Chinese cuisine compromises of several styles of cooking originating from the different regions of China. Szechuan and Beijing cuisine have become increasingly popular in other parts of the world – from the United States, Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa, as evidenced by the number of Chinese eateries that have emerged over the years. The history of Chinese cuisine stretches back for many centuries and is marked by both variety and change. In particular, the Chinese pride themselves on eating a wide range of foods. A combination of many centuries of love of good food, a tradition of open hospitality and endless experimentation with nature’s bounty has gone into making the rich and vibrant feast that is the colorful culinary heritage of China. The Chinese cuisine is full of exquisite flavors as well as fiery and subtle seasonings that have been perfected over thousands of years. To mention a few:
Beijing Peking Duck – Considered one of China’s national dishes, the Beijing Peking Duck or Peking Roasted Duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era specially for the Emperor of China in the Yuan Dynasty. Originally named “Shaoyazi”, the name ‘Peking Duck’ was only fully developed during the later Ming dynasty. By the Qianlong Period (1736–1796) of the Qing Dynasty, the popularity of Peking Duck spread to the upper classes as the wealthy believed that if it was good enough for the emperor, it was definitely good enough for them. Ducks bred specially for the dish are chosen right after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. Prized for the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat. The cooked Peking Duck is traditionally carved in front of the diners and served in three stages. First, the skin is served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes, spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Vegetables are provided as an accompaniment, typically cucumber sticks. The diners then spread sauce, and optionally sugar, over the pancake. The pancake is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand. The remaining fat, meat and bones may be made into a broth, served as is, or the meat chopped up and stir fried with sweet bean sauce.
Buddha jump over the wall – Created during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912), Buddha jump over the wall is a variety of shark fin soup in Cantonese and Fujian cuisine. Considered as a Chinese delicacy, this dish is known for its rich taste, usage of various high-quality ingredients and a very unique cooking method. The next question that begets is, what’s with the name? Well, the name is an allusion to the dish’s ability to entice the monks (who have taken a vow to abstain from meat) from their temples to partake in this dish (which has meat). This dish consists of many ingredients and requires one to two full days of preparation. A typical recipe requires a myriad of ingredients including quail eggs, bamboo shoots, scallops, sea cucumber, abalone, shark fin, chicken,Jinhua ham, pork tendon, ginseng, mushrooms, and taro. There are certain recipes that require up to thirty main ingredients and twelve condiments.
This dish is controversial for a couple of reasons, one for its use of shark fin, which is usually harvested by shark finning – a fishing practice considered by many to be destructive, inhumane and unethical. Another reason is that the name of the dish is considered a blasphemy to Buddhism, the suggestion that a monk or even Buddha himself would abandon his vows just to eat this dish has incensed many devout Buddhists. Regardless, this dish was a regular fixture on the imperial menu and no imperial feast for the emperor and his dignified guests would be complete without it.
Mapo Tofu – Hailing from the Szechuan province, this dish is a combination of tofu (bean curd) set in a spicy chili- and bean-based sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red suspension, and often cooked with minced meat, usually pork or beef. A favorite with many Chinese people, this dish is a must have on any Chinese restaurant’s menu. The name of this dish is sometimes translated as “Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu”. Legend has it that the pock-marked old widow (má pó) lived in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Due to her economic standing, her home was placed on the outskirts of the city. By coincidence, it was near a road where traders often passed. Although the rich merchants could afford to stay within the numerous inns of the prosperous city while waiting for their goods to sell, poor farmers would stay in cheaper inns scattered along the sides of roads on the outskirts of the ancient city. She ran a restaurant where customers could order by weight, so many grams of bean curd and so many grams of meat, and your serving would be weighed out and cooked as you watched. It arrived at the table fresh, fragrant, and most importantly mouthwatering spicy. An authentic Mapo Tofu is spicy with both conventional “heat” spiciness and the characteristic “mala” (numbing spiciness) flavor of Szechuan cuisine. The feel of the particular dish is often described by patrons as numbing, spicy hot, hot (temperature), fresh, tender and soft, aromatic, and flaky. These seven characteristics are considered to be the most defining of authentic Mapo Tofu.
Zha Jiang Mian – Consisting of thick wheat noodles topped with a mixture of ground pork stir-fried with Zha jiang (salty fermented soybean paste), Zha Jiang Mian is a popular Northern Chinese dish. Depending on the region, different types of pastes are used. In Beijing cuisine, yellow soybean paste with soy sauce is used, while in Tianjin and other parts of China sweet bean sauce, hoisin sauce, or dou ban jiang may be used in place of the yellow soybean paste. Fairly common, most Chinese restaurants and eateries have this dish on their menu.