China has a history of more than four thousand years, and the Chinese people have established a colorful culture; Chinese cuisine is an indispensable part of it. Most foreign travelers to China are deeply impressed by its food. Here is a general introduction to Chinese cuisine and cooking culture.
Chinese cuisine emphasizes the integrity of color, fragrance and taste in its food. Chinese chefs try to make dishes beautiful by coordinating their colors. Some dishes are plain while others can be very bright. A table of Chinese food looks very colorful and attractive.
Fragrance--the way Chinese food smells--is very important. Chefs use the ingredients of a dish, as well as herbs, to make food smell good. But, taste is the most distinct characteristic of Chinese food. Different methods are adopted to make Chinese food delicious, which gives the tongue a lot of satisfaction.
A wide variety of material choices allows Chinese food to provide many possibilities for Chinese chefs to be more creative. These include various grains, vegetables and the meat of different animals (pig, cow, sheep, rabbit, dog, horse and donkey, among others).
The Chinese also use poultry, eggs and milk. Poultry includes chicken, duck, goose, turkey, pigeon, quail, and pheasant. Seafood and freshwater fish--hair tail, salmon, squad, sea cucumber, oyster, black carp, catfish, grass carp, variegated carp, shrimp, prawn, crab, and turtle--are also used in Chinese food.
Dried vegetables are also cooked, such as eggplant, bean, ben, turnip, potato and pepper. Dried pork and dried fish are also often used in Chinese cooking. Drying vegetables is a way to store produce to use in winter. More importantly, it has a special taste different from fresh vegetables.
In the north of China, people also preserve vegetables in salty water to pickle them. Pickling offers a special taste, in addition to that of dried vegetables.
Now, let’s have a look at what cooking equipment Chinese people use.
For heating, Chinese people cook on flames, although they also use microwave and baking ovens. They burn coal and wood or use natural gas, methane and wheat straw in some rural areas. Cooking pans or pots keep changing throughout history, beginning four or five thousand years ago. In modern times, the Chinese use stone, pottery, porcelain, bronze, iron or steel for cooking
Hotpot pot by Charles Haynes (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Now, Chinese people take advantage of specific characteristics of different materials to choose what kind of pots to use.
They grill meat on a stone board because the heat from a stone board is mild so that the meat does not burn easily. They use pottery and porcelain to cook soup because these materials keep warm for a long time. They put pottery or porcelain pots right on the table, so they can have hot soup at any time.
They use bronze pots for hot pots, which is very popular in China. The name in Chinese is 火锅 (huǒ guō), where a bronze pot with burning charcoal underneath is placed at the center of a table. Excellent thermal conductivity enables a bronze pot to keep the water boiling at all times.
Iron and steel pots are used for stir frying and steaming because they are strong and solid enough to be made large but handled without too much difficulty. One more thing to mention is that Chinese pot bottoms are not flat but dome-shaped. It is convenient for cooks to stir fry the dishes and flip the whole thing over in the pot.
In what ways do Chinese people use above-mentioned pots? Chinese people have around 40 ways to cook. Let’s take a look at a few major of the methods of cooking.
Stir frying is the most common cooking method. First, the Chinese cut raw ingredients into small pieces, heat oil in a pot, then add their ingredients to the hot oil. Many Chinese chefs add spices, salt and MSG. Before plating the food, chefs add some starch to bind stir-fried pieces of food to the sauce in the pot.
This means cutting ingredients into slices, and pouring them into boiling water for a short time. For this method, chefs add spices after draining the water.
This entails boiling food in a mixture of water and various spices.
This means putting food on the bottom of a pot with a little oil and heating the food to golden-brown.
This is frequently used in Chinese cuisine. Half a pot of oil is heated to a very high temperature and food is cooked in the hot oil. In most cases, spices have been added to the food before frying.
It means cutting food into thin slices, briefly boiling water and dipping the food into the sauce to eat. The popular hot pot dish is typical combined with the cooking skills of 涮（shuàn).
Branches of Chinese Cuisine
Chinese cuisine is divided into eight major branches: Lu Cuisine, Chuan Cuisine, Su Cuisine, Yue Cuisine, Zhe Cuisine, Min cuisine, Xiang Cuisine and Hui Cuisine.
All eight branches stress the nutrition and the artistic beauty of Chinese dishes.
Shi Yufa Delicious Popular Dishes 2888, January, 2012, Light Industry Publishing House of China
Hero Image by UbeIT (CC BY-ND 2.0)