Eight Cuisines :
The diversity of geography, climate, costumes and products have led to the evolution of the 'Four Flavors' and 'Eight Cuisines' . As catering is a living art, sub-classifications continue to increase. This includes the dishes in various flavours and tastes created by expert chefs, local specialities in cuisines, the cuisine of the majority Han people and the many minorities who have their own fantastic traditions and appeal.
Cuisine in China is a harmonious integration of color, redolence, taste, shape and the fineness of the instruments. For the cooking process, chefs pick various ingredients and seasonings while employing unparalleled complicated skills to create a masterpiece perfect in all senses. Among the many cooking methods they use are boiling, stewing, braising, frying, steaming, crisping, baking, simmering and so on. When they finish their masterpieces they are arranged on a variety of plates and dishes so that they are a real pleasure to view, to smell and ultimately to savor. The facility to partake of these delights is also distinctive - chopsticks!. The use of two simple sticks in this way is an art in itself and chopsticks have determined the way in which Chinese food is presented at table.
Cuisine can rise to many different occasions from luxury court feasts, fetes, holy sacrificial rites, joyous wedding ceremonies to simple daily meals and snacks. The art of a good cook is to provide a wholesome and satisfying dish to suit the occasion.
Chinese Medicinal Cuisine: Good cuisine has the effect of prolonging life, sustaining the constitution and promoting energy and in this respect bears some relationship to Chinese medicine.
Food Culture : Just as the ingredients of each dish and presentation is important, table manners and courtesy among diners are very much part of the Chinese cultural tradition. The high art of Chinese cuisine can be truly enjoyed to the full only by combining excellent food with good manners.
Minority Cuisine : It also has its own flavor and appeal in ethnic groups, which is quite distinctive.
Colorful, aromatic and delicious are characteristics of China's varied cuisines. Wherever you find yourself in China, your senses are tested to the extreme whilst enjoying the unusual dishes, often unique to the area you are visiting.
In prepared dishes, the stronger fragrant aroma stimulates one's appetite, by using scallion, fresh ginger, root garlic or chili pepper; with the use of wine, aniseed, cinnamon, peppercorn or sesame oil. Complementary nuances are added. Soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and other seasonings may used discreetly, adding to the complex play on the taste buds.
All chefs of the Chinese kitchens, professional or in the home, strive for harmony of sight, smell, taste, texture, so that each individual dish has it's unique features highlighted; contrasted and balanced if it is a dinner of many dishes, be it 3, 6, 9 or 12. The flavors must not overpower, yet subtle enough to meet the tastes of those dining and to play on the eaters' real and imagined visions of the dishes and its ingredients. Complex or simple dishes may be prepared quickly or much longer. Over festive periods, well meaning felicitous names of dishes keep many people trying to guess what they are about to eat, thereby adding fun to eating.
Chinese cuisine has a number of different genres, but the most influential and typical known by the public are the 'Eight Cuisines'. These are as follows: Shandong Cuisine, Sichuan Cuisine, Guangdong Cuisine, Fujian Cuisine, Jiangsu Cuisine, Zhejiang Cuisine, Hunan Cuisine, and Anhui Cuisine. The essential factors that establish the form of a genre are complex and include history, cooking features, geography, climate, resources and life styles. Cuisines from different regions are so distinctive that sometimes their styles are completely alien despite the fact that two areas are geographical neighbors.
This is the local flavor of Jinan City and Jiaodong peninsula derived from the use of shallots and garlic. Both restaurant chefs and those in families are expert in cooking seafood, soups, meat and offal. The recipes are those that once delighted the royal court and were served to the emperor. The typical menu can include many delicate dishes such as:
Braised abalone - smooth, delicate, fresh and savory
Sweet and Sour Carp - with crisp exterior and tender fish interior, a little sweet and sour
Bree with a complex - clear, mild and fresh
‘Eight Immortals Crossing Sea teasing Arhats' - This is a starter before a celebration feast. It is luxurious and traditionally uses as its eight main ingredients: fin, sea pumpkin, abalone, asparagus, prawns and ham. The stock is flavored with fish's swimming bladder and fish bones. These symbolize the eight immortals and the Arhats [Buddhist saints] are symbolized by the inclusion of chicken breast.
