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Chinese Food and Drink

Here you will find:
Chinese Cuisine -- An Introduction
Chinese Cuisine -- Features
Food Culture
Cooking Techniques
Chopsticks
Chinese Tea Culture

 

Chinese Cuisine -- An Introduction

The vastness of China's geography and history echoes through the polyphony of Chinese cuisine. To begin, it is best to divide Chinese cuisine, with all the appropriate disclaimers and caveats, into that of four major regions: the northern plains, including Beijing; the fertile east, watered by the Yangtse River; the south, famous for the Cantonese cooking of the Guangdong Province; and the fecund west of Szechwan and Hunan Provinces.

Canton is, perhaps, the most famous of the food areas. Long, warm, wet days throughout the year create the perfect environment for cultivating most everything. The coast provides ample seafood, the groves are filled with fruits. Cooking methods and recipes here are sophisticated and varied. Since the local produce is so gorgeous, the cooking highlights its freshness, relying less on loud sauces and deep-frying.

To the mountainous west, in Szechwan and Hunan provinces, steamy heat and spicy foods fill the restaurants. Rice grows abundantly, as do citrus fruits, bamboo, and mushrooms. The spiciness of the food tells of locally grown chiles and the inclinations of the local palate, though some say the spices are used to mask the taste of foods that rot quickly in the heat.

To the east of Hunan lies "the land of fish and rice." Like the west in latitude, it has the added bonus of lowlands for rice cultivation and a rich ocean's edge for fish.

The northern region of China reaches into the hostile climate of Mongolia -- land of the Gobi Desert and Arctic winter winds. Mongolian influence appears in the prevalence of mutton and lamb -- many in the region are Muslim, so pork is forbidden -- and in the nomadic simplicity of the Mongolian fire pot. The north is not amenable to rice cultivation so, wheat, barley, millet and soybeans are the staples; breads and noodles anchor the meal. The vegetables and fruits -- cabbage, squash, pears, grapes, and apples -- are like those grown in North America. Beijing is the pearl of the region; royal haute cuisine was born and bred inside her walls. However, the centuries and the accumulated wisdom of China's best chefs have conspired to make imperial cuisine an incredible achievement that belongs to all of China.

Once the meal is cooked, it is served all at once to the family, who eat with chopsticks and drink soup with a wide spoon. The average dinner includes a starch -- rice, noodles, bread, or pancakes -- a meat dish, vegetable, and soup, which serves as a beverage. For formal meals and banquets, there are many successive courses which are served in a strict traditional order. (From CuisineNet) TOP

Features

Colorful, aromatic and delicious are characteristics of China's varied cuisines. Wherever you find yourself in China, your senses are tested to the extreme whilst enjoying the unusual dishes, often unique for the area you are visiting.

Chinese cuisine's entree normally strives for three to five colors, made up of the main ingredient, with more secondary ingredients of contrasting colors and textures; these are prepared and cooked to enhance their own qualities, with the use of appropriate condiments and garnishing, enabling to chef to present a delicious platter of fragrant delicious art.

In prepared dishes, the stronger fragrant aroma stimulates one's appetite, by using scallion, fresh ginger, root garlic or chili pepper; with the use of wine, aniseed, cinnamon, peppercorn or sesame oil. Complementary nuances are added. Soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and other seasonings may used discreetly, adding to the complex play on the taste buds.

All chefs of the Chinese kitchens, professional or in the home, strive for harmony of sight, smell, taste, texture, so that each individual dish has it's unique features highlighted; contrasted and balanced if it is a dinner of many dishes, be it 3, 6, 9 or 12. The flavors must not overpower, yet subtle enough to meet the tastes of those dining. Complex or simple dishes may be prepared quickly or much longer, but the ultimate goal is to share with the guests the play on the eaters' real and imagined visions of the dishes and its ingredients.

A further point is that over festive periods, with the play of word's phonetics, well meaning felicitous names of dishes have many people trying to guess what they are about to eat, thereby adding fun to eating. TOP


Food Culture

Table manners

In China, people tend to eat together, usually the host will serve some dishes with his or her own chopsticks to guests to show his or her hospitality. For Westerners it is quite acceptable to leave the food alone if you feel too awkward. There some other rules, that are suggested you follow to make your stay in China happier, though you will be forgiven if you have no knowledge of what they are.

