Chinese food is notorious worldwide. Most of you reading this would have has a Chinese takeaway at some point in your life. But the watered down, quick-and-easy Chinese food available abroad can barely compare to the dishes and cuisines that can be found in China.
China's cooking styles and diets vary with geography, climate, infrastructure, history, religion, minority culture, lifestyle, etc.
Along with China’s large landmass and population comes a large variation of dishes and cuisines to suit all palates.
The northern Chinese palate varies from the rest of China. It's most commonly described as rich, bold and salty. A staple ingredient in Northern dishes is wheat. It features in most meals whether that be in the form of noodles, dumplings, steamed buns, stuffed buns, and pancakes.
Due to harsh winter weathers, northerners tend to eat more red meat and dairy products to conserve their body heats. The calories, fats and protein keeps them strong during the winter month and has become a main part of most dishes.
There are less fruit and vegetables available because of the cold weather. People prefer to preserve some vegetables for winter by drying and pickling, though root vegetables keep well in the cold climate. Northeastern dishes are very famous for making use of pickled vegetables.
You will most commonly find traditionally northern dishes in Beijing, Shandong Province and Inner Mongolia.
Southern cuisine is dominated by the ethnic minorities of China. Their dishes are usually simple, and either sour or spicy. Living in near tropical climates during the summer, many believe digesting chilli with every meal helps to make them feel more comfortable in their climate. Many also live in mountain ranges, which means much of their food is grown and reared locally. This means many dishes are simple, and therefore a common addition usually is pickled chilli or ginger to add a little flavour to the dish.
Typical items on the menu would include: oil tea, home-brewed rice wine, sticky rice cakes and rice wraps.
Once in China, you will come to notice the popularity of a good spicy hotpot. People from central China can't comprehend a dish without spice. Sichuan province is one such province in central China that prides itself on dishes that vary from spicy to so-spicy-you-can't-taste-it-anymore. Their liberal use of garlic, mouth-numbing chilli flakes and Sichuan peppercorn means that every meal will feel like a work-out by the end.
Provinces with similar tastes are Chongqing and Hunan. Always in a competition to one-up each other, food coming out from this region is definitely not for the fainthearted.
Western China Cuisine
Western Chinese cuisine see's many influences from its surrounding countries. In Xinjiang province, the high Muslim population has shaped the local palate to not include pork. Other influences come from India in the form of Naan bread and the Middle East in the form of hearty Kebab's that are very commonly found on the menu. Xinjiang is mostly composed of deserts and mountains, so arable land is limited. Wheat is the main staple grain, and a few vegetables are grown there.Being a region with lots of pasture, Xinjiang cuisine features mutton top of its ingredients list. Other protein foods include beef, camel meat, horse meat, and various dairy foods. The West is a is a multi-ethnic pot, so the diet of this region varies with ethnic customs, beliefs, and ways of life. There is Uyghur cuisine mainly, but also Han, Kazakh, Russian, Tibetan, etc.
Eastern food usually sweeter and and more subdue in terms of flavours in comparison to its counterparts. With the Yangtze River flowing through much of the East, this part of China has always found an abundance of fertile land and vegetables. Moreover, the presence of the river and the coastal position of most provinces in this area means seafood is a common staple in any Eastern menu.
Within this area, the Jiangsu cuisine is famous for its sweet and sour / salty taste we have all come to love in our takeaways. This features extensive ingredients that mainly come from rivers, lakes, and the sea. It commonly uses stewing, braising, simmering, and warming to preserve the original flavors, and maintain clarity, freshness, and mildness.
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