Chinese Cuisine – The Ultimate Guide

Being a country with one of the largest populations in the world, China is known for its creativity in business, technology and culinary skills.

Traditionally, different regions of China had different cuisine which is also one of the most popular cuisines in the world.

Although China is home to many unique cooking styles, the chefs in the country have divided the cuisine into 8 cuisines. You will get this colorful, flavorful and aromatic meals within the country and in global science.

The History of The Chinese Cuisine

The cultural cuisine comes from a thousand years of modification and civilization. Precisely, the popular food included meat, veggies, rice and noodles. Noodles which are from wheat mostly used in the North as the rice was popular in the South.

We may attribute this clear-cut division to the geographical distribution of the farming, neighboring countries influence and preference.

As the country experienced the change of dynasties so did the cuisine develop further with the major development experienced during the song dynasty.

Song dynasty

It’s during this era that the cosmopolitanism arose. People were thriving economically and socially. This saw the rise of restaurants serving different Chinese meals from all parts of the country.

The communist system

In 1949 the people’s republic of China was formed. This saw the presence of the different cuisines from the different regions of the country presented in the various restaurants. Today, Chinese cuisine is popular in the world as a spicy, colorful and aromatic cuisine.

Note that, during the Song dynasty, the gourmets wrote a lot about their food and they further judged the food based on the presentation, flavor, texture and aroma. Today, your Chinese food must have a blend of five tastes: pungent, sour, bitter, sweet and salty.

Chinese Food Culture

Our country might be one of the few countries that call for courtesy, especially during the food service. Some of the rules include:

  • You should respect others

At the table, you must respect others to command respect form others as well. We share the table with the elderly, respected guests and even children. It’s usually upon you to serve the best and finest foods to your seniors first.

Remember, your host will remain hospitable and friendly but you must respect them as well. The meal is presented to the table but you shouldn’t start enjoying your meal before the host welcomes you and allows you to enjoy your meal.

You will have the main course placed in the middle of the table while the side dishes surround it. Sometimes, the main course is placed facing the major guest.

Chopsticks are the traditional most essential tableware which was invented here then it slowly spread to countries like Japan, Korea and Vietnam. They are used to stir food, nip and pick them. The use of chopstick is today welcomed in the global restaurants.

  • On one’s important days

China like every other country across the globe values birthdates. They are important parts of one’s life.

The younger people are given the noodles the day before the birthday as a symbol of longevity then regular cakes on the birthdate.

On reaching the middle age and going forward, you add different forms of peaches to symbolize longevity and immortality.

For the weddings, you will serve dates, longans, chestnut and peanuts. This gives the impression that you wish the couple some great luck to have children soon.

Other events include the return home after a long time where we serve noodles as a way of welcoming them. For the farewell, we serve dumplings.

On New Year’ Eve, people eat fish as a symbol of prosperity and more accumulation in the coming year. Check out the Sweet and Sour Fish Recipe for more information.

The Food Courses

You will have two parts in the Chinese dishes the staple food which is normally the noodles, rice or steamed buns and the meat dishes. Notice that you will all have your rice bowl but the accompanying dishes are eaten in communal plates.

Unlike the English courses, desserts aren’t part of the main meal rather they are taken in between meals. Although, if they are in form of fruits then you eat it after the meal.

  • Cold dish

This is the first course. Its work is to act as an appetizer. They are made using the salt, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil and light soy sauce.

  • The hot dish

This is just in comparison to the cold dish and is normally the main course. You cook the hot dishes by stir-frying, quick frying and deep frying among other methods.

  • Soups and congees

You will have soups in two forms, those that you add starches and those without. The soups are often prepared using different kinds of meat and veggies. They are served after the hot dishes, not as an appetizer.

Congee, on the other hand, is just the kind of porridge or gruel. It’s easy to digest and it works well for the sick and young babies as well.

You will also have various foodstuffs that are sold on the streets as snacks or desserts.

In summary

You should know that China is a country where food occupies a large aspect of socialization. For that, we treasure good food. In our food culture, the different regions produce different flavors.

You will find that most food from the north is salty, the south is sweet, the west is spicy and the east salty.

In addition, with the change in seasons, so do we change our meals. Every season has different meals and accompaniments preferred. For example, during winter we use more rich and flavored meals that are mostly thick.

During the summer, we have cool flavors and lighter meals. Summer times you will find the people serving mostly cold meals with dressings. While in winter you will popularly find soups and stews also the braised dishes.

Remember, the aesthetic appeal of the food is of the essence in Chinese cuisine. From the color to the shape to the aroma the food looks quite presentable. This is meant for food enjoyment.

The Common Chinese Cooking Styles

The cooking style in Chinese cuisine includes the emphasis on the fresh and seasonal ingredient. They use the following methods of cooking.

  • Stir-frying

This happens to be the most popular method of cooking in China where the food is cooked quick and easily but it’s also full of flavor and tasty. The wok is the basic cookware you use in the cooking process. This is because it can stand high heat.

For ease in cooking, ensure you have the ingredients ready before you begin heating the wok.

