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Home >> China Travel Tips >> Cuisine

Chinese Cuisine

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.

Local Cuisines
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.

Cantonese Cuisine
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.

Shandong Cuisine
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.

Sichuan Cuisine
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.

Huai'an- Yangzhou Cuisine
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.

Gourmet Dishes
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 effect.

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 stylized procedures.

Vegetarian Dishes
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¡± strips.

Muslim Dishes
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.

Therapeutic Dishes
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.

Local Snacks
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 experience.

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.

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