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Chinese food is one of the most sought-after cuisines in the world; you can find restaurants serving Chinese food in even the most remote corners of the Earth.
It is interesting to learn that authentic Chinese food is widely different from the foods found in western countries. The use of a large number of vegetables and almost no dairy products, in preparing the dishes in China, make it stand out from the Americanized version of the food.
Wasting food is a big deal in China and you will find that they utilize every part of an animal in some way or the other in their dishes. The use of a fork and knife is frowned upon by Chinese people, who only use chopsticks for eating delectable dishes. The most popular beverage in the world, tea, has its origins in China. Tea is the most successful Chinese item that has spread to all corners of the world. Many variations have been created to suit the local taste of the people in each nation.
Although Chinese people consume all types of meat, barring human meat, the most common meat available everywhere is pork. In some regions, beef is not eaten, as it is used in rituals and considered sacred.
The culinary traditions in China date back to over 5000 years ago. Over the centuries, China has perfected its way of cooking, invented new cooking styles, and learned to make use of as many items as possible in making Chinese food.
Authentic Chinese food is found more commonly in East Asian countries than in the western world. The various recipes found in China have originated from different places in the nation.
Records show that China already had grilled foods more than 5000 years ago. When the Zhou Dynasty was ruling in China, the staple Chinese food of the time mostly consisted of grains like barley, millet, brown rice, and beans. However, these were not the ones that are cultivated today.
During the late Zhou Dynasty, Chinese people began cultivating white rice, as it was one of the rarest food items of the time, affordable only by the rich sections of the society. Salt was a common ingredient by this time and it was the most important item in cooking. The future generations in China were highly influenced by a cuisine known as Ba Zheng or Eight Treasures.
During the Qin Dynasty, people adopted a sour flavor in food. This was confirmed by bamboo slips that were found in tombs. Plums were used to remove the fishy smell from fish. Other than this, soybean sauce, vinegar, cinnamon, and green onion were also commonly used ingredients during the Qin Dynasty.
A salty flavor was preferred in the Han Dynasty. This was a time when Chinese cooking took a leap forward. The Silk Route was opened during the Han Dynasty, which brought merchants from outside China to the nation. The import of raw materials, such as grapes, pepper, cucumber, lettuce, and garlic was helpful for creating new dishes.
Chinese food developed at a fast pace during the North, South, Han, and Wei dynasties. Luohu of the Han Dynasty created the Wu Hou Mackerel, a delicacy of the time. Jia Sixie wrote 'Qi Ming Yao Shu' during the reign of the North Wei Dynasty, in which mentions of more than 200 kinds of dishes was found. The influence of Buddhism spread during the South Dynasty, which made people more aware of vegetarian dishes.
The Tang Dynasty saw people engaging in banquets and parties much more than in previous times. Chinese food had developed to quite a good standard by this time. Chinese food reached a sort of climax during the Song Dynasty. The eateries in Linan and Bianjing served a number of hot soups and cold dishes. These were markedly distinct from Chuan flavors in North and South.
During the Qing, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, thousands of recipes appeared in China. It was in this period that many Islamic people relocated to parts of China. Halal food then developed as a new type of Chinese food.
The emperor during the Qing Dynasty belonged to the Manchu people and as a result, Chinese cooking was influenced heavily by the Manchu style of cooking. Chili pepper plants began to be imported into the country during the Ming Dynasty, as fancy flowers. The people of China soon discovered the value of chili pepper in cooking. The spicy flavor became popular in the Sichuan and Hunan provinces of the time and left a deep impact on the cooking styles of these regions.
After the People's Republic of China came into being, and especially after 1979, Chinese food made use of innovations to produce some exciting dishes. Various regions had their own traditional dishes, which came into the mainstream once more.
Traditional food in China has developed over the centuries into the form that we see today. Many permutations and combinations have gone into making Chinese dishes the best in the world.
There is a large variety of cooking styles in China that are followed by Chinese people. Chinese connoisseurs have identified eight of these styles as the best. These culinary cuisines are looked up to as models for upcoming chefs due to their unique strengths and style.
The eight cooking styles that are identified as the best in China are Cantonese cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine, Shangdong cuisine, Anhui cuisine, Zhejiang cuisine, Fujian cuisine, Hunan cuisine, and Sichuan cuisine. Some differences mark them apart from one another.
Traditional Chinese medicine dictates that culinary cuisines need to have the perfect balance of the five key flavors; sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and salty.
Traditional Chinese food rarely uses dairy products in their recipes, such as butter, cheese, or cream. If you are lactose intolerant, authentic Chinese dishes are perfect for you.
It should be noted, though, that if you are sitting in a restaurant in one of the bigger Chinese cities, like Shanghai or Beijing, they may use some dairy products in their food, but it is not as commonly seen as in European or American restaurants.
Traditional Chinese meals are eaten communally in China. The center of the table is reserved for placing the dishes and people sit around the table with their rice bowls. If you visit a traditional restaurant in China, you might see a group of 10 to 12 people sitting around lazy Susan turntables, for easy sharing of food.
A traditional Chinese breakfast includes rice, rice porridge, rice noodles, fried pancakes, and bread, followed by soy milk or Chinese tea. For lunch or dinner, people have rice or noodles with vegetables or meat.
An important thing to remember about authentic Chinese cuisine is that whenever Chinese people talk about 'fragrant meat', it refers to dog meat. It is a common term all over China.
In China, cooking is considered one of the highest forms of art and the locals give great emphasis on using the best ingredients in their food. They use the greatest number of items per recipe than anywhere else in the world.
