Chinese Cuisine is known the world over for being healthy and relatively simple to create. However, the true Chinese cuisine is not necessarily similar to what you'll find in your local Chinese fast food restaurant. If you want to experience authentic Chinese cuisine, you really need to understand more about the culture and the origin of the food itself. Food plays a very important role in the Chinese culture.The principles of balance (for example, between yin and yang) apply to life, health, and to Chinese cuisine. Let's explore how this principle plays into a traditional meal.
The city of Guangzhou is located in a warmer region; therefore the food served here would not be considered 'warm' - thus to help maintain the balance of one's body. The Cantonese food served here would be lighter overall, specifically in the summer months and would be more flavorful and filling in the winter. However, in the northern regions of China hot, spicy foods are more prevalent since the higher altitude and colder weather are more suitable for 'warmth' in the cuisine.
Additionally, the "staples" used with typical Chinese cuisine would also vary by region. Rice would be more frequently served in the southern regions due to the ease of farming it there and wheat is more widely grown in the north, therefore served as dumplings and noodle dishes.
Spices and Aromas Enhance the Dining Experience
Were you to dine in traditional Chinese fashion, you would find yourself enjoying a variety of fish or shellfish, a surplus of fresh produce year-round, and natural flavors used to enhance the dining experience. Your dishes would be predominantly steamed, stir-fried, or roasted, with the occasional deep-fried or stewed cuisine. Garlic, shallots, and ginger would be used with almost every meal. An emphasis on aroma and flavor are the cornerstones of authentic Chinese cuisine.
When one thinks of traditional Chinese cuisine, some key dishes come to mind. Peking Duck is such an example. Peking Duck is so named because it became famous in the region (now known as Beijing) and is such a supreme delicacy that ducks are specially bred in Beijing just for this dish. While most Chinese dishes are relatively simple to prepare, Peking Duck would certainly be the exception to this. The intricate preparation process is part of what makes it such a supreme delicacy. Peking Duck would therefore be reserved for more formal occasions and more simple, traditional meals would be enjoyed throughout the country day in and day out.
One key consideration in the preparation of traditional Chinese cuisine is the availability of fresh food. While supermarkets are starting to become more common in the larger 'metropolitan' cities, the majority of Chinese residents still shop in wet markets for their daily meat and produce. A wet market is an open-air, local street market. The name 'wet market' comes from the wet floors of the markets. They are sprayed constantly throughout the day due to spillage of food during the selling and/or transportation of fresh produce and meat in and out of the market all day long. These wet markets are also a key part of the local social circle. Neighbors meet here to obtain the local news from the vendors and from each other. It is yet another staple in the Chinese culture that western civilizations generally would not understand as part of the overall experience of dining. The selections of available fresh foods determine the menu for the next 24 hours.
Icing on the Cake
No homily about Chinese cuisine would be complete without first looking into the delectable desserts found within their culture. There are a multitude of delicious choices, and if you are only familiar with the 'Chinese doughnuts' found at your local Chinese restaurant, you have sadly missed out on an experience worthy of exploring. Cakes happen to symbolize 'togetherness' and an enriched life in the Chinese culture. One such selection is a Nian Gao, or a Sticky Cake. It is perhaps the most famous cake of the Chinese kitchen. But beware, it is served steaming. Yes, steaming. You can, however, get a baked version if you aren't feeling quite that adventurous. But, alas, please don't forget the Peking Dust, Almond Cookies (yum!), Egg Custard Tarts, Sesame Seed Balls or the Eight Precious Pudding to top off your meal. The last of which contains eight different types of dried candied fruits to symbolize life's many treasures such as prosperity and happiness.
Would You Like Tea With That?
Tea is the traditional beverage of choice amongst all regions of China, and you will typically be offered a complimentary pot with your meal. There are many, many different types of teas to select from, depending on your specific desires and mood. Green teas and herbal teas are known for their healing and soothing properties and as such enjoying tea with your Chinese meal would enhance the overall experience tenfold.