The Food Of China

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Chinese food has influenced many other cuisines, catering to local palates for many years. Food staples are rice, soy sauce, noodles, tea and tofu. Many day-to-day utensils such as chopsticks, woks and rice cookers can now be found in kitchens globally. China has many ethnic backgrounds which have their own preference for seasoning and cooking techniques.

The Food Of China

Regional Food

China has 4 main regional food groups: Chuan, Lu, Yue and Huaiyang, representing west, north, south and east Chinese cuisines. Colour, smell and taste are the three traditional aspects used to describe Chinese food. In another way, Chinese chefs classify eight regional Chinese cuisines according to their distinct tastes and local specialties. Perhaps the best known and most influential cuisines of China are Cantonese, Shandong, Jiangsu and Sichuan. Many traditional regional foods also feature basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.

Ingredients

Chinese ancestors successfully planted millet, rice and wheat many thousands of years ago. Rice is a staple food for people from rice farming areas in southern China, while the wheat grain is a staple for many people in other northern parts of China. Rice is not only used for eating, but to produce beer, rice wine (mijiu) and vinegars.

Chinese noodles come dry or fresh in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures. They are often served in soups or fried as toppings. Mian (noodles) can be served hot or cold, in broths or dry with countless toppings.

Tofu is made from soybeans and is another popular food product that supplies protein. Other products such as soy milk, soy paste, soy oil, and fermented soy sauce are crucial in Chinese cooking. There are many tofu products, including tofu skin, smoked tofu, dried tofu, and fried varieties.

Some unique Chinese vegetables include baby corn, bean sprouts, pea vine tips, watercress, lotus roots, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and endless varieties of greens! Dried or pickled vegetables are commonly used in colder regions, where fresh vegetables are hard to get out of season.

Aromatics and seasonings widely used incorporate ginger, garlic, spring onions, coriander and sesame. Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves and white peppercorns are also used throughout different regions of China.

An array of sauces, condiments and vinegars are also used in Chinese cookery. More on this in our ‘sauces’ section of the Chinese cooking program. 

Eat & Drink

Chopsticks are the main eating utensils for Chinese food, which can be used to cut, cook and pick up food. It is considered inappropriate to use knives at the dining table.

Cold dishes are usually served before the main meal. Besides salad and pickles as appetisers, bean curd, noodle salad, cooked meat, sausages, jellyfish and cold soups are common. Main meals are set out in a banquet style with a selection of dishes served. For mains, there are usually meat dishes, vegetables and rice or noodles served as part of a shared meal. Seasonal fruits or small sweet bites (dim sum) may serve as dessert after dinner. 

Tea plays a big role in Chinese dining culture. China is well known for different types of teas including black, white, green, yellow and oolong. Tea is often classified into several different categories according to the species of plant from which it is sourced, the region in which it is grown, and the method of production used. Alcoholic beverages consumed such as Mijiu or Baijiu are made of rice and other grains.

Chinese Food Abroad

For hundreds of years, there has been historical immigrant Chinese populations to both Asia and the West. The style of food has evolved adapted to suit local tastes and incorporate native ingredients. China has heavily shaped the cuisines of many nations including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia Nepal, Tibet and The Philippines.

According to a report released by China's largest on-demand service platform in 2018, there are over 600,000 Chinese restaurants overseas. The report also pointed out that hotpot is the most popular food in the foreign market.

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