One of the most popular foods in the world, or forms of food, is Chinese food. Chinese food is of course the traditional food of the Chinese people, but it has made its way around the world and is now enjoyed in many Western countries.
The history of Chinese food stretches back thousands of years and has changed over time based on changing climate, tastes, customs and preferences. The ingredients have also changed as well and the dishes vary by class, region and even the background of the people making the meals. As a result, there is a huge amount of ingredients, dishes and eating styles, all of which is categorized under the term Chinese food.
In all, there are eight culinary traditions of China. These are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang. More on these later.
Staples of the cuisine
There are several staple foods found within all areas of Chinese food.
Rice: This is a major staple of people who live in southern China. There are many varieties of rice, and many ways to cook them. The most common way is with steamed rice but rice is also found in wines, vinegars and even beers. One of the most popular foods in all of China, rice is found in many Chinese dishes and will not give you a lean belly.
Noodles: Also very popular, noodles come dry or fresh, in several styles. Noodles are believed to be the symbol of good health and long life within China. The noodles can be served hot or cold, with different toppings, dry or wet.
Soybeans: Tofu is a popular food in China, made from soybeans. There is also soy milk, soy paste and soy sauce.
Wheat: In northern China, wheat is more popular than rice and it is used in Chinese dumplings, steamed buns, breads and noodles.
Vegetables: Of course, vegetables are an important part of any Chinese dish. These can include Chinese cabbage, Chinese spinach, bitter melon, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts, mustard greens and more.
The Regional Cuisines
As was previously mentioned, there are eight culinary traditions within China, which is where most Chinese food recipes now come from.
Cantonese: The most famous dish is Dim Sum, which means touch your heart. These bite-sized foods are made through frying, stewing, baking and steaming. Other dishes include rice rolls, stir-fried vegetables and turnip cakes.
Anhui: This comes from the Huangshan Mountains region of China and has an emphasis on dishes that contain seafood, as well as vegetables. Fresh bamboo is a well-known part of this culinary tradition.
Szechuan: Famed for its bold favors and the power and spiciness of its garlic and chili pepper dishes, it is loved by Chinese culinary dish lovers for its Sichuan peppercorn.
Fujian: Influenced by the mountains and coast of the region, edible mushrooms and bamboo shoots are often used. Seafood is a big part of the cuisine and the food is often served in a broth or soup.
Shandong: This culinary tradition has a long history and was an important part of the imperial cuisine of China. Promoted heavily in north China, it isn’t as popular in the south. Seafood plays a big part and many dishes include braised abalone, sweet and sour carp and Dezhou Chicken.
Jiangsu: This dish is a major component of Chinese food and is famous the world over. These dishes include salted dried duck, crystal meat, Yangzhou-steamed jerky strips, dried duck, Farewell My Concubine and more.
Hunan: Known for being very spicy with a strong aroma, dishes are often made through stewing or frying. Due to the high amount of agriculture in the area, there are many varied dishes in this culinary tradition.
Zhejiang: These foods are not greasy and have a soft and fresh flavor to them. They can include bamboo shoots, poultry and freshwater fish, seafood and dim sum.
In the past, the consumption of meat and animal products was very low and most meals consisted of a starch with green vegetables. Fat and sugar was not seen. Things have begun to change since the 1970s as more and more Chinese are eating meats, fats and sugar. In addition, the per capita food consumption of Chinese people has increased from 1,700 kCal per day in 1960 to 2,570 kCal per day in 1995.
As a result, the dishes are beginning to change and become more westernized as more and more Chinese are exposed to a growing number of western foods.