meun). The former is common in the south, the latter in the north.
- Soy products (milk, cottage cheese), soy sauces are particularly popular in Chinese cuisine.
- Street snacks are a popular food among Chinese who like to eat out (steamed pies and meat and vegetable kebabs).
There is no “dessert” in China because sweet is meat, soup, and side dishes. At the end of dinner, the Chinese eat fresh fruit. Steamed cakes, fortune cookies, and mooncakes (yuebin) are popular among sweet dishes. In Chinese recipes, most sweets are steamed.
Interesting! There are 3 levels of traditional Chinese cooking: casual, festive, and ceremonial.
Casual is homemade, with affordable dishes of rice, meat, and vegetables with sauces. Festive dishes are served in local restaurants and feature varied and unique menus. Parade (Mandarin) – the cuisine of the Chinese nobility, served at official state receptions and in elite restaurants.
Eight dishes you must try in China
Chinese cuisine is conventionally divided into Northern and Southern cuisine. The dishes of the northern cuisine are distinguished by high fat content, presence of garlic and vinegar; doughy dishes (noodles, dumplings, pirozhki) are especially popular. In the South, spicy dishes with high content of bitter red pepper, various rice dishes prevail.
8 (considered by the Chinese as a lucky number, like the inverted sign of infinity) interesting dishes to try while in China:
- Swallow’s Nest Soup. – A Chinese delicacy made from salangan bird nests which use sea contents (fish roe, shellfish, seaweed).
Interesting! There are two versions of the origin of the dish. According to one, the recipe was brought from Taiwan to this country by the Chinese ambassador. According to the second one, the recipe was invented by Chinese soldiers who were blocked by Genghis Khan’s army on a rocky island where the only inhabitants were swallows hanging their nests in the rocks. The soldiers made soup from these nests so that they would not die of hunger. The soup turned out to be delicious and became a delicacy.
- Peking duck – A traditional dish of northeastern Beijing. It has a sweet golden brown crispy crust and a pungent unique flavor that only Chinese chefs know how to create.
- Squirrel carp – A southeastern dish with an unusual name. It is served with a sweet Chinese sauce and stewed tomatoes.
Interesting! Legend has it that a chef from Hunan province was ordered to cook a carp for the emperor, but not to make it look like a fish. The cook removed all the bones from the fish and gave it the shape and orange-brown coloring of a squirrel. Although the resemblance turned out to be distant, the emperor was not enraged. The dish had a tangy taste without the smell of fish.
- Zongzi rolls – a dish of Zhejiang cuisine. Sticky rice filled with meat or sweet beans wrapped in a roll or envelope in bamboo, corn, banana, lotus leaves. Cooked on steam.
- Tofu – A soybean curd with an unusual flavor. As the main legume plant has been used for almost 3 thousand years. Shanghai soybean pie with fish filling has the same name. The popularity of the product is evidenced by the existence of Stinky Tofu Day, celebrated on March 8. In Chinese cuisine, sweet and sour sauce with tofu is considered one of the best.
- Chinese dumplings – are a must for New Year’s Eve. Jiaozzi are similar to Russian dumplings, wontons are in the shape of a knot with stuffing, tied with greens on top. Homemade Chinese recipes have more than 20 thousand different fillings for dumplings.
- Hundred-year-old eggs – A delicacy from Hunan province. Eggs of chickens, ducks, quail that are stored for several weeks in a special mixture of clay, lime, rice husks, ash and salt. As a result, the product completely changes color and taste.
Interesting! This recipe is over 600 years old. According to one legend, the owner of a small establishment had a few ducks that liked to lay their eggs in a trash heap on the clay soil. There was also ash from the stove, rice husks, and leftover tea poured out. The owner took the eggs out regularly, but some of them remained in the trash heap. So one day he found a few, covered in clay. When he removed the top layer and the shell, he saw a heavily darkened white with a frosted pattern. After tasting it, he discovered that it was edible and had an original flavor.
- Chinese tea – is the main drink of the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire. It begins and ends each meal. Green tea is considered traditional. Black tea is called red tea by the Chinese; they drink it less often. White and yellow tea, which are harvested in March and April, when the tea leaves are sprouting, are especially prized.
The most popular drink among the Chinese is plain hot water . Freshly squeezed fruit juices from mango, papaya, citrus fruits are prepared for dessert. Among alcoholic beverages Chinese people prefer baijiu rice vodka, red and yellow wine made of peaches, plums and rice. Wine is drunk preheated in small cups. Especially popular in Chinese cuisine are sweet tinctures made from aromatic herbs Jing Jiu.
Some Chinese dishes are quite possible to make at home. They are unlikely to be an exact replica of the masterpieces of Chinese chefs who know the secrets of pre-processing and cooking, but it’s still worth a try.
Ingredients: 300 g of Beijing cabbage, 200 g of fungus, 1 carrot, 1 fresh cucumber, 2 chicken eggs, 1 tsp. sesame oil, 1 tbsp. soy sauce, half a lemon, 1 tsp. brown sugar.
- Chop the Chinese cabbage, cucumber, and carrots into noodles.
- Mix lemon juice of half a lemon, soy sauce, brown sugar and sesame oil to make a sauce.
- Pour funchosa over boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain in a colander and let the water drain off.
- Whisk the eggs, add salt, bake 2 pancakes in a pan, let cool, cut into noodles.
- Place all the prepared products in a bowl, mix thoroughly with the sauce, and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top when serving.
Ingredients: 500 g chicken fillets, 20 g chili peppers, 30 g green onions, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, salt to taste.
- Cut the meat into oblong, small pieces.
- Mix sesame oil, sugar and soy sauce in a bowl to make a marinade.
- Put meat into the marinade, stir it, cover and leave in a cool place for an hour.
- Fry meat in a wok on both sides for 4-5 minutes.
- Finely chop garlic, chili peppers in thin rings, onion in oblong slices of 3-4 cm. Fry them in a wok for 2-3 minutes.
- In a pan with vegetables, put roasted meat, pour marinade, add cayenne pepper and salt. Cook everything for 10 minutes.
Gongbao chicken is traditionally served with rice. Step-by-step Chinese recipes with photos, which can be found in cookbooks and on thematic websites, help in the preparation and allow you to see the correct design of the dish before serving it to the table.
Chinese restaurants are open in many countries around the world. This cuisine is considered one of the most popular and favorite. Numerous reviews of Chinese cuisine in most have a positive nature. The Russian person should be wary of trying particularly spicy Chinese dishes, which are unaccustomed to the Slavic stomach. To really enjoy the work of the cooks, you should ask in advance about the composition of the prepared dish. And you should also remember that Chinese dishes are never too fatty or too bland. It is a sign of “wrong” Chinese food.