The Way of Chinese Food
Chinese people pay great attention to eating, not only concerned about what and how to eat, but also the good taste and elegant shape of the food, and the exquisite way of preparation. In pursuit of these elements, a great variety of cuisines with good aroma and flavor are developed with delicate workmanship. Achievement is also made in the name of the food, utensils, etiquette, catering furnishings and environment, health restoration and many others. Thus, in addition to satisfy the desire of the mouth and the stomachs, the diet has much more meaning and penetrates into every aspect of Chinese life. Its integration with the customs, art, literature, medicine, history has resulted in the exclusive Chinese food culture well-known in the world culinary history.
Features of Chinese Food
Chinese food looks for rich and quality materials, exquisite cooking and wonderful taste. It also values the reasonable combination of ingredients, advocates and explores the restorative functions of the food to reach a balanced diet with harmonized five flavors (spicy, sour, sweet, bitter, and salty).
China is a vast country with abundant resources and claims a wide variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry, and aquatic products. Rich raw materials have facilitated the development of Chinese food, leading to a rich variety of flavors. They are the material foundation for China, the culinary giant.
In the long history of cuisine culture, Chinese chefs have developed tens of thousands of delicacies. They can be divided by their origins and diners, such as imperial court cuisines, mandarin cuisines, temple cuisines (vegetarian cuisine), folk cuisines, minority cuisines, and street cuisines. Factors such as available resources, climate, geography, history, and lifestyle have led to many local varieties distinctive from each other, the most notable and influential being cuisines in Shandong, Sichuan, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Fujian, Zhejiang, Anhui, and Hunan. Local snacks are beyond calculation.
Tea and alcoholic are the most representative Chinese drinks. China was the first country to cultivate, process and drink tea, the birthplace of tea culture. Chinese tea is often classified into several categories according to the species of plant from which it is sourced, and the method of production used. There is green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea, and smoked dark tea. Well-known brands include Xihu Longjing Tea, Huangshan Maofeng, Suzhou Biluochun Tea, Lushan Yunwu Tea. Lu’an Guapian Tea, Enshi Yulu Tea, White Milli-Silver Needle Tea, Wuyi Yan Tea, Anxi Tieguanyin Tea, and Yunnan Pu’er Tea. Chinese alcoholic beverages are usually classified liquor spirit, yellow wine, fruit wine, medicine wine, and beer. Some household names are Maotai, WuLiang Ye, Dukang, Fen Jiu. Xifeng Jiu, Dong Jiu, JianNanChun, Luzhou Laojiao, Gujing Gong and Zhuye Qing. These teas and alcohols have enjoyed a world reputation.
A Balanced Diet
The traditional Chinese food consumes much more plant ingredients than animal ones, taking grains as the staple food and others as supplementary. The combination of meat and vegetarian food reaches a balanced and healthy diet. In Huangdi Neijing (translated as Emperor Huang’s Inner Canon). the first Chinese medical book written during Pre-Qin Period (before 221B.C.), it said, ” Five grains as nourishment, five fruits as the supplement, five types of meat as the compliment, and five vegetables as perfection”, which is the earliest regulation on the healthy human diet.
Five Grains as Nourishment
Wu gu (literally five grains) means grain crops such as rice, wheat, corn, sorghum, and beans. The saying ” Wu gu wei yang ” means that all grain crops are the staple food which provides the basic nutrition for the body and is necessary for human health.
Five Fruits as Supplement
Wu guo (literally five fruits) refers to all kinds of fresh fruits and nuts. The saying ” Wu guo wei zhu ” means eating a small amount of fruits and nuts as the supplement to grains, meats, and vegetables, will benefit human health.
Five Types of meat as Compliment
Wu chu (literally five animals) refers to all animal-based food. such as livestock, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk. The saying
” Wu Chu Wei Yi ” means that taking in animal-based food will facilitate the body’s growth.
Five Vegetables as Perfection
Wu cai (literally five vegetables) refers to
all kinds of vegetables, and ” Wu Cai Wei Chong ” means that eating a certain amount of vegetables as the supplement to grain and meat will help to increase immunity and prevent disease.
The notion of “nourishment, compliment, suppliment and perfection” is immersed in the daily life of Chinese people. People add meat and vegetable in rice. congee or wheat products, such as congee with lean pork and preserved egg, seafood congee, and pumpkin congee. Other examples are the common food in China, like miantiao (noodles), baozi (steamed buns with filling) or jiaozi (dumplings). Even from early times, Chinese meal has consisted of dishes, refreshment, rice and congee, fruits and beverages, especially at banquets. One may always find grains, meat, and vegetables at the dining table. It has become a convention in China.