The Chinese people can use one ingredient in many ways as the food differs from region to region in China, each having its own distinct cooking method. If you take the example of pork, it can be stewed, roasted, steamed, stir-fried, sweet and sour sauced, or soy-sauced. As a result, you will hardly ever come across two of the same dish in China.
Chinese people like to eat healthy food and for this reason, they only use fresh vegetables. Earlier, canned or frozen food was frowned upon, but in recent years, the new generation is slowly adopting it into Chinese cooking. The dishes of China utilize large quantities of herbs and vegetables for a healthy diet.
The younger generation in China has cake and other sweets for dessert. This stands in stark contrast to traditional Chinese meals, which include seasonal fruits as Chinese desserts. Being served fruit after a meal is common in Chinese households. Some of the common fruits in China are mandarins, peaches, persimmons, loquat, and Chinese pear.
China has so many varieties of vegetables available that many outsiders may not have ever heard of or seen them! Some of these rare vegetables are pomelos, yard-long yams, napa cabbage, bitter cucumber, and tree fungi.
Chinese medicine says that seasonal food must be eaten to combat too much yang and yin. These refer to hot weather and cold weather. White radishes are popular in the winter months in China.
Sichuan cuisine is extremely spicy and hot, using ingredients like garlic, ginger, and chili paste. Ma Po Tofu is a famous Sichuan dish, made using chili peppers and beans.
China celebrates a number of festivals all throughout the year, for which specific dishes are cooked, each having a history and interesting story behind it. Let's look at some of the festival foods of China.
Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, is a day of celebration all over the world. Regional variations in the food differ from place to place.
When you speak about traditional Chinese food, you cannot forget dumplings. It is all the more important during New Year festivities, especially in northern cuisine. Chinese dumplings are also known as Jiao Zi, which can be loosely translated as 'bidding farewell to the previous and welcoming in the new'.
Dumplings are prepared before midnight every year on New Year's Eve and are consumed during the final hour of the old year, until the end of the first hour of the Chinese New Year. The shape of dumplings is in the form of ancient silver or gold ingots, or maybe a crescent moon. It is a symbol of a plentiful year and you may even find a coin in some dumplings. This is a token of good luck for the people eating them.
It is said that dumplings bring peace to people who have been fighting with one another. The making of a dumpling is a communal process, as some people make the stuffing, some roll the skins, and some add the final touches. Dumplings are filled with spicy minced pork or cabbage, then steamed or fried, and finally, while eating, dipped in a number of sauces.
In southern China, New Year celebrations involve Nian Gao, or rice cake. As rice is more common in the south, this cake is a popular sweet dish served to guests during the new year. It is round in shape and made out of sticky rice flour and sugar. It can even be made of spring onion and meat. The round shape symbolizes the reunion of families.
Lion's Head Meatball is one of the rarer new year dishes, which looks like a lion. The reason for this, is that in Chinese culture the lion is revered to a large extent. The dish is made using pork meatballs and bok choy mane.
Zongzi is a pyramid-shaped dumpling, eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival in China. It can be sweet or savory. Glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves, with dates for sweetness, or meat and shrimp for a savory flavor, complete the Zongzi. It is quite a challenge to make Zongzi, due to the shape of the dumpling, which was designed to pay tribute to Qu Yuan, a pioneer poet in ancient China.
Moon cake is a very popular dish of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which symbolizes bright life and family reunion. These round-shaped cookies have a dense filling, inside a thin, tender skin. The filling can be made of many items, such as apricot kernels, green pea, egg yolk, shrimp, or dry mushroom. More recently, you can find chocolate mooncakes and ice cream mooncakes.
The Lantern Festival has the tradition of eating Yuanxiao, or rice dumplings. The filling is made of bean paste, fruits, and brown sugar. It is eaten by Chinese people on the last day of the Lunar New Year. The term Tangyuan is also used for this dish.
All of us love chop suey, but you would be amazed to learn that it is not actually authentic Chinese food! Chop suey was first made in America and rose to popularity before becoming a popular dish across the globe.
The origin of tea is said to be the Yunnan province of the Shang Dynasty, about 3000 years ago. Dragon Well tea is a special type of roasted green tea, from Hangzhou Zhejiang Province in China, highly renowned for its quality.
The largest amount of pork consumed anywhere in the world is in China. It is the most common type of meat eaten there. When you find the word 'meat' written beside fried rice, you can assume that the meat included is pork.
Northern China makes use of the Beijing Cuisine style, which gives emphasis on subtle and light flavors. Peking duck, or Beijing roast duck, is one of the most famous dishes in China. Crispy duck slices are placed in thin pancakes with cucumber and spring onion, topped with hoisin sauce, a sweet and salty dipping sauce.
Zhejiang cuisine involves cooking styles that make use of stir-fried food, seafood, and soups. The use of bamboo shoots in this cuisine is the predominant factor of the style.
Different areas in China have their own flavors, according to the taste of the locals. For example, Hong Kong cuisine can be sweet or savory, while Sichuan cuisine is known to be spicy.
Wheat production occurs more in the colder and drier regions of northern China. The locals have wheat noodles, stuffed buns, and steamed buns. In the south, people eat bowls of rice noodles, or rice, with every meal and rarely consume wheat.
Many find themselves addicted to Chinese food. This is due to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a potentially harmful ingredient. It has been banned in recent years.
Chinese food has had an influence on other south-east Asian cuisines, such as Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Thai food. However, Chinese and Japanese cuisine differ in their choice of preparation and ingredients. Japanese food tends to include more raw food, while Chinese cuisines involve food being steamed or pan-fried and contains more spices. Japanese food involves more fish and chicken than Chinese food.
Chinese food tastes fantastic because of the different types of herbs and spices that are included.
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