The world of Chinese food consists of more variety than most Americans realize. There are many different types of food in China that can be categorized roughly by four regions: Southern, Northern, Eastern and Western. Some information about each:
Southern, or Cantonese – The cuisine from this area is perhaps the most well known to Americans. Cantonese cuisine uses a large variety of vegetables and meats. Rice is the staple, and the familiar Fried Rice recipes are Cantonese in origin. Many of the dishes of this area are prepared very quickly by stir-frying. Usually Cantonese cuisine is lightly flavored, but there are a large variety of tastes used. Sweet and sour dishes originated in this region.
Northern, or Beijing – Also known as Mandarin cuisine, this type of food originated in the area of China that has very sever winters. The climate of this region does not allow for the growing of rice, so wheat is the staple. Wheat is made into noodles, pancakes and dumplings. The flavors of Northern China are more robust, with plenty of onion, garlic, cabbage, bean pastes, dark soy sauce and oyster flavored sauce. With influences from Mongolian and Muslim invaders in the past, Northern cuisine is hearty fare. Beijing (Peking) Duck, Mongolian Hot Pot and Mongolian Beef are some of the more familiar types of this cuisine.
Eastern, or Shanghai – This cuisine uses a combination of wheat and rice as its staples. Rice and wheat noodles are very popular. This region has a lot of rivers and other bodies of water, so fish and seafood are a very large part of the cuisine. Sugar is also grown in this area, and Shanghai cuisine uses more of it than the other regions. The cooking style of this region can be delicate and refined, with a large variety of sweet and savory pastries being made using the thinnest of pastry skin. Meatballs made from finely minced pork are also part of this cuisine. This area also produces a type of cured ham.
Western, or Szechwan – Szechwan cuisine is famous for its use of tongue-blistering chili peppers in a variety of dishes. But there’s more to this cuisine than just heat. There are subtle dishes, such as smoked Chicken that is smoked with tea leaves. Szechwan pepper is also a spice used in this cuisine. Five-spice powder is another spice that is used in this cuisine. Hot and Sour soup and Twice Cooked Pork are familiar dishes from this area.
These four regions are only a broad guide to the remarkable, varied cuisine of China.
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