An overview of Chinese Cuisine
Like all other significant pillars of Chinese masterpieces, Chinese cuisine contributes a lot to the making of overall Chinese culture. The configuration of Chinese cuisine is an amalgamation of cooking practices originating from diverse regions of China as well as of the Chinese people from other parts of the world.
Inheriting a lot from the cuisines of the other Asian countries, it has, in turn, remarkably influenced the long-carried features of theirs, modifying the local palates in a better way.
The criteria for cooking techniques of different Chinese provinces largely vary due to the distinct historical background sharing, along with the origin and diversity of the ethnic groups.
Climatic variation, from tropical in the south to subarctic in the northeast, coupled with the geographical distribution of China – including mountains, rivers, deserts, and forests – penetrate deeper into the locally available ingredients, affecting the taste and the nutrients composition inexplicably.
The other factors like the imperial, noble, and royal preferences also play a role in transforming Chinese cuisine. The expansion of imperialism and trading, way back in the 18th century, brought cooking techniques from other parts of the world to the Chinese kitchens.
Such is the importance of Chinese cuisine in Chinese Philosophy that food is often used as a component of the figure of speech, to express something indirectly.
Like the Chinese philosopher I Ching puts it, “Gentlemen use eating as a way to attain happiness. They should be aware of what they say and refrain from eating too much.”
The significance of Chinese cuisine is inseparable for the Chinese people. Even in the foreign lands, as the effect of Chinese cuisine is deeply penetrated now, the migrants from China don’t have to rely solely on the local food.
Facts about Chinese Cuisine
Every country has its own set of cooking and eating practices aligned across the centuries-old traditions and unbroken chain of followership, which gets carried generation after generation, to the modern time – just to find itself morphed into a unique state.
So is the story of Chinese cuisine – the oldest and most famous in the world – embedded with a ton load of facts and myths that collectively give it a route into the vast world of food lovers.
10 Crucial Facts about Chinese Cuisine
Tradition and superstition
Traditional Chinese cuisine is dictated a lot by superstitions and age-old traditions. Certain dishes can only be eaten during particular times of the year so that it could bring good luck.
The Chinese would rather visit the market every day to buy fresh vegetables and meat than live off tinned or canned food. They always prefer to go for fresh seasonal foods.
Eat anything under the sun
Well almost! Starting from raw octopus and dog hotpot to pig’s ears, intestines, snakes and scorpions –anything that foreigners might find unusual are popular in the East Asia cultures.
The most unfamiliar vegetables have found a place in the incredible Chinese cuisine. Bitter cucumber, tree fungi, and strange weeds are some names that one can possibly translate to relate!
Contrary to our belief, rice is not really the staple for the entire Chinese population. In the colder northern parts of the country, wheat and its derivatives are more popular.
The range of flavors in Chinese cuisine varies incredibly worldwide. Flavors keep changing as you travel from one part of China to another.
There is a disposable chopsticks charge in China to curtail the use of 45 billion pairs of chopsticks a year! Now, that’s a whopping amount for sure!
Never go by the names of dishes, to save yourself from getting misled. For instance, if you think “Field Chicken” is your soul food, it is actually a frog dish—note that!
Forks and knives (what we use) are considered as weapons in the East Asia cultures and thus deemed inappropriate. Chopsticks were, therefore, invented.
Soup in the end
Soup is the last dish in a full course Chinese meal because it is meant to aid digestion. And in most parts of the world, we begin meals with the soup!
China’s Regional Cuisines
A perfect monotonous numbing flavor and the ‘sticky rice,’ beers, baijiu and vinegar, and lotus leaf rice set a paradigm for Chinese cuisines, helping it reach every nook and corner of the world.
Irrespective of the culture, geographical climate, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle, the peculiar style and taste – added with loads of nutritious and healthy diet pattern – enriches energy.
The historical irony may hold a lot more value in the culinary aspect as the shift from defining each ingredient in their recipe during the 17th century, has moved to traces of Shandong and Guangdong spices, being added in their food preparations nowadays.
Over time, many immigrants and East Asian cultures have amalgamated into China’s regional cuisines.
Types of regional cuisines in China
- Western: strong halal food; the main meat is the sheep.
