The Chinese Food Map
CHINESE FOOD HAS A LOT TO OFFER
China, like any large country, has cuisine that varies from region to region. Consequently, there is no all-encompassing term like ‘Chinese Food’ that can be applied to food from that continent.
Chinese cooking is exotic to eat, simple to prepare, economical and fun; that’s why more and more people eat and enjoy Chinese food. Chinese cooking assures an economical and healthy way to eat. Its emphasis on fresh, crunchy vegetables combined with bits of meat and accompanied by a variety of sauces provides a diet free from the harmful effects of fats and cholesterol. And Chinese cooking is economical because vegetables are use generously with small amounts of meat.
With a few hints, some basic ingredients and a little practice, anyone can prepare a Chinese meal that rivals the best restaurant in town.
Most of the ingredients needed to make a Chinese dish are found at most supermarkets and green grocers.
The Chinese eat their food with chopsticks. Which is the best way to eat Chinese food? The chopsticks enable one to hold just as much sauce as coats the morsel, which is the correct proportion, if all the subtle interchanges of flavour are to be enjoyed. Contrary to all rumours, chopsticks are not difficult to manipulate and the difference their use makes to the enjoyment of Chinese food is tremendous.
No desserts or sweets are normally served at ordinary home or restaurant meals, which is probably the reason why the Chinese usually look twenty years younger than their age, men keep their teeth and the women preserve their ‘line’ long past middle age.
The ideal finish to any Chinese meal is tea, whether plain or of the delicately scented variety – jasmine, rose, or chrysanthemum. Try it, for a world of difference.
In Chinese cooking, the preparation is of great importance. Many dishes require very fine chopping and shredding of the various ingredients, and they are combined in a very orderly manner. It is not necessary to use only Chinese utensils as these dishes can easily be prepared using basic kitchen equipment.
The main cooking technique used to produce good Chinese food is stir-frying. A wok is ideal, but a deep, non-stick pan will serve the purpose just as well. Stir-frying requires good temperature to control and this easily learnt through practice. The wok or pan should be heated, and then the temperature reduced before adding oil. If the utensil is too hot the oil will burn, giving a charred, oily taste to the food, which may burn, too. The heat should be progressively raised for the addition of other ingredients. The whole process may take between five and seven minutes. Remember, never overcook, as this will not only destroy the crispness of the food, but also its flavour and goodness.
Chinese food incorporates six basic flavours, just like Indian food. They are: sweet, sour, salty, spicy, pungent and hot.
TYPES OF CHINESE CUISINE
Broadly speaking, there are four main traditional categories of Chinese cuisine, which pertains to a specific region: Cantonese, Mandarin, Shanghainese (from theShanghairegion) andSichuanorSzechwan.
FromCantonor the ‘Guangdong’ Province in the south-eastern part ofChina(the same area as Hong Kong), you have food that is relatively mild, and is the sort that you most commonly find if you go to a Chinese restaurant in theUS.
Cantonese food is usually stir-fried, and quite colourful, using a variety of vegetables, which are cooked so that they retain their crisp texture. A lot of emigrants from this region to other countries around the world have popularised this type of food.
Famous dishes include whole steamed fish, roast pigeon, poached chicken, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and a wide range of crispy green vegetables sautéed to perfection.
Mandarin cuisine is sometimes referred to as ‘Beijingstyle’, though it more broadly refers to food from the northern regions. A lot of the dishes are wheat-based — rather than rice-based, as the main crops found here are wheat, millet, corn and soyabeans. So noodles, steamed and baked breads, soups and tofu make up the bulk of the food. The food tends to be a bit oily, and garlic and vinegar are common flavourings.
Shanghai cuisine is Central-Eastern Chinese food. Due to the city’s location close to the ocean and lakes and rivers — seafood, both fresh and salt water, features heavily on its menu. The food is lightly spiced, and the sauces tend to be slightly sweet. Both rice and wheat-based dishes can be found in this region, and popular items include fried prawns, drunken chicken and steamed crab.
SICHUAN (OR SZECHWAN)
Food from theSichuan(or “FourRivers”) basin and generally, the South-Western region is characterised by the fairly liberal use of garlic, scallions and chillies. Consequently, the food from this region tends to be spicier
In the neighbouringHunanprovince, a bit more oil is used in the cooking, and you will also find the ‘hot-and-sour’ items here. River fish, shell fish and chicken are quite popular.
So the next time you step out for a Chinese meal, order a good variety of items and embark on a culinary expedition throughChina. Enjoy!
KWANGTUNG BRAISED SPARERIBS
Time required: One hour
- ½ kg spareribs, 5cm in length
- 1 cup (240 ml.) broth
- ½ cup (120ml) apple juice
- ½ cup (120ml) orange juice or lime juice
- ½ cup (120ml) tomato sauce
- 2 (100g) onions, chopped fine
- 3 tbsp (45ml.) sherry (optional)
- 3 tbsp (45ml) Soya sauce
- 2 tbsp (30g) corn flour
- 2 spring onions, sliced fine
- 1½ tsp (7g) sugar
- 1 tsp (5g) five spice powder
- ½ tsp (2g) pepper powder
- 2 tsp (10g) salt
- 2 tsp (10ml) chilli oil
- ½ cup (100 ml) vegetable oil
- Separate the spareribs wash and dry them well. Mix soya sauce, salt, pepper, sugar and five spice powder well. Add spareribs and rub well with the mixture. Marinate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle corn flour and mix well.
- Heat oil and fry spareribs over medium heat for 25 minutes until they turn golden. Drain off the excess oil and set aside. Add a little more oil if required and sauté onions for two minutes. Add fried spareribs with all the juices, tomato sauce, chilli oil and sherry. Mix well. Add the broth, bring it to a boil. Simmer until thickened. Serve hot with rice.
For spicy spareribs, add one or two tbsp. chilli powder while marinating the spareribs.
For a variation, substitute juices, tomato sauce and broth, with two cups barbeque sauce. Serve hot with rice.
For a vegetarian version, cut cottage cheese into the size of spareribs. Substitute the broth with barbeque sauce.