Chinese cuisine encompasses the numerous cuisines originating from China, as well as overseas cuisines created by the Chinese diaspora. Because of the Chinese diaspora and historical power of the country, Chinese cuisine has influenced many other cuisines in Asia and beyond, with modifications made to cater to local palates. Chinese food staples such as rice, soy sauce, noodles, tea, chili oil, and tofu, and utensils such as chopsticks and the wok, can now be found worldwide.
The preferences for seasoning and cooking techniques of Chinese provinces depend on differences in social class, religion, historical background, and ethnic groups. Geographic features including mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts also have a strong effect on the local available ingredients, considering that the climate of China varies from tropical in the south to subarctic in the northeast. Imperial royal and noble preference also plays a role in the change of Chinese cuisine. Because of imperial expansion and trading, ingredients and cooking techniques from other cultures have been integrated into Chinese cuisines over time.
There are numerous regional, religious, and ethnic styles of Chinese cuisine found within China and abroad. Chinese cuisine is highly diverse and most frequently categorised into provincial divisions, although these province-level classifications consist of many more styles within themselves. The most praised Four Great Traditions in Chinese cuisine are Chuan, Lu, Yue, and Huaiyang, representing cuisines of West, North, South, and East China, respectively. The modern Eight Cuisines of China are Anhui (徽菜; Huīcài), Guangdong (粤菜; Yuècài), Fujian (闽菜; Mǐncài), Hunan (湘菜; Xiāngcài), Jiangsu (苏菜; Sūcài), Shandong (鲁菜; Lǔcài), Sichuan (川菜; Chuāncài), and Zhejiang (浙菜; Zhècài) cuisines.
A Quanjude cook is slicing Peking roast duck. Peking duck is eaten by rolling pieces of duck with scallion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce using steamed pancakes.
Color, scent and taste are the three traditional aspects used to describe Chinese food, as well as the meaning, appearance, and nutrition of the food. Cooking should be appraised with respect to the ingredients used, knife work, cooking time, and seasoning.
Dàzhǔ gānsī is a typical soup dish of Huaiyang cuisine. It is made of finely sliced dried tofu, chicken, ham and bamboo shoot, and the ingredients need to be braised with shrimp in chicken soup. It was highly praised by the Qianlong emperor.
Làzǐ Jī, stir-fried chicken with chili and Sichuan pepper in Sichuan style
Steamed whole perch with roe inside. Sliced ginger and spring onion is usually spread on top.
Chinese society greatly valued gastronomy, and developed an extensive study of the subject based on its traditional medical beliefs. Chinese culture initially centered around the North China Plain. The first domesticated crops seem to have been the foxtail and broomcorn varieties of millet, while rice was cultivated in the south. By 2000 BC, wheat had arrived from western Asia.
These grains were typically served as warm noodle soups instead of baked into bread as in Europe. Nobles hunted various wild game and consumed mutton, pork and dog as these animals were domesticated. Grain was stored against famine and flood and meat was preserved with salt, vinegar, curing, and fermenting. The flavor of the meat was enhanced by cooking it in animal fats though this practice was mostly restricted to the wealthy.
By the time of Confucius in the late Zhou, gastronomy had become a high art. Confucius discussed the principles of dining: "The rice would never be too white, the meat would never be too finely cut... When it was not cooked right, man would not eat. When it was cooked badly, man would not eat. When the meat was not cut properly, man would not eat. When the food was not prepared with the right sauce, man would not eat. Although there are plenty of meats, they should not be cooked more than staple food. There is no limit for alcohol, before a man gets drunk."
The Lüshi chunqiu notes: "Only if one is chosen as the Son of Heaven will the tastiest delicacies be prepared [for him].
The Zhaohun (4-3rd c. BC) gives some examples: turtle ragout, honey cakes and beer (chilled with ice).
During Shi Huangdi's Qin dynasty, the empire expanded into the south. By the time of the Han dynasty, the different regions and cuisines of China's people were linked by major canals and leading to greater complexity in the different regional cuisines. Not only is food seen as giving "qi", energy, but the food is also about maintaining yin and yang.
The philosophy behind it was rooted in the I Ching and Chinese traditional medicine: food was judged for color, aroma, taste, and texture and a good meal was expected to balance the Four Natures ('hot', warm, cool, and 'cold') and the Five Tastes (pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty). Salt was used as a preservative from early times, but in cooking was added in the form of soy sauce, and not at the table.
By the Later Han period (2nd century), writers[who?] frequently complained of lazy aristocrats who did nothing but sit around all day eating smoked meats and roasts.
During the Han dynasty, the Chinese developed methods of food preservation for military rations during campaigns such as drying meat into jerky and cooking, roasting, and drying grain.
Chinese legends claim that the roasted, flat bread shaobing was brought back from the Xiyu (the Western Regions, a name for Central Asia) by the Han dynasty General Ban Chao, and that it was originally known as hubing (胡餅, lit. "barbarian bread"). The shaobing is believed to be descended from the hubing. Shaobing is believed to be related to the Persian nan and Central Asian nan, as well as the Middle Eastern pita.
Foreign westerners made and sold sesame cakes in China during the Tang dynasty.
During the Southern and Northern dynasties non-Han people like the Xianbei of Northern Wei introduced their cuisine to northern China, and these influences continued up to the Tang dynasty, popularizing meat like mutton and dairy products like goat milk, yogurts, and Kumis among even Han people. It was during the Song dynasty that Han Chinese developed an aversion to dairy products and abandoned the dairy foods introduced earlier.
