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Chinese Cuisine

  

Food has a special meaning to the Chinese people. The "waste not, want not" ethos means that a surprising range and variety of plants and animals, and every part of a plant or animal is used. This has given rise to a remarkable diversity in regional cuisine, but to Westerners it can be overwhelming - surprising, fantastic, delicious, horrifying or disgusting - but above all, different.

China can be divided into many geographical areas, and each area has a distinct style of cooking. The ingredients used in the food are based on the natural agricultural products of the region.

In Northern China, for example, wheat is eaten more than rice as a staple food. Food using wheat as its main ingredient, such as noodles and dumplings is prevalent there. China's Southern cuisine uses far more rice, with such staples as rice noodles and zongzi - sticky rice wrapped in leaves. Southern food, is typically more spicy, and many minorities eat chilies every day.

Eight Distinguished Regional Cuisines of China:

1. Chuan Cuisine

Sichuan Cuisine is the most widely served cuisine in China. The dishes of Sichuan Cuisine are famous for their hot and spicy flavor. An outstanding facet of Sichuan dishes is the delicate use of pepper or chili. The ingredients used are great in variety, including poultry, pork, beef, fish, vegetables and tofu. The methods of cooking vary according to the texture required. Fast-frying is the most widely used cooking method.

Sichuan Cuisine wins universal praise for its hotness, sourness and numbness it produces, which are rare in other regional cuisines. These together sum up the unique flavor of Chuan Cuisine, which enjoys a good reputation as a cuisine that is "one dish with one flavor and one hundred dishes with one hundred flavors". Its cooking methods include baking, sautéing, dry-sautéing and steaming. Chuan Cuisine has good combinations of flavors and often has thick gravy.

Although, Chuan Cuisine is served at every corner of the world, the most authentic Sichuan food is still to be found at its hometowns: Chengdu and Chongqing.

2. Cantonese Cuisine

Cantonese Cuisine, also known as Yue Cuisine, is the culinary style of Guangdong Province, which was called Canton when the Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese was in use. This particular type of Chinese food has been popularized by Chinese restaurants around the world as the majority of those who set up these restaurants were of Cantonese origin.

Guangdong dishes are characterized by their tender and slightly sweet taste. Sauces are a crucial seasoning in Guangdong cuisine. Classic Cantonese sauces are light and mellow. The most widely used sauces in Guangdong Cuisine include: hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce and sweet and sour sauce. Other ingredients popular in Guangdong Cuisine include spring onions, sugar, salt, soya bean products, rice wine, corn starch, vinegar and sesame oil. Garlic is used heavily in some dishes, especially those in which internal organs, such as entrails, may emit unpleasant odors. Ginger, chili peppers, five-spice powder, powdered white pepper, star anise and a few other spices are used, but often sparingly.

The raw materials for Guangdong Cuisine are very plentiful. "The Chinese eat everything with four legs, except tables, and everything that flies except airplanes" is the most suitable expression of the countless variety of Guangdong food. Things that are rarely eaten or rarely seen on Western tables are commonly used in Guangdong dishes. Snake, cat and pangolin (scaly anteater) are considered by the Cantonese people to be most delicious food.

In contrast to the fast-fried cooking method of Sichuan dishes, Guangdong people prefer to braise, stew and sauté their food. These cooking methods aim to preserve the flavor of the dishes.

3. Xiang Cuisine

Hunan cuisine, also called Xiang cuisine, stems from a province that has an age-old reputation as a "land of fish and rice". Hunan Province has always been a cornucopia as far as foodstuffs go. The salient features of Hunan cuisine are richness, creaminess, and moistness, combined with a delicate use of chili. Hunan cuisine is also fragrant, with crunchy fresh vegetables that are cooked "al dente". It is said of Hunan cuisine that it not only has the saltiness of the cuisines of North China and the sweetness of the cuisines of South China, it also has the spicy-hotness as well as the tanginess of more local dishes. Moreover, Hunan cuisine relies on fresh, local ingredients that are seasonal staples, which is another reason why Hunan cuisine is often less expensive than other cuisines.

Hunan cuisine favors cooking techniques such as sautéing, stir-frying, steaming and smoking. It is renowned for its "stewed" dishes. However, Hunan cuisine excels at braising and baking, which lend themselves admirably to the raw materials that make up Hunan cuisine. Equally as important to Hunan cuisine is the art of cutting meats and vegetables, both to please the eye and, in the case of meats,to enhance the tenderness of the finished product.