Never stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, since that usually appears on the funeral and is deemed extremely impolite to the host and seniors present.

Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. The proper way is make it direct outward from the table.

Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks, since that will be deemed insult to the host or the chef.

Never try to turn a fish over and debone it yourself, since the separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of the flesh will usually be performed by the host or a waiter. Superstitious people will deem bad luck will ensue and a fishing boat will capsize if you do so.

Food Symbolism

In China, foods are given particular meanings, so that in certain occasion a type of food, can only be eaten by some specific individuals, or must be eaten in specific occasion.

Usually, an honored guest will be served a snapper's head or shell to hail him and show warmly welcome in some districts.

Long noodle is the symbol of longevity in China, so that youngsters or seniors all will have a bowl of Long Life Noodle in the expectation of a healthy life.

In Central China, if a baby is born, his father will send Red Boiled Eggs to announce the news. An even number, usually six or eight Red Boiled Eggs with a black point dotted on one end will be delivered for a boy and an odd number, usually five or seven without black point for a girl.

Fish is always served to symbolize accumulations of prosperity and wealth with the New Year's Eve meals.

There are other foods and snacks, which symbolize good wishes under special circumstances. These include duck, chicken and melon seeds. TOP


Cooking Techniques

Stir-frying

Stir-frying is the classic Chinese cooking method; quick cook over high heat in a small amount of oil, toss and turn the food when it cooks. In stir-frying, the food should always be in motion. Spread it around the pan or up the sides of the wok, then toss it together again in the center and repeat. This method allows meats to stay juicy and flavorful, vegetables to come out tender-crisp.

There are variations, of course, but the basic pattern for many Chinese dishes is to pre-heat the pan or wok ( a drop of water will sizzle when it's hot enough), add the oil and heat it, stir- fry the meat, remove it, stir-fry the vegetables, return the meat to the pan, add sauce and seasonings, thicken the sauce and serve. Since stir-frying is a last-minute operation, don's plan one more than two stir-fry dishes in one meal.

Steaming

The Chinese steam food in woven bamboo trays that stack one atop the other. The beauty of this system is that several foods cook at one time , saving fuel. All sorts of foods are steamed:meats, fish, dumplings, buns stuffed with meat or a sweet bean paste-bread! For best results, the water should be boiling when the food goes into the steameer and the flame should be high enough to keep it boiling. Have a kattle of boiling water nearby so if water in the steamer evaporates you can add more without reducing the heat. (Be cautious; steam is hot. ) Try to keep moisture that condenses inside the lid from dripping on the food when you remove the lid. See that the water level stays an inch or so below the food, or you will boil it.

Deeping-frying

Some of the most delectable Chinese horsd'oeuvres are deep- fried. Certain main dishes also call for meats to be deep-fried for a crunchy coating, then stir-fried to combine them with vegetables and flavorings . The oil must be at the right temperature---360°to 375°--- to cook food properly. The most food-proof
method is used to a thermostatically -controlled electric fryer. If you deep-fry in your wok or pot, use a frying thermometer, or test the oil before adding food by dropping in a small piece of meat or vegetable. If it sizzles and skates around the surface of the oil, the temperature is right. If it sinks, the oil is not hot enough. If it browns too quickly, and the oil smokes, the temperature is too high. Oil can be reduced if you strain it and add fresh oil each time. Keep a separate batch for frying fish and seafood. TOP


 

Chopsticks

Chinese choose chopsticks as their tableware rather than a knife and fork since Chinese people, under the cultural guidance of Confucianism, consider a knife and fork to represent a sort of violence, and to resemble cold weapons. However, chopsticks reflect gentleness and benevolence, the main moral teachings of Confucianism.

Chinese food seems to taste better when eaten with chopsticks which are the special utensil that the Chinese use to dine with. It is usually an awkward first experience for foreigners to use chopsticks with their meal. Fortunately, learning to eat with chopsticks is not difficult.

