As another brilliant part of the Chinese
cultural heritage, the Chinese cuisine with a
long-standing tradition is regarded as one of
the world's three major culinary schools
along with French and Turkish haute cuisine. In
the long course of historical development, the
Chinese cuisine has developed a fabulous tradition
and a dazzling array of cooking techniques. Chinese
chefs are particular about their choice of ingredients
and subtle about the use of fire, with due attention
paid to the nutritious balance of dishes. The
difference in locality, material availability,
climate, historical condition, and diet habit
has given rise to a myriad of local delicacies
and refreshment, which never fail to intrigue
visitors from every nook and cranny of the world.
It is difficult to say how many culinary schools
are there in China. One theory claims that there
are four major styles of cooking- Shandong, Sichuan,
Yangzhou, and Cantonese. Another theory puts the
number at eight, with the addition of Fukienese
cooking, which attaches utmost importance to freshness
of ingredients and delicate taste of dishes, Zhejiang
cooking, distinguished by an obsession with the
purity of flavor, Huainanese coking, producing
dishes which are pungent in a numbering way, and
Anhui cooking, known for its richness of flavors.
A third theory argues that Beijing and Shanghai
cuisine should be added, so that China has ten
dominant schools of cooking.
The Cantonese school of cooking, which came about
by incorporating the fine elements of miscellaneous
culinary styles, is known and appreciated for
its extensive range of choice of materials. Freshwater
food and seafood are its forte, but it has dishes
made of fowls and snakes that make Cantonese cuisine
so special and exotic. Major dishes include snakes
cooked with cat, stewed chicken and snake, stir-fried
shrimps, eight-treasure glutinous rice with lotus
seeds, fresh mushrooms in oyster sauce, pot-cooked
soft shelled turtle, and crisp skin sucking pig.
The Shandong school of cooking is characterized
by wide and meticulous choice of ingredients.
Full-bodied flavor of gourmet quality is of the
uttermost importance, but attention is also paid
to keeping the cost within the diner's
budget. Shandong chefs are especially skilled
in producing high-calorie and high- protein dishes;
they also have a special way of making soups,
which they also use in dishes to tempt the plates.
Gastronomists from around the world regard Shandong
dishes of sea delicacies and other seafood as
culinary wonders. Representative dishes are sea
cucumber in ginger and shallot, braised cuttlefish
eggs, crab roe with shark's fin, Dezhou
roast chicken, and walnut in creamed soup.
Pungency, to the degree of numbness, is a salient
feature of Sichuan dishes. As the saying goes,
¡°While China is an epicurean paradise;
Sichuan is the place to be for those hunting for
the most delectable and exquisite of dishes.¡±
Indeed, Sichuan cooks select their ingredients
with great care and use a variety of seasonings
for different dishes. The result is a hundred
dishes that are by turn's hot (using
chilly and Chinese prickly ash) and hot and sour-
just to mention a few common flavors. Spicy pork
shreds, diced chicken with peanuts and vegetables,
stewed bear's paw, odd-flavored chicken
cubes in mixed spices, stir-fired bean curd in
chili and Chinese prickly ash, and fried carp
are some of the renowned Sichuan dishes.
As a crystallization of culinary styles of such
riverside cities as Yangzhou, Zhenjiang and Huai'an
in the Yangtze River lower reaches, the Huai'an
¨C Yangzhou school of cooking is representative
of all culinary schools in Jiangsu Province. Tenderness
and freshness of materials, delicate tastes, and
the fastidious way in which the chefs prepare
them, are what make Huai'an- Yangzhou
dishes so special. Dishes made from freshwater
ingredients are a salient feature of this school
of cooking, which is also known for a good assortment
of disserts and pastry exquisitely prepared in
eye-pleasing colors and adorable shapes. Major
dishes are beggar's chicken, sweet
and sour mandarin fish, sliced chicken velvet,
boiled slated duck, steamed minced pork ball with
crab roe, and steamed shad.
Special Chinese dishes run the gamut from imperial
kitchen fare to vegetarian delicacies. There are
also dishes prepared in the Muslim tradition,
and foods that are prepared to have a curative
Imperial Dishes These dishes originated
in the kitchen of the imperial palace for the
exclusive enjoyment of the emperor and empress
in bygone days. Impeccable selection of ingredients,
due attention paid to seasonal changes, meticulous
ways of cooking, and skillful use of the kitchen
knife, are what makes this school of cooking so
unique. No effort is spared to preserve the natural
hue, aroma, taste and shape of the materials.
The serving of imperial dishes follows highly
Vegetarian dishes came in vogue as early as the
Song Dynasty, and made much head way during the
Ming and Qing Dynasties, which saw the rise of
monastic, imperial, and secular schools of vegetarian
cuisine. Green vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, and
beans curd are major ingredients, and only vegetable
oil is allowed in a vegetarian's kitchen.
The dishes are at once refreshing, nutritious,
easy to digest and effective for preventing cancer.
Extensive choice of materials, and long years
of practice, has enabled this peculiar school
of Chinese cuisine to come up with a series of
highly treasured dishes. Many of the dishes are
cunningly prepared so that they are easily mistaken
for real meat in shape and flavor. These dishes
are thereby nicknamed vegetarian chicken, vegetarian
braised pork in soy sauce and spices, vegetarian
pork joint, and vegetarian assorted delicacies.