Guangdong Cuisine takes fine and rare ingredients and is cooked with polished skills in a dainty style. It emphasizes a flavor which is clear but not light, refreshing but not common, tender but not crude. In summer and autumn it pursues clarity and in winter and spring, a little more substance. The sauted dishes always rely upon exquisite presentation involving cutting and carving skills. Typical menu can include the following:
Chrysanthemum fish - chefs with expert cutting techniques shape the fish like chrysanthemums, each individual morsel being convenient to enjoy with either chopsticks or forks.
Braised Snake porridge - choose rare meat of cobra, grimalkin, and pullet, braised elaborately, also called 'Dragon and phoenix contending' (Long Feng Dou).
Roast suckling pig - a famed dish with rather long history, golden and crisp exterior, and tender meat, with dense aroma.
This combines the cuisines from Chengdu and Chongqing. From as early as the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), books had systematically recorded a total of 38 cooking methods like to scald, wrap, bake, mix, stew, and adhere, etc. it features pungent seasonings which were famed as 'Three Peppers' (Chinese prickly ash, pepper and hot pepper), 'three aroma' (shallot, ginger, and garlic), 'Seven Tastes' (sweet, sour, tingling, spicy, bitter, piquant, and salty), and 'eight flavors' (fish-flavored, sour with spice, pepper-tingling, odd flavor, tingling with spice, red spicy oily, ginger sauce, and home cooking). Delicious dishes menu includes:
Stir-fried Tofu with Minced Beef in Spicy Bean Sauce - A real feast of tender bean curd, minced beef, pepper and bean sauce. It is said that it was made by a pock-marked but ingenious woman, thus the name Ma Po Tofu (pock-marked woman's bean curd).
Lamp-shadow Beef - with larruping techniques, the beef is cut in very thin sheet. When a piece is carried, it looks like translucent paper, slippery and reddish. When put under the lamp or light, a red shadow will appear.
Lung Pieces by Couple - a quite popular in Chengdu. It got the name because the dish was ever sold be a couple and today it remains the original savor, tender meat, tingling and spicy.
Gong Bao Ji Ding -In Chinese it is called Gong Bao Ji Ding. This is a tender chicken dish, tender as the meat is quickly fried. Flavored with peanuts, this is tasty and very popular.
Hunan cuisine lays a stress on the use of oil, dense color, and techniques that produce crispness, softness and tenderness as well as the savory flavors and spices. Stewed fins, fried fresh cabbage with chestnuts, Dong Anzi chicken, immortal chicken with five elements, are of the highest reputation.
Stewed fins - had been famous during the Qing Dynasty. Choice fins, chickens, pork are stewed in chicken soup and sauce, tasting really fresh and mellow.
Immortal chicken with five elements - means to put five elements, litchi, longan, red dates, lotus seeds, and medlar, into the body of a chicken, then to braise. The taste is rather peculiar but it is said to have the effect of strengthening the constitution.
Jiangsu Cuisine developed from the local recipes of Yangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. Its main cooking techniques are braising and stewing, thereby enhancing the original flavor and sauce. The elegant color, novel sculpts, with salt and sweet taste will soothe your stomach. The cuisine has several branches, including Shanghai cuisine, Nanjing cuisine is known for its duck recipes, Suxi cuisine with flowery hue, etc. The most highly recommended courses are:
Three sets of ducks - an interlinking dish, that is to put pigeon into wild duck, then put the wild duck into a fowl duck. When stewed, the fowl duck is tender, the wild one crisp, and the little pigeon delicate!
