Chinese food reflects the culinary culture of China that is usually characterized by a balance in tastes, flavors and textures, where hot balances cold, savory balances sweet, and pickled balances fresh.
History of Chinese Cuisine
The exact origin of Chinese cuisine is not known but the history of Chinese cuisine goes as far back as the history of civilization. Evolving greatly over time, the use of chopsticks and the stir-fry method of cooking are now hundreds of years old, and have come down from different dynasties ruling China over the centuries.
Classification of Chinese Food
• Szechuan food - Originating in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, Szechuan cuisine is distinguishable with its bold use of peppers and garlic and most prominently the Sichuan peppercorn. Chinese food in Szechuan cuisine can be further categorized into Chengdu style, Zigong style, vegetarian Buddhist style, and Chonqking style.
• Huaiyang food - Huaiyang cuisine is characteristic of the region surrounding the lower reaches of the Huai and Yangtze rivers, and centered upon the cities of Huai'an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in the Jiangsu province of China. Each Chinese dish in the Huaiyang cuisine is characterized by its main ingredient, and the way the ingredient is cut. The food is mostly sweet and never spicy.
• Cantonese food – Cantonese or Yuet cuisine, comes from the Guangdong province of Southern China, and incorporates almost all edible forms of meat, including organ meats although lamb is seldom a part of their food. According to connoisseurs of Cantonese cuisine in Chinese food, the dish should be well-balanced, non-greasy, fresh and containing a modest amount of spices.
• Shandong Cuisine - Also called Lu cuisine, Chinese food in Shandong cuisine is derived from the native cooking styles of Shandong, an eastern coastal province of China. Shandong food uses two styles of cooking, namely the Jiaodong style (cooking with lightly flavored seafood) and the Jinan style (using soup in its dishes). Now considered the most influential branch of Chinese cuisine, it still remains rooted to its ancient traditions.
Commonly used Ingredients in Chinese Food
Rice is the staple starch in Chinese food. Ginger, garlic, scallions, salt, sugar, vinegar, fresh vegetables, pepper, pork, beef, various other meats, fresh fish and aquatic creatures form the main ingredients of Chinese food. Main vegetables used in most of the Chinese dishes are potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, bell pepper and eggplant. Some other ingredients that constitute Chinese food are star anise, sesame oil, soy sauce, peanuts, oats, wheat and millet.
Common Methods of Cooking Chinese Food
• Stir frying – This method is used to make vegetables and meats. Stir frying involves minimal amount of oil and considered a healthy cooking method in Chinese cuisine.
• Steaming – Steamed dumplings and fish are the Chinese dishes made with the method of steaming.
• Braising – In this method, Chinese food is cooked with both moist and dry heat. Mainly, meat is cooked with braising.
• Deep frying – It is clear by its name that food is deep fried in oil. For example, wontons, fried chicken and crispy honey chicken.
Influence of Chinese Food on the World
Countries like America and India have their own stylized versions of Chinese food to suit the palates of their natives. Where there are historical immigrant Chinese populations, the style of food has evolved. Chinese food has gained extreme popularity from Asia to the Americas, Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa.
Eating Habits and Complete Diet in Chinese Food
In china, breakfasts vary greatly between different regions.
• In Chinese cuisine breakfast fare typically includes huājuǎn, mántou (steamed breads), shāobǐng (unleavened pocket-bread with sesame), bāozi (steamed buns with meat or vegetable stuffing), with Dòunǎi or dòujiāng (soy milk) or tea served in Chinese style as beverages. Plain rice porridge served with numerous side dishes, such as salted duck eggs, pickled vegetables and century eggs or sweetened or savory soy milk served with shāobǐng or yóutiáo are some of the common breakfast dishes in Chinese food.
• Lunch and dinner in Chinese cuisine include rice, pork or beef dish with vegetables, which are typically stir-fried or boiled.
• Dinner is a large meal in Chinese cuisine. It is a three course meal consisting of appetizers, main course and dessert. Appetizers in Chinese food include cold dishes like vegetable or meat salads and cold soups. Main course mainly include rice or noodle dishes with stir-fried meats or vegetables. Desserts in Chinese food are not as common as they are in the West. Instead, sweet foods are served during the meal. Most popular Chinese dessert is a dish of mixed fruits.
Prominent Chinese Recipes
Chinese food also varies according to its provinces. Some important Chinese dishes according to provinces are:
• Beijing - Peking duck, hot pot
• Guangdong - Dim sum, slow cooked soup, siu mei, century egg
• Sichuan - málà hotpot, Mapo doufu, Kung Pao chicken, twice cooked pork
• Shanghai - Xiaolongbao, red-cooked stews, Shanghai hairy crab, shengjian mantou
• Fujian - Fotiaoqiang, popiah
• Tibet – Tsampa
Global Chinese Food
Among the Chinese dishes that have made a mark with their popularity on a global scale are Sweet and Sour Pork or Chicken, Gong Bao Chicken, Ma Po Bean Curd, Wonton Soup, Dumplings, Spring Rolls, Chow Mein and Peking Duck.
Traditional Chinese Food
A traditional Chinese meal usually consists of a carbohydrate source like rice or noodles, followed by vegetables, fish or meat. The tool used for eating Chinese food is mostly chopsticks. Wontons, kung pao chicken, fried pan cakes, hot and sour soup, fried rice and dumplings are some of the Chinese dishes that reflect the tradition of Chinese cooking.
Chinese Food in Festivals
• Mooncake – This is a special pastry made at the time of moon worship during mid-autumn festival in China.
• Tea eggs and sesame balls – special New year dishes made in Chinese food.
• Zong zi dumplings – These dumplings are specially made at the time of Dragon boat festival in china. It is one of the main dishes in Chinese cuisine.
Health benefits of Chinese food
Chinese food, like other foods of the Asian Cuisine, is believed to be a better option than food from other ethnic cuisines, primarily due to the predominant use of fresh vegetables and ingredients, as well as the health benefits of the spices that are used in its cooking.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates for 2001–2003, 12% of the population of China was undernourished. The number of undernourished people in the country has fallen from 386.6 million in 1969–1971 to 150.0 million in 2001–2003. Health advocates have put a part of the blame on the increased popularity of US fast food, and other products and culinary habits.