When we review the history of Chinese cuisine, we notice that it is marked by both variety and change. Since ancient times, food used to be at the center of many social interactions. The credit for today’s delicious cuisine, with aroma varieties and flavors, is due to ancient traditional Chinese culture. The Chinese have always regarded food as an art. The emphasis has always been on various culinary techniques, ranging from preparation to serving and food appreciation.
Color, smell, and taste are three traditional aspects used to describe Chinese food, as well as the meaning, shape, and nutrition of the food. Cooking should be appraised from ingredients used, cuttings, cooking time, and seasoning.
Rice is a major staple food for people from rice-farming areas in southern China. Steamed rice, usually white rice, is the most commonly eaten form. Rice is also used to produce beers, wines, and vinegars. Rice is one of the most popular foods in China and is used in many dishes, Glutinous rice (sticky rice) is a variety of rice used in many specialty Chinese dishes.
In wheat-farming areas in North China, people largely rely on flour-based food, such as noodles, bread, dumplings, and mantou (a type of steamed bun).
Chinese noodles come dry or fresh in a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures and are often served in soups or fried as toppings. Some varieties,such as shoumian (寿面, literally noodles of longevity), are symbolic of long life and good health according to Chinese tradition. Noodles can be served hot or cold with different toppings, with broth, and occasionally dry. Noodles are commonly made with rice flour or wheat flour, but other flours such as soybean are also used.
Tofu is made of soybeans and is another popular food product that supplies protein. The production process of tofu varies from regions to regions, resulting in different kinds of tofu with a wide range of textures and tastes. Other products such as soy milk, soy paste, soy oil, and fermented soy sauce are also important in Chinese cooking.
There are many kinds of soybean products, including tofu skin, smoked tofu, dried tofu, fried tofu, and so on.
Apart from vegetables that can be commonly seen some unique vegetables are used in Chinese cuisine, including snow pea pods, baby corn, Chinese eggplant, Chinese broccoli, and straw mushrooms. Other vegetables including bean sprouts, pea vine tips, watercress, lotus roots, and bamboo shoots are also used in different cuisines of China.
Because of different climates and soil conditions, cultivars of green beans, peas, and mushrooms can be found in a rich variety. A variety of dried or pickled vegetables are also eaten, especially in drier or colder regions where fresh vegetables traditionally are hard to get out of season.
Herbs and seasonings
Seasonings such as fresh ginger root, garlic, scallion, cilantro, and sesame are widely used in many regional cuisines. Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, and white peppers are also used in different regions.
To add extra flavors to dishes, many Chinese cuisines also contain dried Chinese mushrooms, dried baby shrimp, dried tangerine peel, and dried Sichuan chilies.
When it comes to sauces, China is home to soy sauce, which is made from fermented soybeans and wheat. Oyster sauce, clear rice vinegar, chili, Chinkiang black rice vinegar, fish sauce, and furu(fermented tofu)are also widely used. A number of sauces are also based on fermented soybeans, including Hoisin sauce, ground bean sauce, and yellow bean sauce.
Desserts and snacks
Generally, seasonal fruits serve as the most common form of dessert consumed after dinner. Dim sum, originally meaning a small portion of food, can refer to desserts and pastries. Later to avoid disambiguation,tiandian(甜点) and gaodian(糕点) are used to describe desserts and pastries.
Chinese desserts are sweet foods and dishes that are served with tea, usually during the meal, or at the end of meals. Besides being served as dim sum along with tea, pastries are used for the celebration of traditional festivals. The most famous one is moon cake, used to celebrate the Mid-autumn Festival. A wide variety of Chinese desserts are available, mainly including steamed and boiled sweet snacks. Bing is an umbrella term for all breads in Chinese, also including pastries and sweets. These are baked wheat flour-based confections, with different stuffings including red bean paste, jujube, and various others. Su(酥) is another kind of pastry made with more amount of oil, making the confection more friable. Chinese candies and sweets, called tang(糖), are usually made with cane sugar, malt sugar, honey, nuts, and fruit. Gao(糕) or guo(粿) are rice-based snacks that are typically steamed and may be made from glutinous or normal rice.
