Chinese Cuisine is a world-wide favourite. If asked why, we will be bombarded with reasons like flavours, cooking style, spices and so on. While all the claims are legit, it is no rocket-science that food traditions are exhibited with the availability and scarcity of food resources and weather conditions. Regions where farming and cultivation is challenged, preservation marks the ritual and vice versa. It is thus equally important to understand the roots of our favourite food to appreciate it better. Chinese cuisine is undoubtedly a popular food genre. The surprising variety of ingredients and flavours make Chinese cuisine delectable. Chinese food offers plenty of variety from plain bland to sweet and sour, spicy, and salty.
There are plenty of Chinese restaurant in the UK that serve not only delicious traditional food but also follows the techniques and style of processing and cooking. You might have already noticed that none of these Chinese restaurants share a similar menu. Some specialise in dumplings, some in duck dishes, some solely on Sichuan dishes. That is because, China comprises of provinces and dietary essentials are strictly dependent on abundance vs. scarcity of agricultural production and weather challenges and advantages.
China is divided into 4 regions. Each of these regions has their distinct style of cooking. The ingredients mainly used are based on agricultural or natural products of that particular region.
Flavors of Northern Chinese Cuisine
North Chinese cuisine is hearty and more acceptable in the West. Roasted duck or beef, dairy, and flatbreads are staples. As this region experienced harsh, dry and cold winters, as well as very hot summers, salt and calorie replacement is the mainstay in their meals.
Northerners prefer strong flavors and seasonings. Their food is oilier, richer and includes a generous amount of scallions and garlic. The most popular choice for seasonings is vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, scallions, leeks, sweet bean sauce, star anise, sesame oil, and chili pepper.
People in the North are generous and hospitable. They serve their food in big portions. Typical cooking methods are roasting, deep-frying, stir-frying, and stewing.
Flavors of Southern Chinese Cuisine
South China includes the provinces of Yunnan, Hunan, Guizhou, and Guangxi regions. It has the largest concentration of ethnic Chinese minorities. These people have a special cuisine, usually spicier and sour.
The most significant part of Southern Chinese minority cuisine is rural preserved food. Southerners preserve almost everything and prevent wastage. Sun drying, curing, and pickling in vinegar or brine are the traditional ways of preserving food in the damp Southern region. People of the mountains pickle chilies, vegetables, and tofu; they smoke poultry, meat, tofu, and fish; they also process sun-dried fruits, vegetables, chilies, and fish.
Typical Southern Chinese foods are oil tea, sticky rice cakes, home-brewed rice wine, glutinous rice wraps and home-smoked meats. Cooking methods are fast frying and hotspots – simple and adaptable with minimal wastage.
Eastern Chinese Cuisine
The cuisine of the Yangtze Delta area of Suzhou, Shanghai, the Yellow Mountains, Nanjing, and Hangzhou are typical Eastern Chinese variety. Their food is mainly sweet with subtle flavors of sugar, vinegar, wine, and soy sauce. Eastern Chinese cuisine is similar to Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian, and Zhejiang – the four of Eight Major Cuisines of China.
Eastern cuisine is a blend of abundant ingredients like seafood, poultry, fish, vegetables, and pork. This part of China produces a wide variety of fresh vegetables due to the fertile region of the Yangtze River Delta. Wheat and rice are staples of the East.
Frying, braising, simmering, and steaming are the common cooking methods used in Eastern China. Their preferred seasonings are rice wine, rice vinegar, soy sauce and sugar.
Western Chinese Cuisine
Tibet and the Xinjiang Province are the main parts of Western China. Their cuisine reflects wide characteristics culture, climate, agriculture and geography of the region. The region has deserts and hills with the limited arable land. Wheat is their primary grain, along with some vegetables like onions, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and carrots. The Western part of China is also popular for dried fruit.
Mutton is an integral part of their cuisine. Beef, horse meat, camel meat and some dairy foods are also popular. The common method of cooking is roasting, steaming, and stir-frying.
It should ring bells by now which regional delicacy is actually your favourite. Are you more into the stewed and boiled version? Or is the deep-fried crackling duck skin in soya that reminds you more of China? You can choose to walk in one or look for your favourite one online and order a Chinese Takeaway. Have a delicious meal!