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Tour Guide >>  China Food & Dietary >>  China Cooking History and Culture >> Brief Introduction of Chinese Cuisines
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Brief Introduction of Chinese Cuisines

Chinese cuisine (Chinese dishes) originated from different regions of China and has become widespread in many other parts of the world. Regional cultural differences vary greatly amongst the different regions of China, giving rise to the different styles of food. There are eight main regional cuisines, and they are: Anhui cuisine (Hui Cai), Cantonese cuisine (Yue Cai), Fujian cuisine (Min Cai), Hunan cuisine (Xiang Cai), Jiangsu cuisine (Su Cai or Yang Cai), Shandong cuisine (Lu Cai), Szechuan cuisine (Chuan Cai), Zhejiang cuisine (Zhe Cai).

A meal in Chinese culture is typically seen as consisting of two or more general components: the 1st: a carbohydrate source or starch, known as main food in the Chinese language, (zhushi, Pinyin means "main food") -- typically rice, noodles, or mantou steamed bread), and the 2nd: accompanying dishes of vegetables, meat, fish, or others, known as Cai (dishes, in Pinyin) in the Chinese language.

Rice is a critical part of much of Chinese cuisine. However, in northern China, wheat-based products including noodles and steamed bread (mantou, in Pinyin) predominate, in contrast to southern China where rice is dominant.

Despite the importance of rice in Chinese cuisine, at extremely formal occasions, sometimes no rice at all will be served; in such a case, rice would only be provided when no other dishes remained, or as a token dish in the form of fried rice at the end of the meal. Soup is usually served as appetizer at the start of a meal and also at the end of a meal.

Chopsticks are the primary eating utensil in Chinese culture for solid foods, while soups and other liquids are enjoyed with a wide, flat-bottomed spoon (traditionally made of ceramic). More expensive materials used in the past included ivory and silver. On the other hand, disposable chopsticks made of wood/bamboo have all but replaced reusable ones in small restaurants.

In most dishes in Chinese cuisine, food is prepared in bite-sized pieces (e.g. vegetable, meat, doufu), ready for direct picking up and eating. Traditionally, Chinese culture considered using knives and forks at the table barbaric due to fact that these implements are regarded as weapons. It was also considered ungracious to have guests work at cutting their own food. Fish are usually cooked and served whole, with diners directly pulling pieces from the fish with chopsticks to eat, unlike in some other cuisines where they are first filleted. This is because it is desired for fish to be served as fresh as possible.

It is common in many restaurant settings for the server to use a pair of spoons to divide the fish into servings at the table. Chicken is another meat popular in Chinese meals. While the chicken is cut into pieces, every single piece of the chicken is served including gizzards and head. The emphasis in Chinese culture on wholeness is reflected here. It is considered bad luck if fish or chicken is served without its head and tail, as that is synonymous with something that does not have a proper beginning or end.

In a Chinese meal, each individual diner is given his or her own bowl of rice while the accompanying dishes are served in communal plates (or bowls) that are shared by everyone sitting at the table. In the Chinese meal, each diner picks food out of the communal plates on a bite-by-bite basis with their chopsticks. This is in contrast to western meals where it is customary to dole out individual servings of the dishes at the beginning of the meal.

Many non-Chinese are uncomfortable with allowing a person's individual utensils (which might have traces of saliva) to touch the communal plates; for this hygienic reason, additional serving spoons or chopsticks (common/public/shared chopsticks) may be made available. In areas with increased Western influence, such as Hong Kong, diners are provided individually with a heavy metal spoon for this purpose. The food selected is often eaten together with some rice either in one bite or in alternation.

Vegetarianism is not uncommon or unusual in China, though, as is the case in the West, it is only practiced by a relatively small proportion of the population. The Chinese vegetarians do not eat a lot of toufu, unlike the stereotypical impression in the West.
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Author/Editor By : HCT
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