Boiled dry thread of Tofu - With the exquisite skill of the chefs, the Tofu can be cut into very thin threads which have chances to absorb the savor of soup. When chicken pieces are added to the soup, the dish is called 'chicken dry thread'; likewise, when shrimp is added, it makes 'shrimp dry thread'.
Lion's head braised with crab-powder - There is a metaphor in the dish name. In actual fact the Lion's head is a conglomeration of meat that is shaped like a sunflower and resembles a lion's head. It can be braised in a clear soup, or be red-cooked in a dense soup. A seasoning of crab powder enhances the flavor.
As Zhejiang cuisine consists of hundreds of small delicacies from its main cities, it takes in Hangzhou's fineness and diversification Ningbo's softness and originality, and Shaoxing's pastoral interests. Hangzhou was once the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279), it is customary to give the cuisine dainty place-names. The chief techniques of cooking lie in the methods used such as frying, quick-fry, stir-fry, braising, and steaming thus rendering the dishes both salubrious and savory. The main diishes are:
West-lake braised fish in vinegar - is a traditional delicacy in Hangzhou. It is said that there was once a boy who made his living by fishing. When he fell ill, his sister-in-law fished for him and braised the fish she caught with a marinade of vinegar and sugar. He was said to have made an immediate recovery after eating it. The boy's story aroused the attention of the emperor and the recipe has been used ever since.
Shelled shrimps cooked in Longjing tea - As the Longjing tea is taken from the best tea in Hangzhou, which is recognized for greenness, fragrance, pure taste and elegant looks, when the living shrimps are stir-fried in the Long tea, the dish sends an artistic aroma and is quite delicious.
Fujian cuisine has 4 distinctive features, that is, fine cutting techniques, alternative soups, unique seasonings, and exquisite cooking. Chefs can always cut the thin jellyfish into 3 pieces and into very thin thread. The soup of this cuisine genre has its freshness and keeps its own savor with ease. The seasonings add sweet and sour flavors to the dishes. To add to its appeal the food is served in or on elegant bowls or plates. There are countless appealing dishes, Some of them are :
Fried golden bamboo shoot with chicken mince - Every 100g of winter bamboo shoots will be cut into 500- 600 strips with the same length and breadth. Then they can blend with the very small pieces of chicken.
Buddha jumping over the wall - The most famous and classical dish, which has a long history since the Qing Dynasty.
Dongbi dragon pearl - It chooses materials from the rare longan trees of thousand year's history in Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou, the delicate scent is rather catching.
'Fried Xi Shi's tongue' - is made from the locally produced Fujian mussel. According to legend the concubine Xi Shi of the king of Wu state was thrown in the sea tied to a huge stone by the wife of Gou Jian, the king of Yue who destroyed Wu, to prevent her husband being seduced by her beauty. In the area of the sea where she sank, a special breed of mussel appeared and this was said to be Xi Shi's tongue.
It is mainly composed of local flavors of Huizhou and other areas along the Yangtze River and the Huai River. Among the dishes on the Ahhui cuisine menu, you will find less fried or quick-fried dishes than those that are braised. People here are inclined to add ham as seasoning and sugar candy to enrich the freshness and are quite accomplished in the art of cooking. Among these delicacies, some of the traditional ones are outstanding:
'Braised turtle with ham' - The oldest dish using the special 'Mati turtle'. The delightful taste of this dish has inspired poets.
'Fuliji Grilled chicken'- The cooking technique was derived from Dezhou braised chicken of Shandong Province, with improvement of the technique by the Fuliji chef.
The grilled chicken is golden and tempting, and the meat is so well cooked that it falls easily from the bone.
In other places there are also great tastes such as Beijing cuisine, Dongbei cuisine, Uygur cuisine and Huibei cuisine. As the capital of China, Beijing has always enjoyed a selection of delectable cuisines and offers a vast variety of dishes from all over the country. Consequently, no matter where you visit, there will be fascinating food that you can enjoy.