Chinese Cuisine

A Fanfare of Chopsticks
The World’s Best Cooks

“There would have been universal insistence, with a fanfare of chopsticks, upon irresistible Chinese food.” — Richard Hughes [1]

“It would not be an overstatement to maintain that the Chinese are the best cooks in the world.” — V. R. Burkhardt [2]

Jade Chopsticks

Jade Chopsticks
Collected by Berthold Laufer

Chinese food is everyone’s favorite cuisine, it seems.  This holds true whether you are chef, foodie, food writer, or ordinary eater.

It is true not only in China, but Chinese food is hugely enjoyed in Japan, Australia, North and South America, and Europe.  These days, excellent Chinese food is increasingly available in the Middle East and Africa, as restaurants open to serve expatriate Chinese workers in those regions.

Why is this? Chinese food is delicious, healthy, economically friendly and safe to eat.  In ancient times, Chinese chefs discovered principles of safe cooking that were highly advanced for the time.

Fire and Time: The ancient Chinese chefs also used principles of applied physics to determine the best size and shape for cut food so that it can be cooked quickly and well.  Slices, cubes, thin strips, shreds — all play their role. [3]

Heat is applied to food in a variety of ways, perhaps more ways than in any other cuisine — deep-frying, baking, boiling, stir-frying, red-cooking, cooking in hot cinders, drying in the wind — and many other ways.  They all have their own names in Chinese and a literature of how to do them best and what foods work best with which method and when. [4]

Chinese roast duck

Roast Duck

Working with simple tools and basic ingredients — essentially whatever was available — Chinese cooks have continued over the centuries to develop a sophisticated and advanced cuisine that almost everyone enjoys.

Actually, Chinese chefs have developed several cuisines under the main umbrella of Chinese cuisine. There’s a lot of discussion as to how many main schools of Chinese cooking there are. Some would say that each of the 18 traditional provinces had its own cuisine, as do a number of main cities. But these cuisines are in fact sometimes related or variants of one another.

Traditionally, Chinese gourmets have organized the local cooking styles into eight major regional cuisines:

  • Lu (Shandong) — including he cooking of the ancient capital, Beijing
  • Chuan (Sichuan)
  • Yue (Guangdong) — Cantonese cooking
  • Xiang (Hunan)
  • Su (Jiangsu, Huaiyang)
  • Zhe (Zhejiang) — including the cooking of Shanghai
  • Hui (Huozhou)
  • Min (Fujian) [5]

Using simple tools, the Chinese chefs have worked with basic materials ready to hand to create their famous cuisine. The main ingredients include:

Rice – Noodles – Soybeans (including Bean Curd and Soy Sauce) – Wheat and Millet. with a range of Breads, baked, steamed and fried, like Millet Bread  – Vegetables, especially Cabbage – Meats (of which Pork is the most important and other classic meats including especially Duck and Chicken as well as Mutton and Lamb – Fish – Tea – Herbs and Seasonings – Alcoholic Drinks
Oyster Sauce

Oyster Sauce

There are other main subject areas, including Dim Sum (Mandarin Dian Xin), the high tea cuisine developed especially in the South, but also with important Northern variants, which is almost a culinary school in its own right, together with foods like Congee, or rice porridge.[6]

Popular Sichuan dishes include the famous Ma Po Bean Curd and Sichuan Style Peppery Cabbage. Also cold noodle dishes like Noodles with Black Vinegar.

Chinese dish Bitter Melon with Piquant Green Peppes

Bitter Melon with Piquant Green Peppers

The scope of Chinese cuisine is vast and oceanic. One can never hope to cover it all completely or even thoroughly,. We will cover the major individual ingredients, techniques and regional schools of cooking in this site as separate Articles. We will also include sources of information and supply, including online information, books and articles. We will even add videos explaining some of the aspects of this many splendored approach to food and eating.

Some Random Notes: Some popular stir-fried dishes and recipes in this site include Stir-Fried Eggplant. Some other important cooking techniques include Red-Cooking and White-Cooking, depending on whether Soy Sauce is used or not.

Though Dairy foods are rare in Chinese cuisine, they do occur, as in Cabbage in Milk.  Concrning the health aspects of many vegetables in Chinese cooking, see also the article Does Cabbage Fight Cancer?

Besides Soy Sauce, another important seasoning is Oyster Sauce, as in Stir-Fry Oyster Sauce.

A very popular and staple dish is Fu Yung, as in Crab Egg Fu Yung.

 

For Further Information:

Menu cover from HHotel Cathay, Hong Kong[1] Richard Hughes, Foreign Devil
[2] V. R. Burkhardt, Chinese Creeds & Customs, v. 1
[3] F. T. Cheng, Musings of a Chinese Gourmet (London: Hutchinson, 1954). Cheng was a diplomat, official and justice of the Chinese Supreme Court, as well as an accomplished gourmet and food writer.
[4] Buwei Yang Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese
[5] Jung-hua Yeh, Chung-kuo ming ts’ai ta ch’uan (Hong Kong: Wan  Li Shu Tien, 1988)
[6] “Chinese Cuisine,” article, Wikipedia
[7] Chang and Kutscher, Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking
Ni Chen, Chia-t’ing shih-p’u pao-chien (Taipei: Cheng Yen Publishing Co., 1964)

China – Tianjin, map of former Austrian concession in old treaty port

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