China on a plate

Cooking is intricately connected with every important life aspect of the Chinese including their philosophy and natural medicine. The art of cooking is even equalled with theatre and music in China. The Chinese believe that eating is not only a necessity, but also a pleasure bringing health and harmony, peace of mind and longevity.

Chinese cuisine is one of the oldest in the world. It is also one of the most popular in Asia. It goes back a few thousand years, and it began in the times of the first emperors. What can be found on a plate was already then considered influential to one’s health and wellbeing, clarity of mind and harmony of spirit. And this has continued until our times. For a Chinese person, food is not merely an everyday ritual, but it is connected with every pleasant moment of their life. The Chinese go as far as to say a nation that cannot discern flavours, and thereby cannot cook nor does it have its own cuisine, indeed does not have any culture whatsoever. For them, civilisation is strictly connected with food.

Great attention is assigned in China not only to the flavour, the smell or the colour of a dish, but also how it it will be prepared and served. Cooking there is a form of art, and the dishes often bear poetic names. Even the common greeting of the Chinese refers to food. ’Nǐ chī le ma?’ means simply ’Have you eaten already?’. This is, of course, not to be taken literally, as it rather corresponds to the European ’How is it going?’ or ’What’s up?’.

Eat, for good health!

The Chinese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world. This is not only due to the fact it is dominated by vegetables, and the dishes are prepared using minimal amount of fat. This is mainly because the Chinese culinary tradition is combined with the Chinese natural medicine, where healthy nutrition is one of the most important rules.

According to its recommendations, Chinese cuisine attempts to match the dishes and their preparation methods with the current aura and physical state of the body. The Chinese claim that in each of the seasons of the year, one should only eat what is readily available in a given climate zone, and what can be stored in natural conditions. And so for instance, the consumption of significant amounts of tomatoes, cucumbers or fruit grown in greenhouses sends the body a false signal to loose heat. These vegetables and fruit contain large amounts of potassium, which in Chinese medicine has a cooling effect. The thermoregulation of our body begins to malfunction - skin pores open, we begin to sweat, and the body, instead of retaining heat, begins to radiate it outwards. Thus, the risk of catching a cold increases.

In Chinese cuisine, special attention is paid to knowing the nature of the food. The Chinese believe each and every flavour can be assigned to certain organs in the human body. Hence through eating a given product, we can influence the weakened organ, for example green cucumber has beneficial effects on the liver and intestines, red tomato treats the heart and blood pressure, and white onion acts on the lungs.

Two natures, five flavours and five phases

The Chinese believe the person preparing food passes their energy onto the dish. It is, therefore, important that he or she are not under the influence of negative emotions since such food will not be healthy. For a Chinese person, harmony is what matters in the art of cooking and nutrition. Chinese cuisine is connected to Chinese philosophy, and thus to its main message i.e. the belief in the existence of a natural equilibrium between forces.

The Chinese have recognised five main flavours and the nature of yin and yang in food including herbs. They claim the sweet, sour and spicy flavours possess rejuvenating yin properties; whereas the salty and bitter flavours contain the warming nature of yang. The process of preparing food operates in a similar way, yin-type foods, when steamed, will cool the body, and yang-foods, when grilled, will warm up the body.

Chinese cuisine applies great attention to cooking being performed according to the so-called flow, ’feeding’ the rules of the Five Elements (Five Phases)

TIENS Group develops its supplements based on the Five Elements theory. The theory goes back to ancient times. Its assumption is that all of nature and the universe consist of five basic elements: wood, fire, water, earth and metal. The same applies to man. Through his subjection to the rule of the Five Elements man is united in the wholeness of nature. Everything that can grow is a subject to the element of wood. In turn, fire is the domain of anything that exhibits heat. Anything with moisturising properties belongs to the element of water, and all that is thick, heavy and can form a base is assigned to earth. The element of metal is made of all that is focused and concentrated in itself.

The meaning is that during the preparation of a dish the actual order of adding its every ingredient is significant, and the food should contain each of the five elements. This is due to the fact that each element is connected to one of the five flavors. According to the theory of the Five Phases, it does not matter which ingredient of the dish we begin with rather the one we finish with. The final ingredient enforces the organ assigned to it.

The Chinese claim that if the components of a dish are added chaotically, its harmony may be damaged, and thus spoil the flavor of the prepared dish. Prolonged consumption of food prepared in discordance with the Rule of the Five Phases may also render chaos in one’s life.

