Chinese cuisine (中國菜) originated from different regions of China and is highly popular in many other parts of the world. There are eight regional Chinese cuisines. Flour and rice are the two main food staples in China.
Chinese cuisine is any of several styles of food originating in the regions of China, some of which have become highly popular in other parts of the world — from Asia to the Americas, Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa. Where there are historical immigrant Chinese populations, the style of food has evolved – for example, American Chinese cuisine and Indian Chinese cuisine are prominent examples of Chinese cuisine that has been adapted to suit local palates. In recent years, connoisseurs of Chinese food have also sprouted in Eastern Europe and South Asia. The culinary Michelin Guide has also taken an interest in Chinese cuisine, establishing Hong Kong and Macao versions of its publication.
Flour and rice are the two main food staples in China. In general, rice is the major food source for people from rice farming areas in southern China. Rice is also used to produce beers, wines and vinegars. In wheat farming areas in Northern China, people largely rely on flour based foods such as noodles, breads, dumplings and steamed buns. Noodles are symbolic of long life and good health according to Chinese tradition. They come dry or fresh in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures and are often served in soups and fried as toppings. Tofu is another popular product often used as a meat or cheese substitute. It is a soy-based product which is highly nutritious, inexpensive and versatile. It has a high protein/fat ratio.
Regional Chinese cuisines
A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine, but perhaps the best known and most influential are Sichuan cuisine (川菜), Shandong cuisine (鲁菜 Lu Cai), Jiangsu cuisine (苏菜 Su Cai) and Guangdong cuisine (粤菜 Yue Cai). These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as available resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle. One style may favour the use of lots of garlic and shallots over lots of chilli 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, scalding, and wrapping, just to name a few. Hairy crab is a highly sought after local delicacy in Shanghai, as it can be found in lakes within the region. Beijing Roast Duck is another popular dish which is well known outside China. Based on the raw materials and ingredients used, the method of preparation, and cultural differences, a variety of foods with different flavours 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.
Dim Sum 点心 is a Cantonese term for small snacks. These bite-sized portions are prepared using traditional cooking methods such as frying, steaming, stewing and baking. It is designed so that one person may taste a variety of different dishes. Some of these may include rice rolls, lotus leaf rice, turnip cakes, buns, shui jiao style dumplings, stir-fried green vegetables, congee porridge, soups, etc. The Cantonese style of dining, yam cha, combines the variety of dim sum dishes with the drinking of tea. Yam cha literally means ‘drink tea’.
As well as with dim sum, many Chinese drink their tea with snacks such as nuts, plums, dried fruit, small sweets, melon seeds, and waxberry. China was the earliest country to cultivate and drink tea and it is enjoyed by people from all social classes. Tea processing began after the Qin and Han Dynasties. Chinese tea is often classified into several different categories according to the species of plant from which it is sourced, the region in which it is grown, and the method of production used. Some of these are green tea, oolong tea, black tea, scented tea, white tea, and compressed tea. There are four major tea plantation regions in China. They are Jiangbei, Jiangnan, Huanan and the southwestern region. Well known types of green tea include Longjing, Huangshan, Mao Feng, Bilochun, Putuofeng Cha, and Liu’an Guapian. China is the world’s largest exporter of green tea “supplying 90 percent of the total in the international market.”
"The word tea in English, thea in Latin and chay in Turkish all originated from the word cha in Cantonese or te in Xiamen dialect from the Fujian province of China."
Yellow wine 黄酒 has a long history in China, where the unique beverage is produced from rice and ranges between 10-15% alcohol content. The most popular brands include Shaoxing Lao Jiu, Shaoxing Hua Diao and Te Jia Fan. Wheat, corn and rice are used to produce Chinese liquor which is clear and aromatic, containing approximately 60% alcohol. This also has a long history in China, with production believed to date back to the Song Dynasty. Some popular brands of liquor include Er Guo Tai, Du Kang, Mao Tai, Lu Zhou Te Qu and Wu Liang Ye.
A Chinese painting of an outdoor banquet. The painting is a Song Dynasty remake of a Tang Dynasty original. In most dishes in Chinese cuisine, food is prepared in bite-sized pieces, ready for direct picking up and eating. In traditional Chinese cultures, chopsticks are used at the table. Traditional Chinese cuisine is also based on opposites, whereby hot balances cold, pickled balances fresh and spicy balances mild.
Contemporary health trends
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates for 2001–2003, 12% of the population of the People’s Republic of China was undernourished. The number of undernourished people in the country has fallen from 386.6 million in 1969–1971 to 150.0 million in 2001–2003. Prior to the increased industrialization and modernization following the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a typical Chinese peasant would have eaten meat or animal products (including eggs) rarely and most meals would have consisted of rice accompanied with green vegetables, with protein coming from foods like peanuts and soy products. Fats and sugar were luxuries not eaten on a regular basis by most of the population. With increasing wealth, Chinese diets have become richer over time, consuming more meats, fats, and sugar.