The secret to using chopsticks is to hold one chopstick in place while pivoting the other one to pick up individual portions. How to position the chopsticks is the secret you have to learn. First, place the first chopstick so that the thicker part rests at the base of your thumb and the thinner part rests on the lower side of your middle fingertip. Then, bring your thumb forward so that the stick will be firmly trapped in place. At least two or three inches of chopstick of the thinner end should extend beyond your fingertip. Next, position the other chopstick so that it is held against the side of your index finger by the end of your thumb. Check whether the ends of the chopsticks are even. If not, then tap the thinner parts on the plate to make them even. Ok, now you are going to practice. Just place a little pressure on the upper chopstick, the one against your index finger, to make it pivot on the index finger while keeping the bottom chopstick stationary. Isn't it easy?

After a little practice, you can use them to enjoy any meal including Chinese food. Certainly in the first few attempts, you have to take care.

Using chopsticks to eat rice is a problem for most foreigners. Generally the tip to eating rice is to bring one's rice bowl close to one's mouth and quickly scoop the rice into your mouth with one's chopsticks. Since this is difficult for foreigners, simply lift portions of rice to the mouth from the bowl held in the other hand - this is perfectly acceptable.

There are superstitions associated with chopsticks too. If you find an uneven pair at your table setting, it means you are going to miss a boat, plane or train. Dropping chopsticks will inevitably bring bad luck. Crossed chopsticks are, however, permissible in a dim sum restaurant. The waiter will cross them to show that your bill has been settled, or you can do the same to show the waiter that you have finished and are ready to pay the bill. TOP

 

Chinese Tea Culture

China, the Homeland of Tea

Of the three major beverages of the world-- tea, coffee and cocoa-- tea is consumed by the largest number of people.

China is the homeland of tea. It is believed that China has tea-shrubs as early as five to six thousand years ago, and human cultivation of teaplants dates back two thousand years. Tea from China, along with her silk and porcelain, began to be known the world over more than a thousand years ago and has since always been an important Chinese export. At present more than forty countries in the world grow tea with Asian countries producing 90% of the world's total output. All tea trees in other countries have their origin directly or indirectly in China. The word for tea leaves or tea as a drink in many countries are derivatives from the Chinese character "cha." The Russians call it "cha'i", which sounds like "chaye" (tea leaves) as it is pronounced in northern China, and the English word "tea" sounds similar to the pronunciation of its counterpart in Xiamen (Amoy). The Japanese character for tea is written exactly the same as it is in Chinese, though pronounced with a slight difference. The habit of tea drinking spread to Japan in the 6th century, but it was not introduced to Europe and America till the 17th and 18th centuries. Now the number of tea drinkers in the world is legion and is still on the increase.

The Categories of Tea

Chinese tea may be classified into five categories according to the different methods by which it is processed.

1) Green tea: Green tea is the variety which keeps the original colour of the tea leaves without fermentation during processing. This category consists mainly of Longjing tea of Zhejiang Province, Maofeng of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province and Biluochun produced in Jiangsu.

2) Black tea: Black tea, known as "red tea" (hong cha) in China, is the category which is fermented before baking; it is a later variety developed on the basis of the green tea. The best brands of black tea are Qihong of Anhui, Dianhong of Yunnan, Suhong of Jiangsu, Chuanhong of Sichuan and Huhong of Hunan.

3) Wulong tea: This represents a variety half way between the green and the black teas, being made after partial fermentation. It is a specialty from the provinces on China's southeast coast: Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan.

4) Compressed tea: This is the kind of tea which is compressed and hardened into a certain shape. It is good for transport and storage and is mainly supplied to the ethnic minorities living in the border areas of the country. As compressed tea is black in colour in its commercial form, so it is also known in China as "black tea". Most of the compressed tea is in the form of bricks; it is, therefore, generally called "brick tea", though it is sometimes also in the form of cakes and bowls. It is mainly produced in Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
5) Scented tea: This kind of tea is made by mixing fragrant flowers in the tea leaves in the course of processing. The flowers commonly used for this purpose are jasmine and magnolia among others. Jasmine tea is a well-known favourite with the northerners of China and with a growing number of foreigners.

