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Chinese Regional Cuisines Overview.

bj12.jpg - Skewered snacks ready for barbecue, such as grubs, baby birds, hearts
Photographer: ManYee DeSandies
Caption: Skewered snacks ready for barbecue, such as grubs, baby birds, hearts
Location: Beijing, China

Chinese cuisine can be divided into five regional categories:

Northern China - Beijing/Mandarin and Shantung known especially for its steamed bread and noodle dishes.
South Eastern China - Cantonese and Chaozhou known for its lightly cooked meats and vegetables.
Western China - Sichuan or ChungKing known for its spicy dishes

Eastern China - Shanghainese known for its slow `red cooking.' Fukien known for its seafood and clear light soups.
Central China – Honan known for its carp from the yellow river
Tea has been the traditional beverage of choice all over China.  Today Coca-Cola and beer are making inroads into China and are popular throughout China.

Beijing/Mandarin/ Pekinese/Shantung Cuisine –
Peking has always been a great intellectual and cultural center.  This is also the site of the Imperial Palace and has exerted great cultural influence over time.  Its influence extended all over the northern plains, including Beijing; the fertile east, watered by the Yangtse river.  Peking was the gourmet capital of China until the 17th century.  Peking had a reputation of holding mammoth feasts and banquets attracting the country's best chefs.  Many of today’s Chinese restaurants draw inspiration from the imperial style which has red brocade, tasseled lanterns and lacquer furnishings.

A multi-course meal of Peking Duck is probably the best-known dish in this culinary school.   Imperial theatricality is also evident in the noodle-making exhibitions provided by culinary jugglers at some international Chinese restaurants. The elaborate ceremony of smashing open clay-baked Beggar's Chicken is another specialty dish.

The three-day Imperial Banquets, with their 365 dishes, are still talked about with awe and respect.   This school has dishes like sizzling Hilsa herrings, "toffee" apples and bananas, silk thread noodles, steamed breads, pancakes, onion cakes, dim sum pastries, delicious roasts and wine cooked meats in its repertoire. This school has a liberal use of garlic, scallions, leeks and chives. 

 The northern region of China reaches into the hostile climate of Mongolia -- land of the Gobi Desert and Arctic winter winds. Mongolian influence on this school has been the use of mutton and lamb.  The cold region of the North is not suitable for rice cultivation so, wheat, barley, millet and soybeans are the staples; breads and noodles anchor the meal. Vegetables and fruits -- cabbage, squash, pears, grapes, and apples -- are the most popular. 

Typical Beijing dishes:

Beijing Roast Duck Beijing kaoya
Instant-Boiled Mutton Mongolian Hot Pot shuan yangrou
Braised Shark's Fin huangmen yuchi
Sauteed Chicken With Green Peppers jiangbao jiding
Sweet Cake With Dates saqima

Cantonese Cuisine
Canton is China’s gateway to the West. There are cosmopolitan influences here and of all of China's regional cuisines, that of Canton (Quangtung) province is the most popular all over the world. The Chinese from this province, emigrated to Europe and America and took their cuisine with them. After the Ming Dynasty was overthrown many of its officers moved to this area and brought with them their chefs that were trained in the classical Peking style.These chefs took advantage of the abundance and variety of indiginious ingredients of this region.  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. The chefs adapted the Peking style to reflect more variety and freshness. The cuisine reached such heights that along with the French, the Cantonese believe that they "live to eat".

The Cantonese style  emphasizes the individual taste of each ingredient while blending taste and textures of many ingredients and the subtle use of condiments to give the palette the whole experience. Freshness is the keyword in Cantonese cuisine. Twice-daily trips to the market are common in this culinary school. There are few seasonings (soy sauce, ginger root and wine) and favors the quick stir-frying and steaming methods. Roast meat, poultry (especially as stock), lobster and steamed fish are the norm along with many varieties of vegetables.