For the food to cook perfectly, you should remember to shred them thinly and you should add some oil before the cooking begins. Your stir-fried food is best served immediately remember.

  • The deep frying

This is a popular method of cooking across the globe. You will use this method to cook different foods if you are looking for the crispy outer texture. This one also requires high heat cooking. You will need the deep saucepan or deep fryer.

  • Steaming

This is one of the healthiest methods of cooking because you use minimal to no oil. It’s also a traditional method of cooking which will produce delicious and tasty meals.

You must have heard of seen the dim sum dishes and other dumplings. They are among the few options we have when cooking the meals.

  • Boiling

Of all forms of cooking anywhere, boiling is the easiest method. It’s quicker to cook in this method yet it’s also effective as it retains the juices, color and texture. You have your ingredients cut into pieces then immersed in the boiling water or broth to cook.

  • Roasting and grilling

You have various Chinese food cooked in this method. From turkey to sheep legs and even chicken, the method of roasting is the same across the board except for the spices used. You may use charcoal grills or oven to roast and grill.

  • Braising

This is also another popular method when you are looking to have unique and nutritious food. You begin by boiling the food then you simmer it for hours.

This maintains the nutrients. To cook your food, you simply cut the food in the diamond shape then place it in the boiling saucepan to boil before you let it simmer.

Types of Chinese Cuisine

Being one of the worlds most popular cuisine, it’s divided into 8 famous regional cuisines. This cuisine is formed based on the geographic environment and the popular food cultivated in an area.

Below are the types of cuisines

  1. Szechuan cuisine

I don’t know if the reason I start with the Szechuan cuisine is that I’m from this region but truth be told Szechuan cuisine is the most loved cuisine. I would describe it as the flavors of China.

This features the largest province of the country and it’s found in the eastern side of China. If you are new and love spicy food with bold and pungent flavors, you should visit Szechuan. This area is particularly known for the red cooking method.

  1. Cantonese

For most people, Chinese cuisine is all about the Cantonese style of cooking. This is because most immigrants came from the Cantonese region and they, therefore, introduced their method of cooking to the west.

This is what has made the region’s cuisine popular. They use different sauces in cooking and they have an array of spices to utilize in the cooking process. They are good in stir-frying, roasting and steaming several meat products.

If you are familiar with the dim sum then you should know that it came from the Cantonese region. Generally, this cuisine has a distinctive style of cooking. The dishes here are tender, slightly sweet with a mellow smell.

  1. Shandong

This is another of the most prevalent cuisines in the country and even the world. It’s popularly eaten across Beijing, Northeast China and Tianjin. The cooking process keeps the cooking simple and thus highlighting its original flavor.

This cuisine makes the best soups and soup meals. In additions, since Shandong is a coastal province, you will find all the seafood like prawns, scallops and other seafood in your menu.

  1. Zhejiang

This’s the province that borders Shanghai. It specializes in making the best seafood as well but they don’t make the cuisine so elaborate. They like to focus on the deep flavors thus their food remains delicate in appearance.

The region mostly uses the bamboo shoots as part of the cooking and serving process. So, you expect a mellow fragrance and rich fish and other seafood. The other unique thing about the cuisine is that they serve their food raw or almost raw.

  1. Hunan

For all my spice-loving friends this is your best region to source food stuffs from. The fact is that if you love the Sichuan cuisine you will most likely love this hot and spicy food. The food is also rich in color and sweet aroma.

You will find most foods in this region being stewed but there are also the baked and braised ones.

  1. Fujian cuisine

This is another region that is popularly known for its great seafood. The food is cooked with fresh ingredients from the mountain and sea. They focus mostly on seasoning. The food is served in the soups and broths.

They further use the stewing method of cooking, steaming and braising. You expect the exotic meals. The food is mostly lighter with a mild sweet and sour taste.

  1. Jiangsu

This cuisine is popular in the lower region of the Yangtze river. The flavors of this country include the fresh moderately salty, sweet and spicy notes. It can flavor your seafood and its colorful. They are aromatic and nicely presented.

  1. Anhui cuisine

The cuisine here uses an array of herbs and veggies making it exotic yet wild. You will mostly use fresh bamboo and mushroom. Since it’s an inland with great mountains like the yellow mountain in the region most of the herbs are sourced on the mountain.

Although it’s a wild flavored dish, it has the sweet dishes that you find from the added sugar.

The Unique Characteristics of The Chinese Cuisine

By now, we just ought to mention the characteristics because we have already talked in depth about them in the article.

  • They have diversified colors

The essence of the diversification on Chinese cuisine is to make it appetizing to the eaters. Remember, the cuisine focuses on the aesthetic appeal.

They have bright colors that are harmonious and pleasing to the eye. So even with the rich flavors, the colors have additional value.

  • The aroma

These meals have a great aroma. Even if it means using certain ingredients to rid the awful smell the Chinese will do. The aniseed and cinnamon are commonly used. You will also have ginger, garlic and chilli flavor as part of the aroma enhancement.