The Han Chinese rebel Wang Su who received asylum in the Xianbei Northern Wei after fleeing from Southern Qi, at first could not stand eating dairy products like goat's milk and meat like mutton and had to consume tea and fish instead, but after a few years he was able to eat yogurt and lamb, and the Xianbei Emperor asked him which of the foods of China (Zhongguo) he preferred, fish vs mutton and tea vs yogurt.
The great migration of Chinese people south during the invasions preceding and during the Song dynasty increased the relative importance of southern Chinese staples such as rice and congee. Su Dongpo has improved the red braised pork as Dongpo pork.
The dietary and culinary habits also changed greatly during this period, with many ingredients such as soy sauce and Central Asian influenced foods becoming widespread and the creation of important cookbooks such as the Shanjia Qinggong (Chinese: 山家清供; pinyin: shanjia qinggong) and the Wushi Zhongkuilu (Chinese: 吳氏中饋錄; pinyin: wushi zhoungkuilu) showing the respective esoteric foods and common household cuisine of the time.
The Yuan and Qing dynasties introduced Mongolian and Manchu cuisine, warm northern dishes that popularized hot pot cooking. During the Yuan dynasty many Muslim communities emerged in China, who practiced a porkless cuisine now preserved by Hui restaurants throughout the country. Yunnan cuisine is unique in China for its cheeses like Rubing and Rushan cheese made by the Bai people, and its yogurt, the yogurt may have been due to a combination of Mongolian influence during the Yuan dynasty, the Central Asian settlement in Yunnan, and the proximity and influence of India and Tibet on Yunnan.
As part of the last leg of the Columbian Exchange, Spanish and Portuguese traders began introducing foods from the New World to China through the port cities of Canton and Macau. Mexican chili peppers became essential ingredients in Sichuan cuisine and calorically dense potatoes and corn became staple foods across the northern plains.
During the Qing dynasty, Chinese gastronomes such as Yuan Mei focused upon the primary goal of extracting the maximum flavour of each ingredient. As noted in his culinary work the Suiyuan shidan, however, the fashions of cuisine at the time were quite varied and in some cases were flamboyantly ostentatious, especially when the display served also a formal ceremonial purpose, as in the case of the Manchu Han Imperial Feast.
As the pace of life increases in modern China, fast food like fried noodles, fried rice and gaifan (dish over rice) become more and more popular.
"Lion's head with crab meat" (蟹粉獅子頭) is a traditional eastern Chinese meatball soup.
There are a variety of styles of cooking in China, but most Chinese chefs classified eight regional cuisines according to their distinct tastes and local characteristics. A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine but perhaps the best known and most influential are Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine (specifically Huaiyang cuisine) and Sichuan cuisine.
These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as availability of resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle.
One style may favour the use of garlic and shallots over chili and spices, while another may favour preparing seafood over other meats and fowl. Jiangsu cuisine favours cooking techniques such as braising and stewing, while Sichuan cuisine employs baking. Zhejiang cuisine focuses more on serving fresh food and shares some traits in common with Japanese food. Fujian cuisine is famous for its delicious seafood and soups and the use of spices. Hunan cuisine is famous for its hot and sour taste. Anhui cuisine incorporates wild food for an unusual taste and is wilder than Fujian cuisine.
Based on the raw materials and ingredients used, the method of preparation and cultural differences, a variety of foods with different flavors and textures are prepared in different regions of the country. Many traditional regional cuisines rely on basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.
In addition, the "rice theory" attempts to describe cultural differences between north and south China; in the north, noodles are more consumed due to wheat being widely grown whereas in the south, rice is more preferred as it has historically been more cultivated there.
Staple foods in China: rice, breads and various kinds of noodles
Chinese ancestors successfully planted millet, rice, and other grains about 8,000 to 9,000 years ago.
As for wheat, another staple, it took another three or four thousand years. For the first time, grains provided people with a steady supply of food. Because of the lack of various foods, Chinese people had to adapt to new eating habits. The meat was scarce at that time, that's why people cooked with small amounts of meat and rice or noodles.
Rice is a primary staple food for people from rice farming areas in southern China.
Steamed rice, usually white rice, is the most commonly eaten form. People in South China also like to use rice to make congee as breakfast.
Rice is also used to produce beer, baijiu and vinegar. Glutinous rice ("sticky rice") is a variety of rice used in special dishes such as lotus leaf rice and glutinous rice balls.
In wheat-farming areas in Northern China, people largely rely on flour-based food, such as noodles, bing (bread), jiaozi (a kind of Chinese dumplings), and mantou (a type of steamed buns).
Wheat likely "appeared in the lower Yellow River around 2600 Before Common Era (BCE), followed by Gansu and Xinjiang around 1900 BCE and finally occurred in the middle Yellow River and Tibet regions by 1600 BCE".
Chinese noodles come dry or fresh in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures and are often served in soups or fried as toppings. Some varieties, such as Shou Mian (寿面, literally noodles of longevity), is an avatar of long life and good health according to Chinese traditions.
Noodles can be served hot or cold with different toppings, with broth, and occasionally dry (as is the case with mi-fen). Noodles are commonly made with rice flour or wheat flour, but other flours such as soybean are also used in minor groups. The names given to the noodle is unique in their own way, such as the method used to make the noodle as in hand-pulled noodle.