- Northern: salty, regular; the staple food is wheat and fewer vegetables
- Central: spicy with seasonings
- Eastern: sweet and light
- Southern minority: sour dishes
They serve this style with tea in the last. Multiple varieties of fried, steamed, stewed and baked dim sum are the main serving. Dishes included in this category are rice rolls, lotus leaf rice, turnip cakes, buns, jiaozi-style dumplings, stir-fried green vegetables, congee porridge, soups, etc.
The most common ingredients used are peanuts, sesame paste, chili peppers, and ginger, collectively producing pungency and spiciness into the dishes, in this style.
The taste and the offering of this style get boosted with local herbs and vegetables, such as fresh bamboo and mushroom crops.
Reliance mostly on seafood; and use of variant culinary techniques is seen in this cuisine.
Focused on a good deal of seafood, in this style, food is served in a broth or soup. They prepare the items related to braising, stewing, steaming, and boiling as the main course.
Chinese Cuisine Traditional Foods
If you ever try searching for fried rice and chili chicken in the streets of China, be prepared to feel disappointed.
Because these are perhaps among the many dishes you would struggle to find in the list of traditional Chinese dishes. Yes, traditional cuisine in China is incredibly diverse, exciting, and rich—just like their culture; but it is so much more than our all-time favorites ‘chilly chicken and fried rice’!
Wondering what the traditional Chinese dishes are like?
Well, here is a quick list for you to drool over.
Hong Shao Rou
Translated into English, this dish is Red Braised Pork Belly. Originating in Shanghai, this is one of the most ‘drool-worthy’ Chinese dishes that are sure to tickle your taste buds. It is full of varied flavors which are brought in by the use of various aromatic spices, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, soya sauce, sugar, and rice wine.
A smash hit with both the locals and foreigners in China, Peking Duck or Beijing Duck is a classic dish. It is exceptionally delicious with its eclectic mix of different sauces and succulent duck meat (including the skin). And the best thing is that it is not only available in Beijing, but all throughout China – and in its most authentic form.
The origin of Wontons in China can be traced back to the times of the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) and was eaten customarily during the winter solstice.
These are delectable, quick to prepare, and can be cooked using different stuffing of either vegetables or minced meat. You can either try the fried wontons as scrumptious snacks or taste the soupy variant.
This is one of the more versatile Chinese dishes you can easily find all across China. Of course, there are regional variations in the spices and meats that are used to prepare this dish. Bound to be a great choice to keep yourself warm in the colder regions, hotpot is widely welcomed throughout the year. If you love super spicy food, you must try this dish!
In China, the tastes and aromas of traditional foods vary as you move from one province to another. You have to try them to cherish them!
Eating with Kids in China—What you need to know
Traveling with kids is an enjoyable experience as long as one knows how to keep them safe and healthy during the trip. It is very important to pay attention to their meals, especially while traveling.
Taking kids to the right restaurants
The most important requirement for choosing a restaurant is hygiene. Restaurants should have hygiene licenses. Most lavish restaurants provide baby-seats to seat the younger kids comfortably. Cities like Shanghai and Beijing have kids-themed restaurants for them, to keep up the excitement going.
Choose among the popular dishes according to your kids’ taste
Not all Chinese dishes may be palatable to them. There are lots of common dishes that you can choose from, like dumplings, noodles, fried rice, sweet and sour pork, egg roll, etc. For young kids, it is better to avoid fish, uncooked food, and street food in China.
Helping them wait
Chinese restaurants might take a long time in serving food. Helping kids to stay occupied can make the wait easier.
Use of proper Tableware
Keep a check if the tableware has been cleaned properly. Using chopsticks might not be a great idea, so you can always ask for a spoon while having a meal.
Most Popular Chinese Dishes
In China, the traditional way to greet anyone (if translated in English) means “Have you eaten yet?” So in a country like this, you can rest assured that the food will be amazing and mouthwatering.
Chinese food is gaining its popularity all over the world, because of its authentic taste and the ingredients used to make the dishes. A lot of fresh vegetables are used to cook the meal which makes the dish tastier. Sauces and seasoning are also used to provide a great blend of flavor and aroma.