Tastes Come First
It is said that Westerners eat with their brains: insisting on the rational way of dining. Nutritional factors, such as vitamin, protein, and calories are given more priority over the color, aroma, and taste of the food. The Japanese eat by eyes: the aesthetic appeal is the most important. Every dish, no matter how it tastes, shall be good looking. On the contrary, Chinese cuisine is called the cuisine of tongues, because only Chinese people know how to eat by tongues. From the statement used to judge a dish, haochi (literally good eating, delicious or tasty) or bu haochi (literally not good eating), one can tell the priority given to tastes by the Chinese.
Fastidious about Taste
There is a Chinese saying: Food is god for people, and the taste is the lord for food. Chinese people look for palate enjoyment, keeping the original flavor of ingredients while using seasoning to enhance it. With exquisite cooking, the natural flavor of the food, the new tastes generated by cooking, and the flavors of supplementary ingredients and seasoning are blended and create all kinds of delicacies, providing people with fine, pleasant experiences. To experience delicate cuisine with the tongue is the best way to enjoy gourmet.
Looking for Variations
Chinese people also pay attention to the changes in flavors and always look for new variations. The Chinese chef is good at matching different ingredients and seasonings and creating novel tastes with various combinations of different degrees of basic flavors: sour, sweet, bitter, hot-spicy and salty. For example, stir-frying salt with Chinese red peppercorn invented a new flavor of prickly ash and salt. Famous dishes include Fried Shrimps with Spiced Salt and fried SpareRibs with Spiced Salt. If stir-fry pork with pineapple, the natural sweet and sour flavor of the fruit blends in with meat aroma. Supplemented with seasonings, and delicious Gulaorou is made. With creative touch, new cuisines keep on emerging. A hundred dishes have a hundred tastes and the diners will never get bored. Chinese people’s obsession with new variables and unwearied endeavor in this regard lead to prosperity of Chinese cuisine.
Food and Nutrition
The obsession with palate enjoyment does not necessarily mean negligence in nutrition and health. China has a long history of the restoration of health with food. The healthy food theory exercises its influence in every aspect of diet, like a selection of raw materials, dietary structure, diet system, dining method and cooking skill. It claims that diet shall be beneficial for keeping good health. Good food can build up the body, increase one’s intelligence, keep beauty and prolong one’s life. Its main ideas have the following several aspects :
Unity of Heaven and Man
The notion of the unity of heaven and men means that men shall conform to nature.
In the process of building up health, the laws of nature shall be respected and people shall eat according to the time. Take the four seasons for example. Spring is warm, summer hot, autumn dry and winter cold. Each season has its unique characteristics and people can only eat healthily according to the seasonal characteristics. For instance . in spring, the time of sprout and growth, the appropriate food shall be seed-based or root-based, such as rice, wheat, corn, coix seeds, sorghum, oats, peanuts, beans sweet potatoes, turnip, and carrots. It is believed that seeds are full of vitality and helpful for body growth.
Balanced Diet and Five Flavors
The balanced diet means there should not be any indulgence in one single kind of food. The traditional health building theory also pays attention to balanced flavors, which means there should not be excessive favor over one single taste. There shall be a balanced intake of the five tastes because each one nourishes one major organ. Too much sourness damages the spleen; too much bitterness damages the lung; too much spiciness the liver; sweetness the kidney and saltiness the heart. Only when the five flavors are balanced can the human body reach equilibrium and stay healthy.
Abstinence in Diet
People shall be careful with the type and amount of food they eat, not too much nor too scarce. The four properties of the shall be balanced. The cold and cool food, like green beans (mung beans), bitter melon and chrysanthemum can relieve the internal heat. The hot and warm food. such as lamb, onion, and ginger. helps to reduce the coldness. Therefore, one should not overeat food of one single property because too much coldness or hotness is bad for health.
Besides, personal diet is chosen based on the individual constitution. his/her body condition and the season. In general, it is appropriate for hot-natured people to eat cool or cold-natured food; the cool-natured people shall eat warm-natured food; the one with a neutral constitution shall eat a balanced diet.
Food and Medicine
The traditional Chinese medicine believes in the homology of food and medicine, that is, food and medicine share the same origin. There is a saying that medicine is not as good as the good food. The medicinal cuisine is food with therapeutic function. which is made by matching medicine and food ingredients and cooking together. It not only has nutritional value but also prevents and cures diseases, protects one’s health, builds up a good physique and prolongs one’s life.
Medicinal cuisine can be classified into several groups according to its therapeutic functions. The health-protecting type is the most common in ordinary life, such as angelica ginger lamb soup which replenishes blood and warms the spleen, tuber fleece-flower stem jujube congee which replenishes blood and energy, and blackens the hair, and Chinese wolfberry chrysanthemum tea which decreases and clears liver and brightens eyes, etc. In the days when people pay more and more attention to healthy food, the health-building soup, tea, dishes, and congees have become an integral part of the daily diet.