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Archive for the ‘Chinese Foods’ Category

Foods and Festivities

Zongzi (rice dumpling) Dumplings are a kind of folk food with a long history, and are loved by the common people. Just as the old saying goes, “Nothing tastes better than dumplings.” For a long time in the past, having a meal of dumplings sometimes meant improvement of life. As for the history of dumplings, we can use the term “age-old” to describe it. The earliest recorded history associated with dumplings is found from the Han Dynasty. In the 60’s of the 20th century, a wooden bowl was excavated from a Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) tomb in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In the bowl were wholly preserved dumplings, thus are the oldest dumplings ever found as of today.

Since ancient times, there has been a whole set of customs associated with eating dumplings. Dumplings on the night of the Chinese New Year and the fifth day of the first month on the lunar calendar, as well as on the day of “high heat” (beginning of the solar term of the same name from mid to later part of every seventh lunar month) and the first day of winter (around the 22nd of the twelfth lunar month). Dumplings are the folk delicacy known to all, symbolizing union and festivity. For the Chinese, the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the counterpart of Christmas for Americans and Europeans. On this topmost important holiday, it matters not where a person is; as long as it is feasible, the loved ones in a far away land would rush back home to unite with family. Since the Ming and Qing dynasties, the folk custom of eating dumplings on Chinese New Year was already very popular. Especially in the North, until this very day, wrapping and having dumplings on Spring Festival is an indispensable feast activity for every family. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the whole family sits in a circle, kneading the dough, mixing the filling, rolling the wrap, wrapping, pinching, and boil the  dumplings, all the while having a good time. This meal of dumplings is different from all other dumpling feasts throughout the year. After the dumplings are made, people wait until the clock strikes midnight before eating them. This makes the dumplings the first meal of the year. The Chinese word for dumplings, jiaozi, has the meaning of bidding farewell to the past and welcoming the new.

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Home Gourmet for Everyone

Rice is an important principal foodThe three daily meals enjoyed by Chinese families are what we call “common home gourmet.” Most ingredients found in home-cooked meals are taken from ordinary grocery and spice list. And the only principle that it abides by is good flavor. The so-called “common home style” also means that it is flexible and ever-changing, full of varieties and does not stick to just one form of cooking. The Chinese, who pay great attention to food, will not settle for bland and identical taste everyday. Under the tenet of a simple and non-luxurious life, cooking homemade dishes is certainly no easy task, as the food not only must entertain the taste buds of the family members, but must also be constantly changing in variety and combination. In general, home meals do not differentiate between “regional styles.” However, due to the fact that China has a vast expanse of territories, with products and living habits different in each area, it objectively creates for the situation where home-style cooking tastes different in each and every home.

It is common belief that dinner is the one meal that the Chinese take most seriously, whereas breakfast is the simplest. At a breakfast table of the Chinese, the most common food is the stuffed or plain steamed buns with a bowl of porridge (congee) and a dish of pickled veggies; we could also see wonton, hot soup noodle, rice and stir-fried dishes. Though the “deep-fried twisted dough stick” and soybean milk are standard breakfast items, few families make them at homes, as they are usually purchased from breakfast shops. Milk, oatmeal, or egg and ham sandwiches are no longer rare and fancy in the eyes of the urban population. Eggs and bean curd are the general source of protein in breakfast and are easy to prepare. For lunch and dinner, aside from rice and pasta, there are also stir-fries, soups and porridge for complement. The preparation of homemade foods is usually the responsibility of  the female heads of households. But in families with double income, where both the man and woman earn a living, it is not uncommon for a man to make the meal.

Different from the West, the majority Han Chinese and most Chinese minority nationalities have little dairy beverage each day. But for the northwestern minority nationalities, dairy products are an important component of daily diet.