Listed below are some of the most popular Chinese Dishes:
It is also called Chinese dumpling, having a history of around 2000 years. Dumplings are truly one of the most known Chinese dishes and they deserve to be among the best top 5 dishes.
It is made up of ground meat and/or vegetables filled in it, and it is wrapped into a roll which is a piece of dough, which it is then sealed by tightening the edges.
It is one of the most eminent foods in Spring Festival and Winter Solstice. There is a lot of variety in Chinese dumplings as they are stuffed with sugar, date, peanut or walnut. You can eat one according to your choice but all of them are equally tasty.
This dish is very popular throughout China, and it is typically a Sichuan Cuisine. The name of this dish was named after a spotted woman (in Chinese, it is called “Mapo”) as that lady was famous for preparing relishing stir-fried tofu in Chengdu.
Main ingredients used to make this dish are tofu, chili peppers, ground beef/pork, and Sichuan peppers.
It is said that China tour is incomplete without tasting this spicy Sichuan food, starting with Mapo Tofu. It’s difficult to avoid the freshly made and tender tofu with a good spicy chili sauce which is made of ground meat, a broad bean paste, and wild peppers. Sichuan Sauce, along with it, makes it even more delicious!
No matter wherever you plan to visit China, you’ll always get ample opportunities to taste this popular Chinese dish. They are soft, still, firm bundles of flavor, whether you eat them steamed, fried, or maybe floating in the broth. In all the ways, wontons taste amazingly great.
Very easy in form and filling, the wrapper of the wonton is made up of superior flour by the process kneading and fermentation. It is made special by plentiful fillings, like pork and other meats such as shrimps, and are also filled with fresh vegetables. There are wontons for every kind of taste.
Sauteed Sweet and Sour Pork
Sweet and Sour Tenderloin Pork are said to be the classic cuisines in China. Sweet and Sour Pork of Shandong Cuisine is very famous in China.
The main material of the dish is pork tenderloin. First, the meat is mixed with starch and flour; then, it is deep-fried in the oil until the surface of it turns golden. Then they stir-fry the meat and prepare the sweet and sour sauce.
This cuisine tastes sour and sweet and is very crispy outside and from inside, it is soft, so it can stimulate any person’s appetite. Sautéed Sweet and Sour Pork Tenderloin, is found on menus all over the country, as it highlights the versatility and regional blaze from every province.
Who does not know about this Chinese Dish? Spring rolls symbolize wealth and prosperity, as their color and shape are like a gold bar.
The skin of the Spring Rolls is made up of white flour, water, and salt; the fillings are usually made of ground meat or red bean paste and then they are deep-fried in hot oil till the color of the skin becomes golden. The outer part of the Spring Rolls is very crisp and the fillings of it are tender and fragrant.
So, include these dishes in your list and whenever you get a chance, you should undoubtedly try them as they are full of fresh vegetables and meat. And not to forget the Chinese sauces which add to the flavor and aroma of the food. So, never miss a chance to taste the real and traditional Chinese food as it is very different from the food that you might have eaten.
Chinese Soups and their categories
Chinese cuisines are well known as they are very different and original because of the various cultures and regions which make up China. Because of such diversity, Chinese food has become very famous globally, and especially Chinese soup.
Chinese chefs are also in demand all around the world as it is very difficult to make Chinese soup without the required skill and expertise. The creativity of Chinese chefs has made it viable to come up with such a fantastic assortment of Chinese soups which are distinct in flavors and texture.
Broadly the Chinese soups have been divided into two categories—these are thin soups and thick soups.
Let us know more about them
Thin soups are usually prepared from a clear broth that is cooked very quickly and in it, the ingredients are added at the end.
Mostly thin soup is served as a beverage in China as it is believed that this soup is a very good appetizer. Thin soup is usually chicken or spinach soup which is served as a beverage or in banquets between courses.
On the contrary, thick soups are cooked by putting all the ingredients in one go and get cooked in a slow process, in order to blend the flavors aptly. After that, cornstarch is also added to make the soup thick.