Other major dishes include mushrooms cooked with
wheat gluten, hot-and sour vegetable filets, vegetarian
¡°fish¡± which is flavored
with tender Chinese tone sprouts, and dried ¡°meat¡±
These dishes, prepared in the fine culinary traditions
of northwestern and northeastern nomads in ancient
times, became popular with the spread of Islamism
into China. The all-mutton extravaganza and roasted
whole lambs are the most famous. The other delicacies
include mutton hot pot, barbecued mutton slices,
shish kebabs, mutton with rice served with fingers,
dumpling stuffed with minced mutton, steamed bread
stewed in mutton soup, and beef hotchpotch.
As an important part of the Chinese cuisine, medicinal
dishes are designed to cure certain diseases through
diet dosages. Chinese master chefs have developed
many food therapies by combining cookery with
the theory of traditional Chinese medicine. Famous
therapeutic dishes include lily and chicken soap,
shrimp meat with pearl powder, ¡°tianfu¡±
carp, duck braised with soy sauce and orange peel,
and steamed dumplings stuffed with minced meat
and poria coccos (a medicinal plant).
Other well-known Chinese culinary schools include
the Confucian kitchen, the Tan family kitchen,
and the extravaganza of delicacies prepared in
a combination of Manchu and Han Styles.
To tempt the palate with a certain kind of refreshments
during the lull of a voyage is one of life's
good enjoyments. China offers a baffling array
of snacks and refreshment, prepared in different
culinary styles, and available in every restaurants,
eatery, and roadside food stalls. And they come
in every manner of flavor and with balanced nutritious
value. In the south the snacks and refreshments
are mostly prepared of rice flour, while in the
north wheaten products hold say. Sweet cakes are
among the most important pastry in the Beijing
style of cooking, while in Cantonese cuisine,
snacks are prepared in Western style. In Suzhou,
the snacks served on board pleasure boats are
the most famous. Renowned Chinese snacks included
dumplings with the dough gathered at the top,
steamed glutinous rice cakes with sweet filling,
fermented soybean milk, pea-flour cakes and kidney-bean
mush rolls of Beijing; Goubuli Brand steamed buns
stuffed with minced pork and large dough twists
of Tianjin; steamed bun stuffed with crab roe
of Zhenjiang; hundred-nut cakes and chicken slice
porridge of Nantong; Nanxiang-style steamed buns,
baked stuffed buns and boat refreshments of Shanghai;
steamed buns filled with five kinds of seeds and
nuts, and dumplings stuffed with crab meat of
Guangdong; and rice balls and noodles with chilly
seasoning of Sichuan.
Fast food has come along way in recent years in
large and medium sized cities across the country
to meet the multifarious demand of visitors. Apart
from typical Chinese snacks, Mc Donald's,
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and other Western
fast food outlets are making big headway in China.
French, American, Italian, Russian and other Western
styles of cooking are making great inroads into
China nowadays. Exotic foods are also arriving
from China's Asian neighbors, such
as Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Sampling some of the best dishes the Chinese cuisine
has to over have proved a unique experience to
cherish for tourists from various parts of the
world. For this reason, Chinese travel services
have organized epicurean itineraries for those
who come to China for an unforgettable gourmandizing
Chinese Dinner Etiquette
Of all the food available, Chinese dishes are
perhaps the most cost-effective and enjoyable.
When a diner has taken this seat in a restaurant,
the first thing he is served is a cup of tea,
which is designed to activate the stomach and
whet the appetite. Besides, drinking tea during
the course of a dinner or banquet helps dissolve
the grease and digest. In different culinary styles
different teas and tea sets are used, and the
way the tea is served varies from place to place.
The gongfu tea served in a Chaohzou restaurant,
for example, is breed with the Tieguanyin Tea,
whose leaves are brownish green with a Reddish
edge, and ¡°as heavy as iron¡±.
When brewing the gongfu tea, the kettle should
be raised highly, so that boiled water can describe
an arc before landing in the teapot. In Sichuan
restaurants, tea is served in bowls with a lid.
When the diner has seated himself, the waiter
or waitress, usually a charming young woman or
a strapping young man would emerge with a brass
kettle equipped with an unusually long, slim nozzle.
To the amazement of the diner and the onlooker,
when the water is being poured, it travels a three-foot
distance from the kettle via the nozzle to the
bowl, without a drop spilled.
When drinking tea, make sure not to open your
mouth too wide, and never smack your lips in a
noisy way. Only by gentle sipping can the pleasure
of drinking Chinese tea sink in.
As the saying goes among the Chinese, ¡°No
banquet is complete without liquor or wine¡±.
Mautai, Dukang and Erguotou are among the strongest
of all Chinese spirits. Qujing, Fenjiu, and Jiafan
are liquors of mild proofs. Bear, champagne and
wine are served generally as aperitifs.
The Chinese are fastidious not only about the
taste and nutrition of what they eat but also
about the order in which different dishes are
served. A Chinese banquet differs from a Western
one in that soup is always the last course to
be served. As Yuan Mei, a Qing Dynasty poet, summarized,
¡°Saltier dishes are served earlier
than less salty ones; dishes with rich flavors
always herald dishes with a delicate flavor, it
is always appropriate for soup to be served last¡±.
All the eight major Chinese culinary schools seem
to have established the same order of courses
for banquets: Cold dishes- fried dishes- major
courses- soup- disserts- sweet dishes- fruit.