Your Guide to Chinese Food & Culture

Chinese-Food-Culture-Kwikwok-MilwaukeeChinese cuisine is one of the most ubiquitous cuisines in many parts of the world from its origins in China to its new homes in Asia, North America and Europe for good reasons, too.

Its combinations of ingredients from fruits, vegetables and grains to meats, seafood and herbs are as varied as its styles from the spicy foods of Sichuan to the light fares of Fujian cooking.

Its delectable variety of aromas, flavors and textures as well as presentations are truly a feast for the senses – so heavenly, in fact, that Chinese cuisine is fit for royals and commoners, gourmands and gluttons, and lovers of the familiar and unfamiliar foods.

Cooking Styles

Modern-day Chinese cuisine styles have their origins in the diverse regions of China as well as styles of the Chinese peoples in other countries. Each style has changed from one period to the next based on its cultural influences, imperial fashions, and local preferences as well as climate requirements.

Szechuan

Its bold, spicy and pungent dishes come from the liberal use of chili peppers, garlic and Sichuan peppers as well as ginger, sesame paste, and peanuts. Its sophisticated style of cooking has earned the cuisine’s home city, Chengdu, as a city of gastronomy for 2011! Its most popular dishes are kungpao chicken, spicy deep-fried chicken, and Sichuan hotpot.

Cantonese

When Westerners order Chinese food, their orders are more likely from Cantonese cuisine. It is characterized by a wide variety of sweet yet flavorful sauces hoisin sauce, black bean sauce, and plum sauce as well as plenty of brewing and stewing cooking styles. Its most common ingredients are spring onions, rice wine, and vinegar, among others, while spices like garlic, chili peppers, and five-spice powder are sparingly used.

Hunan

One of the Eight Traditions of Chinese cuisine, Hunan cuisine is known for its use of fresh local ingredients that are then sautéed, stir-fried and steamed as well as smoked. The results are dishes with hot spicy flavors, deep color and fresh aroma as well as rich and creamy texture contrasted by crisp vegetables. Its menu also changes with the season – cold dishes for hot days and hot pot dishes for winter days.

Shanghai

Adapted from the cuisines of provinces near Shanghai, the cuisine features the liberal use of seafood, vegetables and salted meats as well as alcohol. Fishes, crabs and chicken, for example, are “drunken” in distilled spirits before being served raw or briskly cooked (i.e., steamed). Its most notable dishes include beggar’s chicken, lion’s head, and Shanghai-style niangao.

Beijing

Known as the imperial cuisine, Beijing cuisine features sesame paste, scallions, and soy as well as the preference for poultry usually with sweet and sour flavors. Its preference for fried foods served in small bite-size portions makes Beijing-style foods suitable for take-outs, which explains the popularity of dishes like Peking duck, instant boiled mutton, and spare ribs in sweetened vinegar, among others.

Fujian

It is well-known for its light yet flavorful flavors characterized by preference for sweet, sour and spicy flavors with an emphasis on the umami taste. It is also characterized by its preference for retaining, even enhancing, the taste of the main ingredients used in the dishes instead of masking them with spices. Advocates love Fujian cuisine for its use of a diverse range of woodland delicacies like mushrooms and bamboo as well as seafood from fish to turtles.

Shandong

In contrast with the other styles of cooking, Shandong cuisine emphasizes keeping the ingredients like seafood, vegetables and grains as fresh as possible. It is best known for its staggering variety of seafood from sea cucumbers to shrimps and sea grasses.

Which of these styles of Chinese cuisine is the best? None because each one has its charms so the best option is to eat everything and then enjoy the good life!

Health Benefits

Aside from the flavorful, delectable and sumptuous aromas, tastes and textures of Chinese cuisine, it is also one of the healthiest cuisines! Its emphasis on the use of vegetarian ingredients including fruits, vegetables and grains as well as seafood and sea grasses results in healthier dishes; meat products usually make up just 20% of the dishes. The ingredients like ginger, garlic and spicy peppers are known to aid in healthy digestion, lessen inflammation, and improve metabolism, among others.

Is it any wonder then that the Chinese take great pride in their cuisine?

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