Thick soup is usually served for lunch or dinner as it makes a great dish, specifically for lunch as this soup is very filling. Few of the thick soups are sharks’ fin soup, hot and sour soup served with mu shu pork as these soups are served as a proper meal which has no other dishes.
All the Chinese soups have stock added in them. The stock is prepared by boiling vegetables, meat, and bones into a liquid porridge so that it can release the flavor. The stock is also made from, at times, a whole chicken, bones, and gourmet. Whichever Chinese soup you drink whether thin or thick, both types of soups are really good for health.
A perfect blend of fermented beverages with main ingredients such as fruits, berries, grains – along with ingredients such as plant saps, tubers, honey, and milk – extracts sugar. The diluted water imparts much of the tastes into the liquid, to yield greater alcoholic strength.
Alcoholic beverages—such as Beer, Cider, Wine, and Spirit—are in regular use from around 10,000 BC.
“An alcoholic beverage can refer to any liquor or brew that contains alcohol.” When we talk about wine, it has been in use for past 8,000 years and the innovation traversed upon many miles to reach another part of the world through the human fleet migration.
Beer and wine are not the end of innovations in alcohol but continued with modernization in the form known as spirits.
The most preferred alcoholic beverages in China:
Despite its name, Huangjiu is a ‘yellow wine’ brewed using grains. Further, the brewed grains is pasteurized and bottled later. The appearance looks clear, beige, and yellowish. The presence of alcoholic content is 15% to 20%.
This is one among the oldest Chinese alcoholic drinks prepared from ingredients such as water, cereals; and grains such as rice, millet, wheat, sorghum. It tastes mellow and sweet.
Its major production is in mainland China and Taiwan. Huangjiu contains many amino acids which are essential for health.
Baijiu preparation has been in use since 1368. They use sorghum-based shaojiu and refer to it as “Chinese vodka”. This enriches very strong flavors.
Baijiu is a sauce-scented prestigious brand available within China and in local terms, they say it as “Mao-t’ai”. It contains alcohol that ranges between 28% and 65%. They call it ‘white alcohol’ as it is a clear liquid.
Beer is served brewed in Chinese cuisine. Beer is very famous and well-known since the 9600 B.C. Its preparation is complicated, taking the mixture of multi-varied starches which starts from fermenting malted barley, rice, wheat, or maize, for the formation. Cider is a festered apple juice. They serve it as a starter drink in a few styles of Chinese cuisine.
Different cuisines of China have different names for wine: these are Changyu Pioneer Wine, China Great Wall Wine, and Dynasty Wine. These are more commonly noticed in the regions of Yantai, Beijing, and Ningxia; Zhangjiakou in Hebei, Yibin in Sichuan, Tonghua in Jilin, Taiyuan in Shanxi.
They traditionally extract wine from musles to prepare Uyghur drink. Also, in the last eight years, a controversial preparation known as Tiger Bone Wine has gained tremendous popularity among the public.
Chinese Cuisine Noodles – Easy and Tasty
Noodles are considered as the main food in China. There is a numerous variety of noodles available in different regions of China. Every area of China provides various kinds of noodles, with its different techniques and flavors. Not only in China but noodles are also popular worldwide.
Noodles are an essential and primary need in Chinese cooking. Chinese noodles generally fluctuate as indicated by the area of preparation, fixings, shape or width, and way of arrangement.
The inception of Chinese noodles set foot in the Han tradition having a history of over 4,000 years.
Furthermore, the creation of noodles and their large-scale manufacturing have significantly changed the way of doing noodle business globally and China for that matter. Fundamentally, noodles are a sort of oat nourishment which is the principal body of the conventional Chinese eating regimen.
Why is Chinese Cuisine noodles so popular?
Noodle is popular in East Asian culture because it costs dirt cheap.
2. Easy and Convenient
Noodles are one of the most convenient and easy things to cook and do not even require much cooking expertise. You just have to boil the water and pour the noodles into it. The heat and the packaged spices do rest of the work, leaving a tongue-tickling taste. It’s as simple as that.
3. Quick Meal
Noodles get prepared in a fraction of minutes and save the maker’s time. The people who come from the office, and tired, do not have much energy to cook. So, instead of ordering from outside, they prefer preparing noodles because the preparation is as quick as setting up the initials for a hefty dinner cooking.
