China has a multitude of regional cuisines, so it may be more correct to say “styles” instead of “style.” However, there are certain basic concepts that run throughout all Chinese cuisine. Here are some steps to understanding the art of Chinese cooking.
Fresh is best. Most Chinese families still do their shopping on a daily basis. The households are often multi-generational or even extended, so there are more adults around to share the load. Also, practically every neighborhood in China has a local farmers market, even in the middle of a big city.
Be prepared. The basic utensils for this are a Chinese knife (cleaver) and a couple of chopping blocks. Also, an assortment of bowls or plates is needed to hold the prepared ingredients until they are ready to be cooked. The key to preparation is to reduce everything to a size that can easily be picked up with chopsticks.
Spice of life. There are a lot of exotic ingredients you can get, but the basic seasonings are salt, ginger root, soy sauce, sesame oil and garlic. Other common flavorings include spring onion, anise, five spice powder and chili.
Fast and hot. Once everything is chopped and ready, it is time to cook. The basic utensils are a wok and spatula for stirring. Also, a long handled fork, ladle and strainer are handy. Pour a little oil into the wok and heat it on high. Just as it begins to ripple, but before it begins to smoke is the optimum time for tossing in the ingredients.
Rice or noodles? It is said that Northern Chinese are noodle eaters and Southern Chinese are rice eaters. This is somewhat true, but all Chinese eat both in large amounts. In addition to these staples, the Chinese diet relies heavily on vegetables, fish, small bits of meat, fresh fruit for dessert and lots of tea.
Step by step. Most Chinese meals are served one or two dishes at a time, not everything at once. Family style dining means everyone has their own rice bowl, but each entrée is served in a common dish from which everyone partakes with their chopsticks.
Soup comes last. This is not true everywhere, but soup is often a signal that the meal is drawing to a close. Chinese soup is poured into the now-empty rice bowls and drunk as a beverage.
Watch for some easy, classic Chinese recipes… Coming soon!