How China Presents: Food

How is Chinese Food depicted and projected in the Western World?

Western Chinese food and takeaways are very popular all over the world and many households will actively eat take out regularly. But many people don’t realise that the western answer to “Chinese” food is completely different from any traditional Chinese dishes that are prepared locally.

In China, the food as well as being a necessity, is a massive part of their culture and the people of China are very proud of their cooking abilities. With a huge range of different traditional dishes – people in China are brought up to be very knowledgable when it comes to cooking and preparing a variety of different foods. Food is one of the main ingredients in family and social gatherings. Not only do the Chinese community pride themselves with their creativity with cooking, it is also an area in which nothing is wasted. Eg. When cooking things like Chicken, just about everything from the eyes to the feet will be used, rather than just the breast, legs and wings that we would locally use. This level of waste-less cooking doesn’t stop there – back in The Great Chinese Famine also known as the Three Years of Natural Disasters between 1958-1961, their more weird and wonderful dishes were created and since have stuck in Chinese Culture, these resourceful dishes include; Scorpions, various Larvae, animal eyes, animal genitalia and “Thousand Year Old Egg” which consists of preserving a duck egg in ash and salt for one hundred days until the egg-white turns a dark grey colour.

Many of the staple ingredients that the Chinese would use are rice, noodles, soybeans, seasonings, herbs, wheat, vegetables such as bok choy (chinese cabbage).

There are 8 common traditional styles of Chinese cuisine;

  • Chuan (Sichuan) originates from the Sichuan Province of southwestern China. In this region it is common to use many bold and spicy flavours including the Sichuan peppercorn that is integral to the area.
  • Hiu (Anhui) originates from the Huangshan Mountains in China and frequents in using a variety of herbs, mushrooms and vegetables that are exclusive to the Anhui province.
  • Lu (Shandong) was once largely consumed in the North of China. Often involving seafood, many of the signature dishes of Lu Cuisine include; Sweet and Sour Carp, Jiuzhuan Dachand and Dezhou Chicken.
  • Min (Fuijian) is again a predominantly seafood based style of cooking which incorporates bamboo shoots. Originating in the Fuijian Coastal Region, this style of cooking often uses things like Shellfish, Turtle and a variety of fish.
  • Su (Jiangsu, Huaiyang) is an extremely popular style of cuisine that includes many styles of cooking combined including; Nanjing, Suzhou, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang. It’s famous all around the world for it’s dishes such as Jinjling salted Dried Duck, Crystal Meat (pork heels in a brown sauce) and Soft-shelled Turtle stewed with mushrooms and wine.
  • Yue (Hong Kong and Guangdong) also known as Cantonese Cusine, this is one of the biggest known Chinese Cuisine around the world. “Dim Sum”which means “Small hearty dishes”, is designed to be bite-sized portions allowing the consumer the opportunity to sample many small dishes throughout a meal. This style of cooking originates from the Han and usually consists of rice rolls, dumplings, stir-fried vegetables etc.
  • Xiang (Hunan) is a varied style of cooking due to the high levels of growth in the argriculture of the area. It consists of a variety of signiture techniques to provide it’s bold and spicy flavours rather than ingredients for example; stewing, frying, smoking, braising. pot-roasting.
  • Zhe (Zhejiang) containing 3 styles of cooking which include; Hangzhou – rich and flavourful with the use of bamboo shoots, Ningbo – prodominantly seafood, and Shaoxing – mainly using poultry and freshwater fish. These three styles combined make the soft, fresh flavour that the Zhejiang Cuisine is famous for.

These styles are commonly called “The Eight Regional Cuisines” as they each originate from different areas of China based on the availability of products and ingredients and have become famous as individual styles over the years.

In Britain, while a number of these styles will be advertised in a chinese restaurant – the recipes are more commonly than not, completely revamped to sound more appealing to the common British consumer.

The People of China project the idea that they are resourceful, intelligent and creative when it comes to cooking, however this is commonly miscommunicated when visiting a Chinese restaurant or take away as the majority of dishes presented are merely loose translations of the type of food traditionally cooked in China. Chinese Restaurants, in more culturally diverse areas in Britain, often provide two menus. One for western consumers and another for those accustomed to eating traditional chinese food. This is a great idea as many Chinese people do not like the Western versions of Chinese cooking – it’s not authentic and doesn’t taste the same.

At the weekend I decided to try out a bit of Chinese cooking myself – armed with my already limited cooking skills I found this a really challenging but enjoyable experience.
You can witness my efforts making Chinese Dumplings here.

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