  • Balanced taste

As earlier stated, you may divide the Chinese cuisine within 5 tastes. It’s sweet, sour, hot, salty, bitter. Since we love using the vinegar, soy sauce salt and sugar in most of our meals, you will find our rich tastes unparalleled across the globe.

Chinese Food Map

Chinese Food Map

Southern Chinese Cuisine

The southerners eat most animals including their intestines. They have a rich cuisine but they will eat snakes, cats, dogs, cows and most other meat dishes. This is mostly the Cantonese cuisine. They also love soups, seafood and stews.

We have talked much about the Cantonese cuisine in the blog so you could refer to that for more information on the southern cuisine.

Spicy Chinese Cuisine

Basically, most of the Chinese cuisine is hot and spicy. The common cuisine with the spicy flavor, however, is Hunan cuisine. Its characterised by the hot and spicy flavors. It’s also colorful which makes you want to eat it all the time.

Another spicy cuisine is the Sichuan cuisine which has a distinct spicy flavor with the numbing taste. It’s further hot and delicious. It’s no wonder it’s famous across the globe. If you enjoy the spicy meals then this will suit your palate needs.

Famous Chinese Recipes

Chow Mein

 

This is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe that is natively Cantonese. It means stir-fried noodles and you will find it in most Chinese restaurants. For some people, this is a side dish but when you have additional chicken and veggies it becomes the main meal.

Chow Mein features ingredients like noodles, a vegetable and protein. You stir-fry the food with sauce to increase flavor. The meal is not only colorful but also delicious and flavorful. From the Caribbean to India to Japan and the United States this meal is a staple.

You will find it in Chinese restaurants across the globe. For best results, you should always use the fresh veggies as opposed to wilted ones. You need high heat and some bit of oil to achieve the exact texture and flavor you are looking for.

Notice that when you travel across the globe you will find different variations of the meal because they adopt the local tastes. For the authentic Chow Mein, you can visit Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Chow Mein

Stir-fried rice with tofu

This is your traditional favorite Chinese vegetarian dish. You can use either the firm type of tofu or the flavorful and pressed tofu. This is your simple stir-fry that you cook and add other oriental sauces to enhance the flavor.

The ingredients used have medicinal value to your body because you use veggies of different kinds. Rice comes in to make your food a whole meal. Not only is it flavorful but it also has a great texture and color.

Dumplings

 

Dumplings are other common meals in Chinese cuisine. They are often cooked using different methods but the most popular one is the steaming. They feature small lumps of dough that are may or may not contain fillings.

You can eat the meals as snacks or main meals. You will have them with all the different flavors. The flavors are a result of the fillings used in it. The popular ones use meat and eggs in the filling although you may also use veggies like carrots and green onions.

They came into the country from the northern part over 1800 years ago.

Dumpling recipes

Har Gaw

Old edge dumplings recipes

Soup dumplings

Sweet and sour spare ribs

 

This is by far one of the most common dishes made both at home and in restaurants. It was invented in the 18th century and it has spread across the globe today.

The founder chefs were creative to come up with a dish that blends ingredients to bring out the sweet and sour flavors. The cook prepares it by cutting the pork into bite-size pieces then stir frying it in the sweet and sour sauce.

To further enhance the flavors you will have the pineapple dices, green pepper and onion dices. It may have a difference in flavor between the Hong Kong one and the northern region type. One thing is true though, the meal is nothing short of delicious.

Hotpot

 

We can’t finish our list without the mention of hotpot. This is a famous dish among us that is popularly eaten during winter. Although it originated from the north, its used in all provinces across the country.

We make the soup in accordance to our native flavors. For example, in Sichuan and Hunan, the hot pot is hot and spicy with numbing sensation sometimes. While in the north they focus on the richness of the mutton they use.

Either way, today this is a welcomed dish in most festivals and even at home.

The Chinese Restaurants

Note that this is a country that values good food. Therefore, there are hundreds of Chinese restaurants and more upcoming ones. You will have restaurants focusing on the cuisines from the 8 regions. Some even focus on a meal.

Garden Chinese restaurant

Here you will have it all from vegan to vegetarian to meaty foods. They are presented neatly and you enjoy your meal in an ambient environment. For you who is new to this cuisine and would love to try the cuisine, visit the restaurant and I promise you will be happy you did.

Address: Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel, No.61 Dongsanhuan Middle Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China

Shanghai old restaurant

History indicates that the restaurant must have been made back in the Qing dynasty. The restaurant focuses on only the Shanghai cuisine. It has always received many customers throughout the year.

Address: 242 Fuyou Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai.

Choy’s seafood restaurant

For those days when you are looking for the seafood flavors and you are in Beijing, this is the place to go.

Address: 2/F Marriott Hotel, Haihang Mansion, No.26 Xiaoyun Road A, Beijing 100125, China

Conclusion

I have to say this cuisine is one elaborate one. For you to enjoy it as a person visiting the country, you need to stay open minded and learn more about different cultures. Notice that food ingredients also work as herbs and medicine in this cuisine.

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