Originated from the culinary tradition of China, Chinese cuisine has an important role in Chinese culture. Chinese cuisines had many other cuisines in Asia and all over the world. Being a vast land consisting of mountains, rivers, and forests the ingredients and cuisine differ according to the geography of the region.
There are many Regional cuisines contributed to Chinese cuisine but the most popular among them are Cantonese Cuisine, Shandong Cuisine, Jiangsu Cuisine and Sichuan Cuisine. This profound variety among the cooking tradition is the contribution of factors such as availability of ingredients, history, climate, geography, cooking techniques, and lifestyle. Jiangsu cuisine favors cooking method such as stewing and braising while Sichuan cuisine prefers baking instead. One Cuisine prefers the use of garlic and shallot over chili and spices, while other may favor seafood over meat.
Rice is one of the most important foods in China and is used in many popular dishes around the country. It is a primary ingredient for people from rice farming area of southern China. White rice is the most common rice variety used and is more often cooked in hot steam. Glutinous rice (sticky rice) is another variable used in many Chinese dishes. Rice is also used to make Beer, Wine, and vinegar.
Wheat is largely cultivated in the northern region of China. People here rely on flour-based foods like Noodles, Bread, Jiaozi (Chinese version Dumplings) and mantou (Steamed Buns).
Noodles are one of the most popular and most eaten foods in China. It is responsible for spreading the glory of Chinese cuisine all over the world. These are flour based food and come in many varieties. ‘Shou Mian’ is one such variety and is also a symbol of long life and health in Chinese tradition. Noodles are usually made with rice or wheat flour, other flours such as soybean are also used. Noodles are served hot or cold with broth and other toppings.
Some special vegetables in Chinese cuisine include Bok choy, Snow pea pods, Baby corn, Chinese eggplant, Chinese broccoli and straw mushrooms. Different climate and soil condition provide an ideal condition for green beans, peas, and mushroom cultivation.
A variety of dried vegetables are used in a dry and cold region of the country since growing fresh vegetables here is nearly impossible.
Herbs and Seasonings
Seasonings such as fresh ginger roots, garlic, scallion, cilantro, and sesame are important ingredients in regional cuisine of China. Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves and white pepper are also used in many parts of the nation. Ingredients like dried Chinese mushroom, dried baby shrimp, dried tangerine peel and dried Sichuan chilies are used to add extra flavor to the dish.
The sauce is a staple element in most of the Chinese dishes. Soy sauce is the most common sauce used in China. It’s made from the fermented soybean and wheat. Oyster sauce, clear rice vinegar, chili, Chinkiang black rice vinegar, fish sauce and furu (fermented tofu) are also widely used.
Dessert and Snacks
Chinese desserts are sweet food and dishes served along with tea mostly at the end of a meal. Seasonal fruits are the most common form of desert consumed after a meal.
The Chinese term ‘Dim Sum’ which means a small portion of food, is used to denote dessert and pastries. Later in order to avoid disambiguation, tian dian and gao dian are used to describe desserts and pastries respectively.
Other than fresh fruits there are wide varieties of cooked desserts in Chinese cuisine. These are mostly steamed or boiled sweet snacks are eaten right after the meals. ‘Bing’ is an umbrella term in Chinese refers to all types of bread, pastries, and confections. These are basically wheat flour based sweets, stuffed with different kinds of fillings like red bean paste, jujube etc. ‘Su’ is a kind of pastry made with more amount of oil which makes the confection more friable. Chinese candies and sweets are generally called ‘tang’. These are mainly made using cane sugar, malt sugar, honey, nuts, and fruits. ‘Gao’ or ‘Guo’ are rice based snacks typically cooked in steam. These can be also made from glutinous rice or using normal rice.
‘Baobing’ is a cold desert made using shaved ice and sweet syrup. Jellies in China are collectively called ‘ices’. Many Jelly desserts are made in the traditional manner using agar and fruit flavors. Gelatin based jellies are common in contemporary Chinese deserts.
Soups are used as deserts in China. They are little sweet and mostly served hot.
Western pastries are used as deserts in China. Mille-feuille, crème-brulee, and cheesecake are commonly used Western pastries. Because the Chinese prefer mildly sweet and less oily deserts, western pastries are less accepted in China.
These are usually served before main meals. Other than salad and pickles they use jelly, beancurd, noodle salad, cooked meat and sausage, jellyfish and cold soups as appetizers. Chinese sausages vary in taste and texture from region to region. The most common sausage available in China is made up of pork and pork fat. These sweet-salty sausages are prepared in many different ways including over roasting, stir fry and steaming.
There are many popular drinks served along with meals in China. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are consumed by the Chinese people during and after the meal.
Tea has a prominent role in Chinese dining culture. China was one of the first countries to cultivate tea and also the world’s largest exporter of green tea. Tea was first processed in the realm of Qin and Han dynasty, ever since this magnificent drink is enjoyed by people from all social classes.
Tea is classified into several categories based on the species of the plant from which the tea powder is produced. It’s also classified based on the region in which it is grown and the method of production used. Some of the many types are green tea, oolong tea, black tea, scented tea, white tea and compressed tea. Jiangbei, Jiangnan, Hunan and the Southwestern are the four major tea plantation region in China. Longjing, Huangshan, Mao Feng, Bilochun, Putuofeng Cha, and Liu’an Guapian are popular varieties of green tea.
A double-walled insulated glass thermos with tea leaves in the top behind a strainer is one of the most ubiquitous accessories in modern China.
Baijiu (White liquor) is the most consumed alcoholic drink in China. The history of this liquor dates back to the introduction of distilling in the song dynasty. These can be produced from wheat, corn, and rice. Mao Tai is a premium Baijju, other brands are Kang, Lu Zhou Te Qu, and Wu Liang Ye.
These are hot drinks made of Chinese medicinal herbs.
Oversea Chinese Cuisine
Chinese immigrant population had taken their cuisine and tradition along with them during their migration to a different part of the world. The traditional food has evolved, had adopted local tastes and ingredients and had been modified by the local cuisine. Chinese influences are evident in the cuisines of nations like Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. There are a number of fusion cuisines such as ramen (Japanese Chinese cuisine) which are popular internationally.
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