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It’s 8 pm. Weary from a long day at work, you dejectedly skim the streets to find a place to eat. At a distance, you can hear the sizzling sound of frying. Not long after, a sweet aromatic smell of sauteed ginger, garlic, and shallot filled the air. You later find yourself seated at a table at an authentic Chinese restaurant. You continue to bask in the sweet aroma of sauteed ingredients that seem to leave a lasting scent in your senses. Your order arrived. With great anticipation, you take a humungous bit. Flavors started filling your mouth. It takes you to the infinite world of piquancies that takes the day’s exhaustion off. Every bite is worth savoring. Every meal is with a mother’s touch. The more you eat, the more you feel at home. You, almost like a reflex, say, “Another order please.”
Chinese cuisine certainly feels like home. After all, it is the culmination of years of improvement in Chinese culinary skills, gastronomy, and flavor experimentation. Every element in Chinese cuisine is the by-product of centuries-old techniques mastered beyond perfection. What we taste is not only flavor but also history.
Every little aspect contributes to the perfection of Chinese delicacies. One of the critical aspects of Chinese cooking is choosing the perfect ingredient. Each part picked must be at its peak fettle to produce the maximum aroma and umami.
Another part is knife skills. Chinese chefs are immensely gifted in handling a knife. Like most cooks, Chinese cooks are mainly using the knife 菜刀 (cài dāo)and the chopping block 砧板 (zhēn bǎn). Common knife cuts in China are slices, julienne, small dice, cubes, chiffonade, granules, paste, and so on.
Chinese cooks are also incredible masters of heat and seasoning. Not only on the degree of heat but also in the duration. Stir-frying, steaming, stewing, etc., have different types of temperature and heat duration. On the other hand, the usual condiments used in Chinese cuisine are soy sauce, lobster sauce, pepper, MSG, starch, vinegar, white sugar, liquor, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and more. They change the amount, order, and combination to create the exquisite piquancy present in Chinese cuisine.
Chinese cooks allot centuries of learning, experimentation, and mastery to create art in cooking. Subsequently, various types of Chinese cuisine emerged. Different regions perfected different methods of cooking techniques. Every place gives a refreshing taste unique to their homelands. Everywhere one goes, a new world of flavors opens up to them.
Today, let us delve into the popular dishes in China. Along the way, we shall learn the origin of the dishes and how its name came to be.
Let’s get right into it!
Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chili 酸菜鱼 (Suān Cài Yú ) is a poached thinly sliced fish. At first, the cook will prepare a pot of water seasoned with chicken and fish stocks with some Sichuan pickles. The dish will result in a perfect balance of sourness and spiciness. The fish has a chewy and velvety texture releasing the ultimate combination of zest from Sichuan pickles and mellow taste from the broth. People, globally, enjoy the comforting sensation this dish gives during the cold seasons.
Kung pao chicken 宫保鸡丁 (Gōng Bǎo Jī Dīng) is the go-to dish of many people across different countries. Originating from Sichuan, this dish contains marinated chicken, chunks of scallions, peanuts, and a combination of Sichuan peppers. The marinated chicken has a hearty and succulent texture complemented by the sweet, gingery sourness of the sauce. The broiling of the seasonings highlights the delicate flavor of Kung pao Chicken. The dish is truly perfect after a long day.
The roast duck 烤鸭 (Kǎo Yā) is a world-famous dish of Beijing. Roasted with charcoal made of fruit tree wood, it has a crimson color and tastes magnificent. The grilling gives it a unique smoky taste that satisfies the palate. The cooking duration makes it incredibly tender and juicy. The fat of the duck properly permeated the flesh, giving it a rich, hearty flavor. Every bite is truly a work of art. The roast duck of Beijing has been around for more than 160 years. It’s famous globally. That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the roast duck of Beijing used to be a part of the imperials’ entree.
Tomato and egg stir-fry 番茄炒蛋 (Fān Qié Chǎo Dàn) is one of the most classic Chinese dishes. People refer to this dish as the “ultimate comfort food.” It might seem simple. However, it maintains the complexity of a Chinese delicacy. Although there are many ways to create this dish, the classic way has garlic, ginger, shaowing wine, vinegar, sesame oil, shallots, white pepper, mixed with the tomato. The fluffiness of the lightly beaten egg and the perfectly seasoned tomato create a wonderland of flavor. The dish itself has a delicate and creamy texture with a sharp fruity aftertaste. This dish tastes incredibly good, one might describe eating it as “arriving home.”
Despite the various techniques and styles prevalent around China, convergence emerged. Nowadays, restaurants not only in China but across the globe offer integrated delicacies. They combined different cuisine styles that conceived new dishes. Chinese cuisine has permeated the international scene. Now, almost all city boasts authentic Chinese restaurant. Chinese cuisine is welcomed and loved by everyone, across different races and walks of life.
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