Chinese Cooking Art
In China, cooking is an art. Quite different from Western cooking whose recipes are followed strictly like laboratory instructions, Chinese cooking always allows for a creative and stylistic touch to it. Besides, great attention is paid to the aesthetic appreciation of the food. A good Chinese dish should be a great combination of taste and apperance.
In China, the rice is automatically served at each meal, though in the North there are also noodles and steamed bread rolls. The Chinese breakfast is a real meal consisting of rice porridge with meat, soaked salty vegetables and some dried fish...
A well balanced meal includes five basic tastes: sour, spicy, bitter, sweet and salty. The texture of food is also meant to vary in the gustative vibrations panel.
Actually the "Chinese cuisine” does not exist as such, but combines a multitude of different cooking arts coming from various different regions in China. This country is as large as a continent; the climatic variations between regions are huge, what influences the food preparation as well as the available ingredients and the various culinary traditions.
Every province has its specialties, but Chinese gastronomy can be divided in four main types: Beijing, Sichuan, Shanghai and Canton.
Local cooking arts
Beijing and the North kitchen (the Imperial Court cuisine)
North China extends until the borders of Inner Mongolia. It is very cold in winter and hot in summer. The cookery reflects this continental character, and lamb as well as mutton is eaten.
The Mongolian hotpot is a widespread winter dish. Besides, the very popular sesame was originally brought by the Tartars (oil, seeds and pastas).
Noodles and steamed bread rolls often replace the rice (there, only wheat is cultivated).
The most famous vegetable in the region is the Tientsin cabbage, also known as "Napa cabbage," a big white cabbage used raw in salads, cooked by boiling or steaming to be eaten on its own, or added to some dishes.
Beijing Roast Duck
The North Chinese like the strong flavours of the rice vinegar and sweat and sour vegetables.
The Beijing cuisine often combines very simple rustic dishes with the classic “haute cuisine” of the Imperial Court. The culinary high point is the famous Pekinese duck. The preparation consists in air-drying the duck, covering it with soya, and then roasts it.
Once cooked, the bird is ceremonially cut. The guests put a slice of crunchy skin on which remains a little meat, a fine piece of cucumber, spring onion and a little plum sauce slightly sweetened on a small pancake as fine and transparent as a leaf.
Another popular dish is the "Beggar's chicken"; an entire chicken stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage, herbs and onions, wrapped in lotus leaves before being covered with clay and then steamed. The consumer breaks himself the hardened crust with a small hammer to release the delicious aroma which developed inside.
Shanghai and East Cuisine (“Red cooking” and seafood)
Shanghai is the biggest city and the biggest port of mainland China. In fact, the city hasn’t its own kitchen but cluster and refines that of the neighbour provinces.
It is located where the Yangtsi throws itself into the China Sea. Low Yangtsi abounds in vegetables and freshwater products.
Shanghai, metropolis of the gourmets, gathers a big variety of dishes: fried ravioli, a lot of soups, fishes and seafood and next to this, a much appreciated specialty in Hong-Kong, the hairy freshwater crab. Fished during the egg season, in autumn, these crabs are sent in boxes by air to Hong-Kong where they are expected with eagerness by connoisseurs' and upper classes palaces.The region also produces an incredible quantity of ducks, which are dried and "pressed" in Nankin.
In Shanghai, one of the favourite methods of cooking is the «Red cooking ", which consists in making simmer the food for a long time in soy sauce and yellow rice wine. Ravioli stuffed with meat or eel cooked in the wine with pieces of garlic, crispy freshwater shrimp noodles are only a small number of examples.
Sichuan and the western cuisine (very spicy)
The Sichuan, surrounded by mountains, is the geographical heart of China and one of the most abundant regions. The region being distant from the sea, numerous foods are salted, dried, smoked or spiced for their conservation, what gives a very characteristic kitchen.
It is the spiciest cooking of China (even if one says the same thing of that of Hunan). The most outstanding aromas are the garlic, the fennel, the coriander, the star anise, the hot pepper and the black pepper. The seam cooking and the smoking are typical methods of catering. Frogs' legs, duck smoked in tea leaves, big salted shrimps in garlic, the spicy tofu, are very popular Sichuan dishes. The most known is the peppered chicken in peanuts.
Canton and the South cuisine (steamed specialties)
The Cantonese kitchen was influenced by brilliant chefs who had to flee the Imperial court in 1644, when the Ming Dynasty was destitute. The fishing industry developed on the coast. Yu, the Cantonese word for fish and which pronunciation looks like the word "prosperity", makes that the fish keeps a place of choice on the Cantonese table.
For Cantonese people, the freshness of the product outdoes. The steam cooking of fishes and dim sum, which protects the taste of the food, made the reputation of the Cantonese cooking. It is also the least spicy kitchen. Canton ground of emigration made for a long time, in the world, a certain image of the Chinese food shine.
Among the most known dishes there are the delicious Cantonese fried rice and the shark fin soup (or shark's fin soup) a popular soup item usually served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets. The Cantonese kitchen also shows off "exotic" dishes such as dog, snake and turtle.
Other regional cuisine
Chiu Chow cuisine
It is native of regions situated in the East of the province of the Guangdong (Canton). As a result, there is nothing surprising that it is strongly influenced by the Cantonese cooking.
By the way, Chiu Chow cuisine is also near of Fujian cuisine, what confers to it a heavier texture. A typical Chiu Chow meal includes dishes such as the thick soup with shark's fin, goose and roast duck in Cheunjew sauce.
Hakka cuisine or Kejia cuisine
Immigrant travellers coming from distant North China, Hakka people often took their food in their expedition. The preservation of the food was especially made by salting.
The most typical dishes, which contain many giblets, are Dongjiang salt-baked chicken -this dish was originally baked in a heap of hot salt, but many modern restaurants simply cook it in brine, or cover it with a salty mixture before steaming or baking it in an oven- the pork and cabbage recipe and the Dough of soya with dried shrimps.
Hunan cuisine, also known as Xiang cuisine, competes with Sichuan cuisine for the label of the spiciest kitchen. Mao Tse Tung said that «more your cooking is peppered, more fiering you will be to make the revolution ", what gives an idea of the degree of spices in Hunan dishes.
The specialties include the Pigeon consommé, the chicken broth in dried scallops and the duck tongues in mustard sauce.
Kaifeng cuisine plays a dominant part in forming the Henan cuisine, the root of Chinese cuisine. Kaifeng offers a wide range of food specialities such as steaming pie and Chinese dumplings.
Particularly famous is Kaifeng's five-spice bread (wǔxiāng shāobǐng), which, like pita, can be opened and filled.