The rule of harmony also applies to beverages. They should be neither too hot, as they negatively affect the stomach, nor too cold since such cause apathy.

Slim like a Chinese

The rule of harmony in Chinese cuisine is the reason why the Chinese maintain a virtually fixed weight throughout their lives. There are nearly no obese people in China. Scientists have even found that despite the Chinese consuming on average 30 percent more food compared to a typical European, they remain 20 percent slimmer.

Chinese cooking, although regionally highly diverse, has a few common qualities. First of all, it is based on four groups of products: grains, vegetables, meat and fruit. Due to a low tolerance to diary products, the Chinese almost never use cow’s milk for cooking, and replace it with soy milk, similarly the most popular cheese is tofu. The most consumed grain is rice. Eating it regularly contributes to a healthy metabolism as it provides large amounts of dietary fibre. In Chinese cuisine, food is most often either steamed or briefly fried on high heat, which ensures the natural aroma is retained and does not deprive it of vitamins and minerals.

Green tea is the main beverage for the Chinese. Drinking it is a part of Chinese tradition, and is tied to many rituals. Depending on the region, the most common may be pure green, pu-erh or jasmine tea. Other popular drinks are Chinese beer and rice wine.

Peking duck versus salted duck eggs

The variety of Chinese cuisine can be easily shown, for instance, by the fact that it consists of over twenty thousand counted dishes, sixty different ways of preparing food on fire and over eighty methods of cutting dish ingredients. The territory of China is vast, there are many regions of various climates, hence it is no surprise multiple, regional versions of its cuisine exist. They vary mainly in terms of flavour, aroma combinations and ingredient proportions. The most well-known Chinese regional cuisines are: Beijing (Peking), Cantonese, Shanghai and Sichuan. Beijing cuisine i.e. the cuisine of Northern China, is based mainly on noodles, poultry, beef and lamb. The most popular dishes of this cuisine is Peking Duck and dumplings with all sorts of fillings. In Beijing cooking, rice wine is used a lot along with spices and the typical food preparation method is quick frying with no added fat or oil. Cantonese cuisine is the Southern cuisine, and is the most renowned among the Chinese cuisines. The reason for this are the immigrants from this region who established Chinese restaurants in the Western world. It is considered the best one also in China itself. Cantonese cuisine uses large amounts of beef, pork, fish and seafood. Almost no fat at all is used since the dishes are mainly stewed, seared or steamed. Large amounts of soy sauce are applied in the Cantonese cuisine as well. The Cantonese also take delight in food preservation and drying as well as combining fresh ingredients with pasteurised ones. Hence the typical for this region salted duck eggs or fermented tofu. The Eastern Shanghai cuisine is considered the most delicate of all Chinese cuisines. It is famous for its fish and seafood dishes (oysters, crabs). Even sea plants such us seaweed are often added to the food. The dominating flavor of the Shanghai cuisine is sweet. Many dishes, especially sauces, are seasoned with sugar including the famous sour sweet pork. In contrast with the other regions of China, noodles are added to the dishes here more often than rice. In turn, in the Sichuan cuisine - the cuisine of Western China - spiciness is the dominant flavour. Hot Sichuan pepper, chilli and different kinds of paprika are very often added to the food. The dishes are based mainly on beef. This cuisine is also famous for its smoked and variously marinated dishes. The most common way of preparing food is frying it quickly in a wok.

The kitchen toolkit

Once we have learnt all of the rules of the Chinese cuisine, the preparation of actual dishes will no longer be complicated. However, it is good to equip ourselves with a few utensils. The most important one is a wok - a deep round-bottomed frying pan. One can cook, fry, stew, and deep-fry in it. A wok becomes hot very quickly, and distributes the heat evenly across its entire surface.

There is no Chinese cuisine without a cleaver, which is used for chopping all sorts of ingredients. A basket for steaming will also come in handy. The traditional one is made of bamboo. The ones watching their figure should indulge themselves by buying a chi-go pot (Yunnan pot). It is a round clay pot with a cover whose bottom side is formed into a chimney slimming towards the upper side, and completed with an open nozzle. In a chi-go pot food can be prepared without the addition of cooking fat or oil. The fiery cauldron, in turn, also called the Mongolian cauldron is a Chinese version of a fondue pot. And once the food is ready, chopsticks, ceramic soup spoons and bowls will surely come in useful.

We invite all fans of Chinese cuisine, also those unconvinced who have not yet had the chance to savour Chinese food to read the upcoming articles containing actual recipes for Chinese dishes.