The rich and varied cuisine of China has
developed over thousands of years, and the different regions of China have each
contributed its own distinctive style. The main ones are Peking, home of
world-famous dishes such as
Peking Duck and Spring Rolls,
Szechuan, where the
use of local hot peppers led to the development of fiery, fragrant sauces; and Kwantung, the home of Cantonese cooking - the style of
Chinese cooking with
which Westerners are most familiar.
Rice is the staple food in most areas of China and so forms the basis of many Chinese meals. Pork, chicken and duck are the most common meats, and seafood of all kinds is very popular. There is a wide range of Chinese vegetables including bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, snow peas and water chestnuts. Most of these are now available, fresh or canned, all over the world.
Common flavorings for Chinese dishes are soy sauce, fresh ginger (available at markets and greengrocers), garlic, sesame oil, 5-spice powder (a Chinese spice available at supermarkets and specialty stores) and of course, monosodium glutamate. There are many more delicious sauces and dried and canned ingredients available, and if you enjoy Chinese cooking you'll want to build up a collection.
In preparing Chinese food, a great deal of chopping is usually needed, as all pieces must be small enough to be eaten with chopsticks and to cook quickly and evenly. A sharp knife is therefore essential. A wok is an ideal cooking pan, but you can substitute a heavy frying pan, a cast iron casserole or an electric fry pan if necessary. The Chinese take great care not to over-cook their food - vegetables are just tender, retaining a delicious suggestion of crispness, most of their vitamin and mineral content as well as their color and shape. Rice is cooked perfectly by the absorption method.
A Chinese dinner party menu could begin with one or more appetizers. The next course could be soup, though the Chinese often serve it last. The plain boiled rice would then be put on the table, in front of each person, with the meat and vegetable dishes, chosen to complement and contrast with one another, and including, perhaps, a prawn dish, a chicken dish and a pork dish, in the center. Each diner would place a little rice and meat or vegetable in his bowl, and eat with chopsticks. The number of dishes served depends on the cook, and the importance of the occasion. At the end of the meal fresh fruit, for example, melon, fresh lychees, or strawberries, may be served. Chinese tea, such as jasmine tea, is usually served throughout a Chinese meal, though beer or a light, chilled white wine also goes well.
About the Author:
Under the pseudonym of The Good Cook, the author maintains several blogs of recipes and related topics. To visit her blog of easy Chinese recipes, click here.