4. Variety of flavors
It’s difficult to get bored with noodles, as these come in different flavors.
5. Ways to cook
You can combine noodles with any vegetable and cook differently, as experimenting with food always enhances the taste. As these come in a lot of varieties, it’s hard for one to get bored with the taste.
6. Perfect for Lazy people
Noodles are an appropriate meal for lazy people, as noodles do not take much effort, and get prepared in a short time.
Noodles are produced using fixings. However, the setting in which these are created and expanded inside Italy and China, fills the noodles with extraordinary tasty features and characters.
Noodles are a Chinese item but have got popular worldwide. These can be served with gravy or eaten dried.
Chinese Cuisine History
Chinese cuisine is one of the most amazing culinary cultures. Chinese cuisine is a term used for dishes made in various regions of China. With superb technology and unique style, it also has a great history. It has a profused impact on East Asian cultures.
Chinese food came into existence thousands of years ago in East Asia. As different regions have a different style of cooking, Chinese food originates from the various areas of China but does not come from the whole country.
Chinese Cuisine across various dynasties
In Zhou Dynasty, approx. more than 5000 years ago, millet and brown rice, or beans, were the major foods. But these staple foods were not the same as the Chinese have today. At that time, people have had white rice which was very expensive and rarely available.
The famous cuisine in Zhou dynasty was Ba Zheng. In Qin dynasty, they introduced sour flavor which was mainly an odor extracted from fish and meat. They also started using Vinegar and cinnamon powder at that time.
In the Han dynasty, people introduced salty flavor, and a big step was taken for Chinese cooking in the Han dynasty. Many cooking ingredients and imported eatables were also brought, such as walnut, cucumber, lettuce. In the Han dynasty, the Chinese cuisine witnessed a rapid development.
In Tang dynasty, by that period, people already had developed a quality level and had started living their lives fancily.
In Song dynasty, schools of cuisines like South, Chuan or North came into existence. In Qing, Yuan, and Ming dynasty, it was a significant development stage, as the foreign intrusions came up with hundreds of fresh cuisines. Islamic followers moved to China and made Halal as a new way of treating meats.
This Qing dynasty was ruled by Manchu people; so in Chinese cuisine, the influence of all Manchu styles and flavors came into the picture. As Ming dynasty was also there, so they bought plants of chili and pepper in China and named the plant as a fancy flower.
Chinese people didn’t take much enthusiasm in knowing its value. In Sichuan and Hunan, the flavor of spice became popular in no time and left its profound effect. With time, there were Chinese cuisine schools. Some western cuisines were also introduced by late Qing dynasty.
The Major transformation in Chinese Food
Since China converted into communist in 1949, there were many problems with grain. Later with time, almost 40% were handed over to the Government, and this handing over became a major reason in causing widespread famine.
Since 1979, with the founding of the People’s Republic of China, excellent results have been gained by Chinese cuisine. In the list of restaurants, traditional cuisines started showing up and with time, more variety of cuisines have been added to the list.
After the 1990s, there have been tremendous improvements in terms of the food situation; also, the Islamic food of Chinese has also been enhanced.
For its color, design, flavor, and fragrance, Chinese cuisine has become famous worldwide. The wide assortment of famous cuisines includes Lu, Huaiyang, Chuan and Cantonese. To wrap in a line, for the worldwide foodies, Chinese food is a lot more than just dim sums and fried rice!
How To Order Food In Restaurants In China
Are you a huge fan of Kung-Fu movies and Chinese cuisine?
Well, a trip to China is bound to be fulfilling for you, both for experiencing the East Asia culture up close and for tucking into incredible Chinese dishes! And the best way to experience both of these elements is by visiting the local Chinese restaurants.
To help you cherish the real cultural exposure, here is how you can order food in China restaurants.
Ordering the food
After the customary Chinese tea is served on arrival, you will be handed the menu or 菜单 (caidan / (pronounced) tseye-dan).
One common catch-word that you can memorize is “I want” i.e. 我要 – wǒ yào.
For instance, if you want a plate of rice, then you have to say “I would like to order for rice” i.e.
