Chinese gastronomy

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Chinese gastronomy: Of all the culinary styles that exist worldwide, Chinese gastronomy is one of the oldest. The ingredients and methods of preparation used in this kitchen seek the harmonious balance of all the flavors and colors in a single dish.

Satisfying hunger is not enough in Chinese gastronomy; the chefs specialized in this modality, learn to combine different foods that can provide happiness in each bite. Likewise, this versatility of ingredients guarantees healthy, complete and nutritious dishes. The expansion of Chinese food across all continents has been important for many years, so all of us at some point have had the opportunity to try some of their specialties.

However, for all those who are lovers of this food, it will be interesting to know a little more about this exquisite gastronomic variety.

History

The beginning of Chinese gastronomy dates back to 5,000 or 6,000 years BC; period in which agriculture, fishing and hunting were the basic resources to obtain food. The data of the early Chinese culinary tradition are scarce, but it is known that during the Neolithic (last period of the Stone Age) the dog, pig and the birds constituted a habitual ingredient of the diet.

The first rice fields in this region were discovered in the Yangtze River during the 8th millennium BC; But it was not until the Zhou Dynasty that this type of cereal became a staple in this culinary style. In the same way, wheat, corn, millet and barley were fundamental ingredients that were mixed with different vegetables cut into small pieces.

At that time people consumed food with long wooden sticks, bones or bamboo and since then the tradition of using wood as a cutlery has remained. Due to the number of years that chopsticks have been part of the culture of China, the level of dexterity that its inhabitants have with this tool is understandable.

Regarding the distribution of food in the region, the rulers in that century realized that they could satisfy the general population with simple cereal-based dishes; therefore, they reserved the most exotic meat and ingredients in season for court banquets.

However, over time people began to discover other preparation techniques and the benefits of combining foods; This is how during the Han Dynasty, the inhabitants of China already incorporated dried meat and fish into cereals. It is this period where culinary processes such as frying, steaming or stews begin.

It should be noted that the development of Chinese gastronomy varied according to the territory; to the south is the South China Sea, therefore the people of this area had access to the fish and could introduce them into their dishes. While in the north of this region they consumed a greater amount of meat and sorghum.

Later the Tang Dynasty was characterized by an important cultural and commercial growth, which facilitated the adoption of new culinary customs such as the consumption of pork, bear and camel hump meat. However, the establishment of Buddhism also took place in this period; a religion that rejected the sacrifice of animals for consumption. This is how the need to create vegetarian cuisine arose, which had tofu as the main ingredient that replaced meat.

The connection between China and foreign countries was favored during the Qing Dynasty. The commercial exchange that took place in this period had a great impact on Chinese gastronomy, thanks to the introduction of vegetables to the region; tomatoes, potatoes and corn began to star in new recipes, vary the flavor of the dishes and achieve exquisite combinations.

Ancient Chinese gastronomy

Based on the journey we made of the history of Chinese gastronomy, we can appreciate that since ancient times ingredients that are still considered basic in this style have been used: cereals and vegetables. For this reason, the cultural and historical value that has been attributed to Chinese food is important and recognized internationally. Since the time of the emperors, Chinese cooks determined the best strategies to turn exotic animals into delicious dishes, easy to eat and taste.

In addition, they were able to preserve their style for centuries and extend it to other continents; even many countries have created their own adaptations of Chinese food and incorporated it into their gastronomy. Therefore, would it be correct to speak of Chinese gastronomy as a contemporary culinary technique? No, since its essence comes from very ancient times; in fact, the ingredients and procedures used in traditional Chinese cuisine have undergone little modification over the years.

Profits

For years specialists have studied the effect of Chinese food on the body. Can Chinese dishes really bring benefits to our diet? Yes, and the main reason is associated with the portions of food that are served in this mode.

Chinese gastronomy has very varied dishes; They have all the types of nutrients that we should consume each day, but the amounts of the different foods are not exaggerated. This feature allows consumers to be satisfied, without exceeding the limits at each meal.

Another key factor in this style of food is the use of chopsticks to eat; in fact, it is another reason why the Chinese maintain a low body fat index. The explanation is very simple, these utensils collect very small portions of food, which allows us to chew slower and the food to be digested more effectively.

For all those who are lactose intolerant, this cooking style could become your diet for life. The use of milk or its derivatives is not common in Chinese gastronomy, which also represents an advantage for people who are on a diet or need to keep their cholesterol levels low.

Traditional

If they told you that the Chinese food that you taste in your country really is not, would you believe it? This culinary style has become popular worldwide, but it is precisely this expansion that has generated alterations in the original recipes. Therefore, if it is possible that what you have been eating all this time, it is not a traditional dish of Chinese gastronomy.

With the arrival of Chinese immigrants mainly to the American continent, the natives of this region began to use their culinary techniques; but they incorporated the ingredients they had on hand and gradually created their own versions of “Chinese” food.

However, the typical and original Chinese food is divided into 8 culinary traditions, each of which has different characteristics and styles.

These divisions are called regions and are as follows:

  1. Cantonese or Yue gastronomy
  2. Sichuan or Chuan gastronomy
  3. Jiangsu or Su gastronomy
  4. Hunan or Xiang gastronomy
  5. Gastronomía de Zhejiang o Zhe
  6. Anhui or Hui gastronomy
  7. Fujian or Min gastronomy
  8. Shandong or Lu gastronomy

Features

Tasting the wide variety of dishes that are part of Chinese cuisine would take us many years; It is a very extensive culinary style that requires a certain level of cultural knowledge. Although we recognize Chinese food for its bright colors and intense flavor, identifying which region it comes from is a more complicated task.

