Chinese cuisine is an important part of its culture, which includes cuisine from the different regions of China, as well as from Chinese people in other parts of the world. Because of its historical power, Chinese cuisine has influenced many other dishes in Asia, with modifications made to cater to local palates.
The selection for seasoning and cooking techniques of Chinese provinces depend on differences in historical background and ethnic groups. Geographic features have a strong effect on ingredients, considering climate of China varies from tropical to subarctic. Imperial, royal and noble preference also plays a role in the change. Imperial expansion and trading led to an integration of ingredients and cooking techniques from other cultures.
The most praised "Four Major Cuisines" are Chuan, Lu, Yue and Huaiyang, representing West, North, South and East China cuisine correspondingly. Modern "Eight Cuisines" of China are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang cuisines.
Color, smell and taste are the three traditional aspects used to describe Chinese food, as well as the meaning, appearance and nutrition of the food. Cooking should be appraised from ingredients used, cuttings, cooking time and seasoning.
Chopsticks are the main eating utensils which can be used to cut and pick up food.
A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine but perhaps the best known and most influential are Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Sichuan cuisine. These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as availability of resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle. One style may favour the use of garlic and shallots over chili and spices, while another may favour preparing seafood over other meats and fowl. Jiangsu cuisine favours cooking techniques such as braising and stewing, while Sichuan cuisine employs baking.
Based on the raw materials and ingredients used, the method of preparation and cultural differences, a variety of foods with different flavors and textures are prepared in different regions of the country. Many traditional regional cuisines rely on basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.
Rice is a major staple food for people from rice farming areas in southern China. Steamed rice, usually white rice, is the most commonly eaten form. Rice is also used to produce beers, wines and vinegars. Glutinous rice is a variety of rice used in many specialty Chinese dishes.
In wheat-farming areas in Northern China, people largely rely on flour-based food, such as noodles, bing, jiaozi, and mantou.
Chinese noodles come dry or fresh in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures and are often served in soups or fried as toppings. Some varieties, such as Shou Mian, is an avatar of long life and good health according to Chinese traditions. Noodles can be served hot or cold with different toppings, with broth, and occasionally dry. Noodles are commonly made with rice flour or wheat flour, but other flours such as soybean are also used in minor groups.
Tofu is made of soybeans and another popular food product that supplies protein. Various production process results in different tofu products in a wide range of texture and taste. Other products such as soy milk, soy paste, soy oil, and fermented soy sauce are also important in Chinese cooking.
Stinky tofu is fermented tofu. Like blue cheese or durian, it has a very distinct, potent and strong smell, and is an acquired taste.
Doufuru is another type of fermented tofu that has a salty taste. This is more of a pickled type of tofu but less strongly scented as stinky tofu.
Apart from vegetables can be commonly seen, some unique vegetables used in Chinese cuisine include bok choy, snow pea pods, Chinese eggplant, Chinese broccoli and straw mushrooms. Other vegetables including bean sprouts, pea vine tips, watercress, lotus roots and bamboo shoots are also used in different cuisines of China.
A variety of dried or pickled vegetables are also processed, especially in drier or colder regions where fresh vegetables were hard to get out of season.
Herbs and Seasonings
Seasonings such as fresh ginger root, garlic, scallion, cilantro and sesame are widely used, as well as in some regions Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves and white peppers.
In many Chinese cuisines, dried Chinese mushrooms, dried baby shrimps, dried tangerine peel, and dried Sichuan chillies are used to add extra flavors to dishes.
When it comes to sauces, China is home to soy sauce, which is made from fermented soybeans and wheat. Oyster sauce, clear rice vinegar, chili, black rice vinegar, fish sauce and furu are also widely used. A number of sauces are also based on fermented soybeans, including Hoisin sauce, ground bean sauce and yellow bean sauce.
Tea plays an important role in Chinese dinning culture. Baijiu and huangjiu as strong alcoholic beverages are preferred by many people as well. Wine is not so popular as other drinks in China that consumed during dinning, although they are usually available in the menu.
The Chinese Dining Etiquette
Youths should not neither sit at the table before the elders nor start eating before the elders. When eating with a bowl, one should not hold it with its bottom part, because it resembles the act of begging. Also, when taking a break from eating at the table, one should not put the chopstick into the rice vertically, because it resembles the Chinese traditional funeral tribute, which involves putting chopstick inside a bowl of rice vertically.
Relation to Chinese Art
Chinese dishes stress the three main points of appearance, smell, and taste. A really well-cooked Chinese food would need to achieve all three of them. Also, there is teaching of food carving in Chinese culture, typically using vegetables as materials to carve the sculpture for animals and spiritual beings.