Tea Production

A new tea-plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked and, at 30 years of age, it will be too old to be productive. The trunk of the old plant must then be cut off to force new stems to grow out of the roots in the coming year. By repeated rehabilitation in this way, a plant may serve for about l00 years .

For the fertilization of tea gardens, soya-bean cakes or other varieties of organic manure are generally used, and seldom chemical fertilizers. When pests are discovered, the affected plants will be removed to prevent their spread, and also to avoid the use of pesticides.

The season of tea-picking depends on local climate and varies from area to area. On the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou, where the famous green tea Longjing (Dragon Well) comes from, picking starts from the end of March and lasts through October, altogether 20-30 times from the same plants at intervals of seven to ten days. With a longer interval, the quality of the tea will deteriorate.

A skilled woman picker can only gather 600 grams (a little over a pound) of green tea leaves in a day. The new leaves must be parched in tea cauldrons. This work , which used to be done manually, has been largely mechanized. Top-grade Dragon Well tea, however, still has to be stir-parched by hand, doing only 250 grams every half hour. The tea-cauldrons are heated electrically to a temperature of about 25oC or 74oF. It takes four pounds of fresh leaves to produce one pound of parched tea.

The best Dragon Well tea is gathered several days before Qingming (Pure Brightness, 5th solar term) when new twigs have just begun to grow and carry "one leaf and a bud." To make one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of finished tea, 60, 000 tender leaves have to be plucked. In the old days Dragon Well tea of this grade was meant solely for the imperial household; it was, therefore, known as "tribute tea".

For the processes of grinding, parching, rolling, shaping and drying other grades of tea various machines have been developed and built, turning out about 100 kilograms of finished tea an hour and relieving the workers from much of their drudgery.

China's Tea-Producing Areas

Tea is produced in vast areas of China from Hainan lsland down in the extreme south to Shandong Province in the north, from Tibet in the southwest to Taiwan across the Straits, totalling more than 20 provinces. These may be divided into four major areas:

1) The Jiangnan area: It lies south of the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, and is the most prolific of China's tea-growing areas. Most of its output is the green variety; some black tea is also produced.

2) The Jiangbei area: This refers to a large area north of the same river, where the average temperature is 2-3 Centigrade degrees lower than in the Jiangnan area. Green tea is the principal variety turned out there, but Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, which are also parts of this area. produce compressed tea for supply to the minority areas in the Northwest.

3) The Southwest area: This embraces Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet, producing black, green as well as compressed teas. Pu'er tea of Yunnan Province enjoys a good sale in China and abroad.

4) The Lingnan area: This area , consisting of the southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian and taiwan, produces Wulong tea, which is renowned both at home and abroad.

Advantages of Tea-Drinking

Tea has been one of the daily necessities in China since time immemorial. Countless numbers of people like to have their aftermeal cup of tea.
In summer or warm climate, tea seems to dispel the heat and bring on instant cool together with a feeling of relaxation. For this reason, tea-houses abound in towns and market villages in South China and provide elderly retirees with the locales to meet and chat over a cup of tea.

Medically, the tea leaf contains a number of chemicals, of which 20-30% is tannic acid, known for its anti-inflammatory and germicidal properties. It also contains an alkaloid (5%, mainly caffeine), a stimulant for the nerve centre and the process of metabolism. Tea with the aromatics in it may help resolve meat and fat and thus promote digestion. It is, therefore, of special importance to people who live mainly on meat, like many of the ethnic minorities in China. A popular proverb among them says, "Rather go without salt for three days than without tea for a single day."

Tea is also rich in various vitamins and, for smokers, it helps to discharge nicotine out of the system. After wining, strong tea may prove to be a sobering pick-me-up.
The above, however, does not go to say that the stronger the tea, the more advantages it will yield. Too much tannic acid will affect the secretion of the gastric juice, irritate the membrane of the stomach and cause indigestion or constipation. Strong tea taken just before bedtime will give rise to occasional insomnia. Constant drinking of over-strong tea may induce heart and blood-pressure disorders in some people, reduce the milk of a breast-feeding mother, and put a brown colour on the teeth of young people. But it is not difficult to ward off these undesirable effects: just don't make your tea too strong. TOP

 

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