China is one of the most ancient and mysterious countries of the world with centuries-old traditions. National Chinese cuisine combines the culinary characteristics of each of China’s 23 provinces. 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 little 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 major 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.
- The dishes are cooked on an open fire for 1-2 minutes, first roasting the spices that create the flavor of the dish.
- Herbs and spices are selected according to certain characteristics and added in strict proportions.
A whole product, cooked in its entirety, is very rarely seen on Chinese menus. In most cases it is a fish from which all bones are carefully removed so as not to destroy 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 do not 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! According to legend, a chef from Hunan province was ordered to cook carp for the emperor, but not to make it look like a fish. The cook took out 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 allow the water to drain completely.
- Whisk the eggs, add salt, bake 2 pancakes in a pan, let cool, cut into noodles.
- Put all the prepared products into a bowl, mix thoroughly with the sauce and sprinkle 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 on a wok 4-5 minutes on both sides.
- 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 cautious about 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 neither too fatty nor too bland. It is a sign of “wrong” Chinese cuisine.