Another cold dessert is called baobing(刨冰), which is shaved ice with sweet syrup. Chinese jellies are known collectively in the language as ices. Many jelly desserts are traditionally set with agar and are flavored with fruits, though gelatin-based jellies are also common in contemporary desserts. Chinese dessert soups typically consist of sweet and usually are hot soups. There are also Western pastries in China, like mille-feuille, crème brûlée, and cheesecake, but not many of them are welcomed. Because the Chinese preference for dessert is mildly sweet and less oily.
Baozi(包子) is steamed buns containing savory or sweet combinations of meat, vegetables, and mushrooms, traditionally associated with breakfast.
Many types of street foods, which vary from region to region, can be eaten as snacks or light dinners. Prawn crackers are an often-consumed snack in Southeast China.
Chinese in earlier dynasties evidently drank milk and ate dairy products, although not necessarily from cows, but perhaps koumiss (fermented mare’s milk) or goat’s milk. Tapioca pudding and “double-skin milk” as dessert is also quite popular.
Many Chinese until recently have avoided milk, partly because pasturage for milk producers in a monsoon rice ecology is not economic. Ice cream is commonly available and popular throughout China.
Cold dishes are usually served before the main meal. Besides salad and pickles as appetizers, they can range from jelly, beancurd, noodle salad, cooked meat, and sausages, to jellyfish or cold soups. Chinese sausages vary from region to region. The most common sausage is made of pork and pork fat. The flavor is generally salty-sweet. Chinese sausage is prepared in many different ways, including oven-roasting, stir-frying, and steaming.
In some parts of South China, soups are served between the cold dishes and main dishes. In the rest parts of China, soups are served between the main dish and staple foods, before desserts or fruit salad.
Longjing tea, also known as Dragon Well tea, is a variety of roasted green tea from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where it is produced mostly by hand and has been renowned for its high quality, earning the title of Chinese Famous Tea.
As well as with dim sum, many Chinese drink tea with snacks such as nuts, plums, dried fruit (in particular jujube), small sweets, melon seeds, and waxberry. China was the earliest country to cultivate and drink tea, which is enjoyed by people from all social classes. Tea processing began after the Qin and the Han dynasties. Chinese tea is often classified into several different categories according to the species of plant from which it is sourced, the region in which it is grown, and the method of production used. Some of these types are green tea, oolong tea, black tea, scented tea, white tea, and compressed tea. There are four major tea plantation regions: Jiangbei, Jiangnan, Huanan, and the southwestern region. Well-known types of green tea include Longjing, Huangshan, Mao Feng, Biluochun, Putuofeng Cha, and Lu’an Guapian. China is the world’s largest exporter of green tea. One of the most ubiquitous accessories in modern China, after a wallet or purse and an umbrella, is a double-walled insulated glass thermos with tea leaves in the top behind a strainer.
Baijiu(白酒) and huangjiu(黄酒) as strong alcoholic beverages are preferred by many people as well. Wine is not as popular as other drinks in China that are consumed during dining, although they are usually available on the menu.
The importance of Baijiu(white liquor) in China (99.5% of its alcoholic market) makes it the most-consumed alcoholic spirit in the world. It dates back to the introduction of distilling during the Song Dynasty; it can be made from wheat, corn, or rice; and is usually around 120 proof(60% ABV). The most ubiquitous kind is the cheap Erguotou(二锅头), but Mao Tai(茅台) is the premium Baijiu. Other popular brands include Lu Zhou Te Qu(泸州特曲), and Wu Liang Ye(五粮液). Huangjiu(yellow liquor) is not distilled and is a strong rice wine(10%-15% ABV). Popular brands include Shaoxing Lao Jiu,Shaoxing Hua Diao, and Jia Fan.