China is divided into many regions, of which the most relevant in terms of gastronomy are the following three: Guangdong, Sichuan and Shandong. Each region expresses its essence using specific ingredients in its preparations; However, they all contain common elements of Chinese gastronomy that cannot be missing.

Gastronomic characteristics of the Guangdong region

This region located in the south of China, has the advantage of being in contact with the sea and taking advantage of the species that inhabit its waters; For this reason, it is very common for fish and shellfish to be used in dishes of this style.

Another aspect that characterizes the food of this region is the use of fresh, slightly seasoned food. What is the reason? Preserve the original flavor of the ingredients as well as possible. Also, unlike other provinces in China, the use of spicy sauces or condiments is not common in Guangdong.

Gastronomic characteristics of the Sichuan region

Ingredients commonly used in this region are pepper, ginger, chili peppers, and some herbs; without a doubt strong and spicy flavors that will give a hot and intense character to the dishes. But that’s not all, Sichuan gastronomy can also achieve sweet, aromatic, bitter, sour and salty dishes; The key to achieving exquisite results is to use the right amount of spices and add them to the ingredients at the right time.

Gastronomic characteristics of the Shandong region

Being a coastal region; the use of shellfish, sea cucumbers, squid and fish is common in this kitchen. However, marine species are not the only ingredients, Shandong is also characterized by the large consumption of wheat and corn for the preparation of buns, pancakes and jiaozi. In terms of cooking methods, in this region the technique of deep frying, braising and deep frying stands out.

Typical dishes

  • Dim sun: this dish of Cantonese origin is a kind of sandwich that encompasses many flavors and textures. In general, it is a rice, wheat or tapioca tortilla; This small dough can be filled with meat, vegetables or fish. Depending on the type of filling used and the cooking mode, it will be a specific Dim sun variety.
  • Chow mein: this typical dish of Chinese gastronomy is usually the favorite of many people, due to its versatility and intense flavor. It consists of fried noodles sautéed with vegetables, meat or chicken; flavored with various seasonings and aromatic herbs.
  • Zongzi: it is a very important recipe of Chinese culture, since it is part of the banquets of the Dragon Boat Festival; however, in other regions it is not very popular due to its difficulty in preparation. To do this, rice must be boiled or steamed, then shaped into a triangle, placed in some filling and wrapped with bamboo leaves.
  • Jiaozi: it is a kind of patty with a very thin dough, similar to Italian ravioli. They can be stuffed with some type of meat or vegetables and to cook them they can be boiled or fried. If you ever visit China in the New Year, you will realize the importance they give to this dish on these dates, since they relate it to good fortune.

Xian

Xian is the capital of the Chinese province Shaanxi; a city that was the epicenter of many political events in the history of China, as it was the capital of various imperial dynasties. Additionally, a few decades ago the Terracotta Warriors were discovered in these lands, which has made Xian an important tourist center.

But the cultural and historical relevance of this city is not everything, its gastronomy is another factor that makes it stand out from other provinces in China. One of the best-selling local dishes to Xian natives and tourists is Paomo de Ram; It is a soup of lamb meat with bread flavored with ginger, anise, fennel, shallot and other spices that give it a unique flavor.

We cannot stop talking about Roujiamo, a very representative Xian recipe that is present in all homes and restaurants in this town. It consists of two loaves or cakes stuffed with pork, beef or Baiji meat that has an appearance very similar to the meat sandwiches or the stuffed wheat arepas.

Tickets

The starter is the meal that precedes the main course; prepare diners to consume the main course. Ideally, at this point, dishes should be served with a small and light portion, easy to digest. In Chinese cuisine, chicken or vegetable woks, soups, Chinese fish fritters or Jiaozi are commonly served as a starter.

Baozi is another type of dish that works as a starter; They are small balls of dough stuffed with minced meat or vegetables, preferably steamed. Its shape resembles a small onion and in addition to being used as a starter, the Chinese often consume it for breakfast.

Is healthy

Whether a Chinese dish is healthy or not will depend on the ingredients it contains and the way it is prepared. Those foods that have a higher proportion of vegetables and are steamed or boiled, will obviously be considered healthy. But we cannot ignore the fact that some Chinese gastronomic traditions abuse sauces, seasonings and salt; in other cases, the oil may be the protagonist, to fry or sauté the largest number of ingredients.

Therefore, consuming these culinary styles in excess can lead to health problems such as obesity or cholesterol problems.

Chinese gastronomy is healthy
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Chinese gastronomy is healthy

Chinese food makes you fat

In Chinese cuisine, boiled or steamed foods abound, which have a low level of calories. But there are also a large number of high-fat dishes and sauces; as an example we have sweet and sour chicken or pork, Chinese fried rice or egg rolls.

The mentioned dishes have a high percentage of calories due to the ingredients they contain and the way they are cooked, therefore their regular consumption can favor weight gain or cardiovascular problems.

Has gluten

Gluten is present in wheat, which is an important part of Chinese cuisine; the noodles, breads, and tortillas used in some Chinese dishes contain gluten. However, this does not mean that people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance cannot consume Chinese food, since there are also recipes that do not have this compound.

Rice is gluten-free, one of the main foods of many dishes in this gastronomy; If you consume it steamed or boiled, accompanied with vegetables or some type of meat, you can enjoy an exquisite oriental dish without affecting your health.

It’s rat

Chinese cuisine has various exotic dishes that can cause much controversy in the West; snake or shark fin soup are some of the cases, but without a doubt the food that has generated the most controversy is the fried rat.

It is true that in the West this animal has always been related to dirt, but in China it is considered another protein food, such as chicken or lamb. In that and other Asian countries these rodents are captured or raised, and then fried in most cases. However, it is only used in specific cases, all Chinese dishes do not contain this meat.

Read also: Cantonese Chinese food ; Chinese Fried Rice ; Asian gastronomy

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