In areas where pasta and pastry are the principal food components, Home-style cooking attaches importance on the combination of meats and non-meats, making for an adequatehomemakers can usually use wheat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, soy flour, buckwheat flour or naked oatmeal flour to make a wide variety delicious treats. According to different taste preferences, pasta dishes can be stir-fried, fried, stewed, steamed, braised, simmered and so on. When having a bowl of pasta, jiaotou, or pasta sauce, is a top priority, and usually comes in the form of fried bean sauce (usu. with minced meat), soy gravy, dipping, soup stock and so on. Second priority to eating pasta is the shredded vegetables mixings, the types of vegetables vary during the seasons. At the birthplace of Chinese pasta, Shanxi Province, there are at least 280 types of pasta in the cookbooks.

For homes with rice as principal food, nothing is more common than a pot full of steamy, savory rice. But day after day, this becomes rather monotonous. So people spent much time in coming up with different ways of cooking and combinations. Steam, boil, stir-fry, roast, deep-fry and simmer, different ways of cooking bring out drastically different texture and taste in rice. In daily life, the Chinese usually would not and need not have excessive meat dishes. More often, inexpensive vegetables with good value are preferred. Turnips or radishes, green vegetables and bean curd are almost indispensable from each Chinese household. Green turnip, white turnip, radish and carrot are available throughout the country all year round. These veggies can be eaten raw, boiled, stir-fried, pickled and so on. “Green vegetables” include Chinese cabbage, spinach, rape, celery, Chinese chive (leek), mustard and more, where we eat their leaves and stems. Common ways of cooking green vegetables is none other than cold dish with dressing, cooked or stir-fried, and boiled or stewed. If one dislikes certain vegetables for they do not facilitate the eating of rice very well, small amounts of meat or eggs can be mixed in for stir-frying. For bean curd, the most common and simplest way to prepare is to serve cold with sauce or boil with water then dress in soy sauce, sesame oil sauce or other sauces. Tofu that is deep-fried and then baked with sauce or stewed with vegetables is also very common. In all the Chinese restaurants around the world, Mapo Tofu, meaning numb-hot bean curd, can be found. It is prepared simply by placing diced bean curd into pre-cooked minced meat, and after fully boiled, add some hot sauce and Chinese prickly ash powder, and there you have a fully prepared dish. Aside from tofu, other kinds of food made from beans, which belong to the same family as bean curd, are also common dishes during all seasons of the year.

The Chinese usually classify meat dishes into four categories, which are “chicken, duck, fish and meat.” But with developments in modern breeding industries, pork has replaced chicken, and became the most common meat for most Chinese nationalities, with Han Chinese especially. In the past, it was because pork is hard to come by, now because it can be enjoyed very often; ways of cooking for pork are the most numerous among all the meats. These include stir-fried, simmered, white-cut with sauce, twice-cooked, steamed with sauce and turned upside-down, steamed with ground rice, boiled in hot oil and so on. Most families can make these dishes. For home cooked pork, many people like to use starch, so pork stir-fry feels even more tender.

The Chinese have quite a long history of breeding chicken. Since ancient times, the Chinese have considered Chicken to be of great taste and regard chicken soup as a great tonic drink. Chicken can be steamed or stewed in clear soup, simmered with soy sauce, white-cut with dipping, or stewed in yellow wine, with no less than a dozen ways of preparation. Just the recipes for chicken can be compiled into thick books. Compared with chicken, ducks have a much higher price tag in northern China. Common northern families ” href=”http://www.chinascan.org/archives/711/fish”>fishseldom cook duck though, as the famed Beijing (Peking) Roast Duck has to be enjoyed in special restaurants. The place most skilled in making duck dishes is the Jiangsu-Zhejiang area. There, Salty Watered Duck and Laobao Duck are not just treats of recognition of restaurants; many homemakers can make the dishes well too. There are many ways to cook fish as well. Most times, fresh fish is steamed or simmered in clear soup. Fish a little lesser in freshness would be braised, or one can add sugar and vinegar for Sweet and Sour fish. Beef and mutton are the principal foods of western Chinese minority nationalities. Most common are barbecue beef or lamb. But in most Han Chinese homes, aside from quick-fried, stewed in soy sauce, or simmered, the most popular way of preparing beef and lamb is none other than “rinsing” in a boiling hotpot.