The special seasonings of Hunan cuisine include soy sauce, tea seed oil, spicy oil, Chinese red pepper, fennel and cassia bark, each of which add its own particular color and flavor to the cuisine. Hunan cuisine is noted for pungency, thanks to its generous but judicious use of spices, especially the use of chili, which is as standard to Hunan cuisine as it is to South American or Indian cuisine. To the people of Hunan, chili can be enjoyed in almost every dish except ice cream.

4. Lu Cuisine

Lu Cuisine, also called Shandong Cuisine, is originated from the native cooking styles of East China's Shandong Province. Its history can date back to Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC). It has become one of China's eight cuisines since Song Dynasty (960 AD to 1234 AD). It is the most prevalent distinct regional cuisine in China, popular through out Beijing, Tianjin and Northeast China.

Lu Cuisine is more inclined to keep the freshness of ingredients than other cuisines and fond of salt flavor, featured with tender, savory and crisp. It is particular about making soup.

Seafood is the most notable ingredient of Lu Cuisine as Shandong is a costal province, including scallops, prawns, clams, sea cucumbers, and squid, which are all local ingredients of exemplary quality. Besides seafood, corn, peanuts, grains such as small grains, millet, wheat, oat and barley, and staple vegetables of Shandong province including potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggplants.

There are over thirty cooking techniques applied in Lu Cuisine, among which Bao technique (quick-fry) and Pa technique are frequently and well used in Lu Cuisine. In Bao (quick-fry), foods are deep-fried in very hot oil over high heat and then the oil is poured out and seasonings are added to the food, which is left in the wok. Pa technique, derived from Shandong Province, is first to cut the well-cooked ingredient into a particular shape, then stick some powder and fry it into golden, finally add some kind of sauce to sauté it while stirring continuously.

5. Hui Cuisine

Hui Cuisine is also called Anhui Cuisine or Wan Cuisine. It is one of the eight famous cuisines of China, derived from North China's Anhui Province. Anhui Cuisine mainly consists of three styles representing three regions: Yangtze River region, Huai River region, and Southern Anhui region. Among them the South Anhui style is the most notable. The birthplace of South Anhui style is She County, located at a world famous tourist destination, Huangshan (the Yellow Mountains).

Anhui is abundant in uncultivated fields, mountains and forests, which provide Anhui Cuisine rich local ingredients. Hui Cuisine uses only local produce, so the freshness of the dishes is unparalleled. Most ingredients in Anhui Cuisine, such as pangolin, stone frog, mushroom, bayberry, tea leaves, bamboo shoots and dates all come from mountain areas. The Yellow Mountains are abundant in raw materials suitable for cooking. Wild herbs are readily available here. Hui Cuisine places a great deal of emphasis on natural foods, which makes it a healthy cuisine. It follows traditional ways and uses foods that are also used for medicinal purposes. The use of wild herbs is one of Hui Cuisine's notable features.

Hui Cuisine is particular about controlling cooking time and temperature. High, medium or slow heat is applied according to the quality and characteristics of the different materials and the flavor requirements of finished dishes. Hui Cuisine requires skill in sautéing and stewing to achieve a delicate lightness in taste. Some typical dishes stewed in brown sauce may appear a little heavy on oil compared to some other styles. Ham is also often added to enhance the taste.

Some dishes representative of the Hui style of cuisine are: Stir-Fried Frog with Log Flower Mushrooms; Phoenix-Tailed Shrimp Steak; Li Hongzhang Hotchpotch; Bagong Mountain Bean Curd; Grape Fish, Mountain Bamboo Shoots, Assorted Meats; Phoenix-Tailed Shrimp in a Bird's Nest and Red Tato in Honey.

6. Zhe Cuisine

Zhejiang cuisine, called Zhe cuisine for short, is originated from South China's Zhejiang Province. It is famous for its mellow, yet not greasy, taste.

It consists of three major styles, namely Hangzhou style, Ningbo style and Shaoxing style. Among them, Hangzhou style is the most notable. It has good taste as well as delicate appearance. It requires expertise in the cooking techniques of quick frying, stir-frying, braising and deep-frying and features clearness, freshness, tenderness, delicateness and purity. Besides seafood and freshwater fish, Hangzhou style exhibits a fondness for bamboo roots. About half the dishes on a Hangzhou menu contain bamboo roots, which add a tender element to the food. Ningbo chefs are especially skillful in making seafood. The best-known Ningbo cooking techniques are stewing, baking and steaming. The taste is moderate in freshness and saltiness. Ningbo chefs' specialties are making dishes fresh, tender and soft. Emphasis is placed on its original flavor. Shaoxing style is fragrant, crisp, soft and glutinous, with thick soup and pure flavor. Shaoxing style specializes in poultry and freshwater fish.