Typical courses:

Trumpet Shell Braised In Soy Sauce hongshao hailuo
Sweet And Sour Carp tangcu liyu
Dezhou Stewed Chicken dezhou paji
Caramelized Apples basi pingguo

Szechuan Cuisine
This Western area of China has its own unique cuisine and was never really part of mainstream China. Its mountainous provinces of  Szechwan and Hunan have a steamy, hot, almost tropical climate and cuisine. Its locally grown chilies makes this cuisine spicy and also helps preserve food in this hot climates.

The Szechuan cuisine  uses local rice, citrus fruits, bamboo, chilies and mushrooms. Ginger, garlic, onions and brown peppercorns are other popular seasonings.This style is unique as it does not use many table condiments as the dishes themselves are seasoned, spiced and oily.

Szechuan specialties include smoked duck, a blend of cooking techniques and taste contrasts. It is seasoned with orange peel, cinnamon, coriander and other ingredients, then marinated in rice wine, then steamed, then smoked over a charcoal fire sprinkled with camphor wood chips and red-tea leaves - the result is a gourmet taste delight. Other specialties include deep fried chicken wrapped in paper, vegetables prepared in chicken fat, chicken and hot peppers and a variety of mushroom dishes. The famous hot and sour soup, sliced Hoisin pork and bean curd spicy dishes on the menu in many restaurants are from this region.

Typical courses:

Sliced Cold Chicken xiao jianji
Twice Cooked Pork hui guo rou
Shredded Pork and Hot Sauce yuxiang rousi
Spicy Hot Bean Curd mapo doufu
Hot Pot huoguo
Fish Flavored Eggplant yuxiang qiezi
Reflecting Beef dengying niurou
Couple's Beef Fillet fuqi feipian

 Shanghainese Cuisine
Shanghai has been China’s most important port city. This has allowed it to incorporate many regional and international ideas into its cuisine. In Shanghai , there is more dependence on soy sauce and a great deal more of sugar is used.  Stewing, braising and frying are the most common forms of Shanghainese cooking. The slow "red cooking" technique is unique to Shanghai cuisine and has now spread to other parts of China. Rice is the staple here and seafood is very popular in this port city.

 The dishes from the Fukien province are famous for their seafood and for clear light soups which are served in large quantities. It is not uncommon to have more than one soup dish in a meal. In fact, at large banquets most of the dishes or courses could be soups. Fukien uses cooking wine and soy sauce in its dishes. Their light meals are balanced with red fermented bean sauce.  It is also known for its egg rolls, paper thin pancakes, seaweeds, and suckling pig. Rice noodles and rice is the staple here. They are also very fond of green teas.

Typical Shanghai dishes:

Sour and Hot Soup with Eel and Chicken longfeng suanla tang
Black Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Roe xiazi dawushen
Duck with Prawn Rounds ruyi ya juan xian
Shrimps of Two Colors shuangse xiaren
Boiled Crucian Carp with Clam geli cuan jiyu
Steamed Beef in Rice Flour yuanlong fenzheng niurou

The Honan province is famous for its sweet and sour dishes. Its yellow carp caught in the Yellow river is sought by people all over China.

Typical courses:

Dong'an Chick dong'an ziji
Peppery and Hot Chick mala ziji
Lotus Seedpods With Crystal Sugar bingtang xianglian

Other Chinese Culinary Schools

Chinese Cuisine is essentially five cuisines. The vastness of China and its regional history, ethnic people and climate have created distinct cuisines

Besides these regional cuisines the minorities in China with their unique customs and habits have their own cuisines. The Uygur, Kazak and Ozbek ethnic people like roast mutton kebab and crusty pancake; Mongolians like millet stir-fried in butter, fried sheep tail and tea with milk; Koreans like sticky rice cakes, cold noodles and kimchi (pickled vegetables); Tibetans eat zanba (roasted barley flour) and buttered tea; the Lis, Jings and Dais chew betel nut palms.

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