我想订购米饭 – Wǒ xiǎng dìnggòu mǐfàn.
Or if you don’t want MSG or Ajinomoto in your food, you can specify that too by saying –
我不想要味精 – Wǒ bùxiǎng yào wèijīng.
Now, what if you are a vegan?
If you love to experiment, then you can go ahead and taste exciting Chinese cuisine that includes almost everything that can move. But that does not mean that vegans and vegetarians are in danger!
If you are a strict vegan, all you need to do is just specify that you don’t want meat in your food, simple.
And you do that by saying 我不想要肉 – Wǒ bùxiǎng yào ròu.
If you want fries, ask for 薯条 – shǔ tiáo.
And to order for a Coke, just say 可乐 – kě lè.
Asking for the bill
After finishing your food, you simply need to call out to your waiter by asking for the bill – 请带上账单 – Qǐng dài shàng zhàngdān.
A culture tip
Remember to always avoid 4 or 7 dishes while placing an order. In Chinese Culture, these numbers are related to death and superstitions, so these are seldom used.
Ordering food in restaurants in China is overall simple, so you can look forward to a gastronomically enriching trip there.
Main Spices and Herbs Used in Chinese Cuisine
Chinese spices and herbs are mostly used in a small amount to make the recipes better, produce a subtle flavor, depth, and also a different kick which you might not get from anything else.
Let us see which are the spices and herbs that make the Chinese cuisines relishing
Ginger is the most common ingredient, which is easily available in the market. It’s always recommended to make use of only fresh ginger as it gives a great flavor and aroma which makes the Chinese dishes mouthwatering. It is an indispensable spice, which can add heat and great flavor to vegetables, soup, and meat.
This five-spice powder comprises the ingredients including cassia, fennel seeds, anise pepper, star anise, and cloves. The mix of these separate spices is aromatic and also, not too hot. Well, you can also try to make a usable powder, by using equal quantities of each of these; however, in Chinese cuisines, these are also used in a different amount, according to the dish they want to prepare.
Also known as cinnamon, this spice is from Sri Lanka. These rolled-up quills are lovely and have a great flavor which lasts longer. They are mostly in large pieces and can also be picked out of the food easily. Cassia bark is usually used for sweet dishes but gives a completely different aroma to Chinese cuisines.
It is a spice which is very popular in making Chinese cuisines. Chinese people mostly use a bay leaf in cooking meat as bay leaf gets rid of the odor when used in meat. Few people also like using bay leaves in Chinese pickled vegetables.
This is the favorite spice of many people, which is used in making Chinese dishes. It is a sun-dried tangerine peel. Chenpi provides the food a citrus flavor and gives a punch to it by making the food taste even more interesting and refreshing.
For Western people, these spices can bring a new taste to the kitchen. Try these in your kitchen, to feel the difference in your local and Chinese dishes.
Chinese Cuisine Tools and Equipment
Isn’t it really intriguing, how easily the Chinese folks prepare such lip-smacking food?
How they stir up magic in minutes with all those different pieces of utensils, is really worth watching. And if you have always wanted to know what makes it so easy breezy for them, then here are the most useful Chinese cuisine equipment.
Generally made of heavy iron or steel, the wok or chǎoguō/chaoww-gwor is perhaps the most important piece of a utensil. It is widely used in every Chinese household and restaurant. The shape and the size of the wok are chosen as per the dish that is prepared.
Click the picture for more details.
Remember the delicious Chinese stir-fried dishes? Well, those are cooked in the wok using a wok shovel.
It is another really important piece of utensil in Chinese kitchens.
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Click the picture for more details.
Since rice is a very popular staple in China, every household there has rice cookers. These electrically operated utensils are very heat efficient and can also be used to prepare porridge, stewing meat, heating foods.
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Steaming baskets are perfect for preparing all the non-fried dishes. Whether it is for steaming dumplings, pancakes, fish, meat or vegetables, these steaming baskets are of great utility. These are either made out of bamboo or from metals.
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And, last but not least, Chinese chefs cannot make do without chopping boards. These not only protect the kitchen counter-tops while they chop and cut ingredients but also help to maintain hygiene and swiftness of cooking.