All regions have dried or pickled vegetables, beans, eggs or meats. These foods intended for prolonged storage, are becoming less of a real course during meals as living conditions improve, but more of a tasty appetizing treat.

Eating, the Chinese Way

China not only has a wide variety of cuisines and exotic fare in all its regions, Chinese foods-celeryeven ordinary homemade cooking for three meals a day can provide for plentiful unique recipes. The Chinese stress the aesthetics of food, the refinement of dining ware, and the elegance of dining environment, so having food is a daily enjoyment. Eating, as a branch of learning and art form, not only gave birth to rich and excellent culinary techniques, also reflects the Chinese’s content and joyful nature.

The Chinese have had a regular dining discipline since long ago. First it was a two-meals-a-day practice. The first meal, called zhao shi (morning food), is usually had around nine-o’clock in the morning. The second meal, bu shi, is had around four in the afternoon. The Chinese sage Confucius says that “bu shi bu shi,” which translates to “meals are not to be had if it is not the appropriate time,” meaning to emphasize the punctuality of meals. At around the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), with better development of agriculture, people of every nationality group and region slowly began to adopt the “breakfast, lunch and dinner” practice. Only their dinners were had much earlier than modern men, as they believed “work starts with the break of dawn and rest is to be taken when the sun goes down.” Three meals of the day must be prepared and eaten fresh, a way of showing the Chinese’s crave and love for food. In recent years, the pace of life for urban Chinese is getting faster and faster. Dining out is becoming more and more common, especially for lunch. Most office professionals dine at nearby restaurants, or in cafeterias of schools and work units. As for dinner, female heads of households are usually very attentive in its preparation.

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Tools of the Cooking

A jade bowl in the shape of lotus leaf, made in the Ming Dynasty (1368—1644) with a height of 5.3 cm and a diameter at the opening of 9.4 cmHumans evolved from the primitives, who plucked the hairs and feathers from animals and drank blood, into intelligent and skillful beings that can make today’s gourmet foods. Gone were the days of seizing food with bare hands, people now dine with chopsticks, knives, forks and spoons. Apparently, changes in the ways of eating and dining utensils can reflect the path of human evolution, from a primitive state to modern men. The cooking and dining utensils of the Chinese have an inseparable connection with their culinary techniques and dietary habits. Today, people can learn about history through artifacts and a written language that were passed down through the generations. Chinese dining ware has gone through changes in material, from stone and pottery to bronze, iron and other metals. The one form of “made in China” product that is well known throughout the world is porcelain, or fine china. As productivity levels heightened, dining utensils not only This bronze yan was made at around 13th century B.C. – 11th century B.C. with a height of 45.4 cm and a diameter at the opening of 25.5 cmunderwent changes in material and craftsmanship, but also a typical change from large to small, rough to delicate, and thick to thin.

The earliest cooking utensils included earthenware ding, li, huo, zeng, yan and more. Later came more elegant and larger successors to these utensils with the same names, but made from bronze and iron. Some of these cooking utensils doubled as vessels for food, such as the ding that was used to both cook and hold meat. Usually large in size, the ding is usually round in shape and has three pedestals for support; certain ones are square with four pedestals. Between the pedestals, firewood and fuel can be placed for direct burning and heating. On either side of the upper exterior of the ding is a handle for easy carrying. In the Bronze Age, the function of the ding changed as some were used as important tools in sacrificial rites. Li is used for cooking porridge (congee). It is similar in shape to the ding but smaller in size. Its three pedestals are hollowed and connect to the belly. The food in the hollowed legs therefore can be heated and cooked more quickly. Huo is specially used for cooking meats, and is more advanced than the ding. It has a round belly but no feet, more akin to the “wok,” which came at a later time. The zeng is used for steaming food. Its mouth folds outward and has handles. The bottom is flat with many apertures for the passage of steam. Some zengs have no bottom, but instead has a grating underneath. When in use, the zeng is placed over the li, a cooking tripod filled with water. What merged the zeng and li together is the yan. The Chinese have had earthenware zeng since the late Neolithic Age. After the Shang Dynasty (around 17th to 11th century B.C.), there appeared zengs made of bronze.

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