Zhejiang Province, located at the Yangtze River Delta, is the famous "land of milk and honey" in China. Using the rich assortment of local ingredients, Zhe Cuisine has an extensive selection of materials and a precisely matches these materials. Emphasis is placed on the season and variety of main ingredients. The choice of supplementary ingredients and seasonings is aimed to give prominence to the main ingredients, strengthen freshness and fragrance and get rid of the smell of fish and greasiness. Most emphasis is placed on moderation in duration and degree of cooking as well as seasoning.

7. Su Cuisine

Jiangsu Cuisine, called Su Cuisine for short, originates from the native cooking styles of South China's Jiangsu Province. It has a fresh taste, with moderate saltiness and sweetness, which is thick without being greasy, and light without being thin. Meanwhile it places an emphasis on the making of soup and retaining the original taste of the ingredients. Once it was the second largest cuisine among ancient China's royal cuisines, and it remains a major part of the state banquet in China.

Su Cuisine is composed of six styles: Nanjing Style, Yangzhou Style, Suzhou Style, Huai'an Cuisine, Xuzhou Cuisine and Haizhou Cuisine. Among them Nanjing Style, Suzhou Style and Yangzhou Style are the most notable.

Nanjing Style is famous for its fine cutting techniques, which makes the dishes not only fine-tasting, but also very delicate and good-looking. It features freshness, fragrance, crispness and tenderness. Suzhou Cuisine tends to be sweet in taste and excels in using vegetables of the four seasons, freshwater fish and seafood. Yangzhou Style, which has been called Huai-Yang Style in the past, is renowned for its fine cutting techniques, perfect timing, fresh color and original design.

Su Cuisine is made according to precise material choice and a precise cooking schedule . It requires exquisite and fine cooking. There is an excellence in cooking methods such as stewing, simmering, baking over a slow fire, warming up, steaming, sautéing, stir-frying, and skillful braising in mud and baking on forks.

With the Yangtze River passing through it and a coast on the Yellow Sea, Jiangsu Province is abundant in freshwater fish and seafood, which comprise the major ingredients of Su Cuisine. Jiangsu people have been experts at cooking fish with various cooking techniques for about two thousand years. Su Cuisine has exhibited a fondness for duck dishes since about one thousand years ago. A rich variety of local vegetables are widely used in Su Cuisine, including watershield (or Brasenia) from Taihu (Tai Lake), lotus, Chinese chestnut, winter bamboo shoots, water bamboo and water chestnuts.

8. Min Cuisine

Min Cuisine, also called Fujian Cuisine, originates from South China's Fujian Province. The history of Min Cuisine dates back to 5000 years ago. It consists of three styles, namely Fuzhou style, which is usually tastes light compared with other styles, often with a mixed sweet and sour taste; Western Fujian style, featuring slightly spicy flavoring from mustard and pepper; and Southern Fujian style, which usually tastes spicy and sweet.

The three notable features of Min Cuisine are: the use of delicacies from the mountains and sea as the main ingredients, a specialism in soup making and expertise in applying various kinds of seasonings. Fujian's abundant natural resources mean Fujian Cuisine is rich in high-quality ingredients, especially delicacies from the mountains and sea.

Min Cuisine pays a great deal of attention on utilizing soup. As a saying about the region's cuisine goes: "It is unacceptable for a meal not to have soup". Fujian people like to use various kinds of sauces and seasonings to create the tastes of salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Salty seasonings include shrimp sauce, shrimp oil and soy sauce; sour seasonings include white vinegar and qiaotou (a vegetable similar to green onion and garlic); sweet seasonings include brown sugar and crystal sugar; sweet-smelling seasononings include brown sugar, spiced powder, aniseed and cassia bark; and spicy seasonings include pepper and mustard.

The cooking techniques of Fujian Cuisine are: pan-frying, deep-frying, boiling, baking, stewing, mixing, sautéing with wine, stewing in gravy, grilling, cooking with red rice wine, simmering, stir-frying, smoking, braising and salting. Among them the most characteristic one is cooking with red rice wine, which includes stir-frying with red rice wine, and baking with red rice wine, quick-frying with red rice wine and deep-frying with red rice wine. The "drunken" (cooked in wine) dishes are prevalent in Fujian Province and very famous throughout China.

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