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Notes about China
Few Words about Chinese Cuisine
If you are to visit China, Chinese cuisine is unavoidable. And it is not necessary to avoid. The high reputation of Chinese cuisine is entirely and completely deserved.
Generally the Chinese cuisine does not exist as something determined, canonized and formalized. Dishes cooked in different areas of China may not resemble each other at all. From approximately same basic products (local exotic and seasonings are not considered - however, now these things can be got in any corner of China) such variety of dishes are cooked, that nobody is able either to describe or simply to list all of them. Regional versions of the Chinese cuisine are so original, that it is not necessary to be an expert to distinguish them. For example, in southern provinces the basic emphasis is made on sharp seasonings; a special rage in this aspect has the cuisine of Sichuan - even Chinese living outside of Sichuan count it a little exotic. By the way, therefore I dare to recommend to start your introduction to achievements of the Chinese cookery with the cuisine of three northeast provinces which is closest to Russian flavour. In additional, among them the food of Harbin is more distinguished. Only in Harbin, and nowhere more in China, they eat black bread, red fish and caviar.
But I shall not tell in detail about certain dishes, otherwise this note will turn into parade of my culinary predilections. Shall try to allocate something common, that unites bright and unlike regional styles into one great Chinese cuisine.
The Chinese cuisine is difficult for standardizing. Every dish carries a mark of individuality, that very much depends on cook's skill. The job of cook in China is for men exclusively. The skill to treat with knives of different kinds, including axe-like hatchets, is primary. Cutting of products plays the key role in Chinese cookery.
The majority of dishes needs open fire. Those should be fried in oil, are put in big pans with spherical bottom, and the cook manipulates the pan, holding it over fire and forcing contents to mix up continuously. It is a lot of dishes which are to be steamed, for example, famous dumplings of non-yeast dough.
Chinese cuisine without seasonings is impossible. Original taste of Chinese dishes is made by such things familiar to us, as vinegar, garlic, parsley, fennel, celery, coriander; there are also special Chinese seasonings - soy sauce (jiangyou), natrium glutamate (weijing or weisu), soy cheese (doufu) and other derivatives of soy. They are added into dishes directly at cooking. From them various sauces could be made directly behind a table by every guest to his own taste; having mixed sauce in small bowl, the guest then dips slices of a dish into it and puts them into mouth.
It is necessary to tell about pepper specially. Pepper, bitter and sweet, is present at the Chinese cookery as a basis for some dishes and as seasoning. As seasoning the fine pepper of rare rage is frequently used. If you will notice fine red pods in the Chinese dish, be careful - even fried, this pepper does not lose its rage at all. Bite the smallest pieces from pods, otherwise you may be in trouble.
Traditionally Chinese dinner is served on a round table, where eight persons coud seat with comfort - if more, it will be too dense, and if to increase the sizes of a table, its centre will be too far to reach. In the centre of a table usually stands a circle made of thick glass, on a rotating support. Due to this any dish can appear within reach for every guest. The food is put on big plates, and everyone takes as more as necessary to small plate; however, it is not forbidden to forward the picked slices directly in mouth.
First the cold snack served. It may be meat with greens in various combinations, poultry, finely cut fresh vegetables. Frequently songhuadan - the chicken eggs prepared in special way and looking completely unattractive to fresh person (suggesting about product's extreme rottenness) are served. Despite of the look, this dish is very tasty.
Then there are hot dishes. There may be most different products - meat, fish, vegetables combinated and cooked in various ways. Also can be exotic game - frogs, snakes, grasshoppers. Generally they are quite eatable. The truth, meat of the snake seems to me a little bit hardish, and there are no traces of any nutrients in grasshoppers - pure chitin only. The frog paws are rather tasty and are well assimilated.
After it there comes turn of so-called basic dishes (zhushi). Chinese call so the paste products - noodles, dumplings, meat dumplings and rice as well. It is a signal that the meal approaches to end. Simultaneously with the basic dishes they may serve some soup.
Dessert is not present as a category. They often put fruits which can be consumed at will, without rigid binding to other dishes. Drinks also are consumed on all extent of a dinner. Before meal waiters often bring tea in small cups, usually jasmine or green"- Chinese drink black tea very seldom, its basic consumers are national minorities.
Dishes at every stage, excepting zhushi, may be about four or more; higher the grade of banquet, more the dishes. Despite of such abundance, the Chinese food is assimilated very easily. It is not recommended to eat some single dish. It is better to try every dish, and if something is more pleasant, it is possible to eat a little more.
Very useful advice!
For those who want (or are) to join the Chinese cuisine, I give a lesson of using chopsticks. Without this skill all essence of the Chinese kitchen will pass by you.Fig. 1
The palm should be relaxed, the thumb looks to the face, forefinger and middle finger are extended forward (fig. 1).Fig. 2
The lower stick lays between the thumb and other part of palm and leans on the fourth finger. Easy pressing by the root of thumb - and it is reliably fixed (fig. 2). This stick should remain motionless.Fig. 3
The upper stick leans on the first phalanx of the forefinger, a third phalanx of a middle finger and is hold by the tip of thumb (fig. 3). These three fingers can operate the position of upper stick without a big pressure, clenching and unclenching tips of sticks.
It is very important, that the hand was not strained. The less the effort you squeeze a slice between sticks, the more reliably it is hold. The best way to train is to pick peanuts. If you learn to hold one nut with chopsticks, you are saved from starvation at Chinese dinner. And if learn to hold two nuts at once, no problems remain for you.
Photo by A.Tratsevsky
© Dmitry Alemasov
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