Some say Chinese cuisine is 400,000 years old going back to the Peking Man and his use of fire. There are other studies taking it to the Chinese stone age, where the cultivation of rice and the production of noodles, both typical representations of Chinese cuisine as we have known today, are understood from archaeological findings.
‘Chinese cooking’ is a broadly descriptive term for its food perceptions and varieties. There are regional cooking styles that are explained in brief here. These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as available resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle. One style may favour the use of lots of garlic and shallots over lots of chilli and spices, while another may favour preparing seafood over other meats and fowl. Many traditional regional cuisines rely on basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.
Food from northern China
We can include food from Beijing, Mandarin and Shantung. It is known especially for its steamed bread and noodle dishes. You are likely to find imperial style dictating the food and ambience: red brocade, tasselled lanterns and lacquer furnishings. Best known dish is Peking Duck. There is a Mongolian influence visible in the use of mutton and lamb. As the colder climes of north China are not suitable for cultivation of rice, wheat, barley, millet and soybeans are staples and that explains why breads and noodles are so evident in the meal. Cabbage, squash, pears, grapes, and apples are also popularly used.
The south eastern Chinese treats
Cantonese and Chaozhou are areas known for presenting lightly cooked meats and vegetables. Canton is China’s gateway to the West. There are cosmopolitan influences here, French being more dominant, and so much like the French the Cantonese believe that they live to eat! In this area, you can indulge in dim sums (meaning ‘touch your heart’), that are bite sized eats prepared by frying, steaming, stewing and baking. You can also be served tea with these. The key ingredient of Cantonese food is fresh produce: be it meat, poultry, fish, vegetables.
East China – relish red cooking of Shanghai
This region is the perfect introduction to slow red cooking, seafood and clear light soups, so much so that do not be surprised if you are served more than one soup in one meal! Being a port city, Shanghai plays a vital role in this region’s cuisine as some international ideas do merge well. You will find food that has great dependence on soy sauce and sugar, foods that are stewed, braised and fried, in all giving a red coloured presentation. Meals are light, balanced with red fermented bean sauce. Rice is the staple here. You can also enjoy egg rolls, paper thin pancakes, seaweeds, suckling pig and green tea.
Call it Szechuan style from west China
Szechuan and Hunan are areas that enjoy a steamy, hot, tropical climate and hence the cuisine matches. Plus that fact that locally grown chillies make the food spicy! This region uses locally grown rice, citrus fruits, bamboo, chillies and mushrooms. Ginger, garlic, onions and brown peppercorns are popular seasonings.You will not need any table condiments as dishes themselves are seasoned, spiced and oily, for example Deep Fried Chicken Wrapped in Paper. World famous Hot and Sour Soup is Szechuan style, so are spicy tofu dishes.
Unknown Central China
Interiormost region of the large country that it is, central China, more so Honan, is on the culinary map for the carp fish from the Yellow River. Food here is mostly sweet and sour.
Those who have a sweet tooth
Chinese like to serve their sweet foods with tea, or along with meals and also at the end of meals. Moon Cakes, Red Bean Paste Pancakes and Sun Cakes are evidently Chinese. Glutinous rice is used to make rice based snacks. Chinese candies use mostly cane sugar, malt sugar, honey, nuts and fruit. Ice cream is a popular dessert, as are Chinese jellies set with agar agar. 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 are green tea, oolong tea, black tea, scented tea, white tea, and compressed tea.