No one can understand the culture of a country without first experiencing its food and drink. Chinese cuisine is one of the Chinese cultural treasures. and generally considered, along with French, as one of the two greatest cuisine systems in the world. Chinese cuisine includes cuisine originating from the diverse regions of China, as well as from Chinese people in other parts of the world. Over the course of 5000 years, these culinary traditions have been devised and perfected and have withstood the test of time. Because of the Chinese diaspora and historical power of the country, Chinese cuisine has influenced many other cuisines in Asia, with modifications made to cater to local palates.
Chinese cookery has developed from ancient times and matured over hundreds of years, forming a rich cultural content. It is characterized by fine selection of ingredients, precise processing, particular care to the amount of fire, and substantial nourishment. Local flavours and snacks and special dishes have formed according to regions, local products, climate, historical factors, and eating habits.
Color, smell and taste are the three traditional aspects used to describe and value Chinese food, as well as the meaning, shape and nutrition of the food. Cooking should be appraised from ingredients used, cuttings, cooking time and seasoning. It means a well prepared Chinese dish is expected to appeal to more senses than just taste. Its colors should be pleasing to the eye, the ingredients should be of uniform size and it should be fragrant.
The most praised "4 Major Cuisines" are Chuan (Sichuan Province), Lu (Shandong Province), Yue (Cantonese or Guangdong Province) and Huaiyang (Jiangsu Province), representing West, North, South and East China cuisine correspondingly. Modern "8 Cuisines" of China are Sichuan, Shandong, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Hunan cuisines. Sometimes Beijing and Shanghai cuisine are also counted.
In addition, China has Special Cuisine including Palace, Vegetarian, and Medicinal Dishes are categorized a special cuisine.
Chuan (Sichuan Province) Cuisine is famous in China and abroad for their spicy-hot taste and the flavour of Chinese prickly ash. Thus Sichuan dishes are known as a hundred dishes with a hundred tastes. Most common flavour include hot and spicy, five fragrances, mixed spices, chilli and Chinese prickly ash, and sweet and sour. Famous Sichuan dishes include Mapo Tofu (stir-fried tofu in spicy meat sauce), spicy pork shreds, diced chicken with peanuts and vegetables, chicken cubes in mixed spices, and Chinese prickly ash and fried carp.
Lu (Shandong Province) Cuisine uses a wide and fine selection of ingredients. The plentiful dishes are cooked in many ways. Shandong soups are most famous, and green onion is commonly used as a seasoning. Shandong cuisine is best represented by its variety of seafood dishes, such as sea cucumber braised with green Chinese onion, braised snake-head egg, crab eggs with shark's fin, Dezhou roast chicken, and walnuts in butter soup.
Yue (Cantonese or Guangdong Province) Cuisine uses a great variety of ingredients such as birds, freshwater fish, snakes, and saltwater fish. It emphasizes freshness and tenderness. Representative dishes are Lobster Simmered in Chicken Soup, Honey-Stewed BBQ Pork, three snake dragon tiger meeting, dragon tiger phoenix snake soup, stir-fried shrimp, eight-treasure lotus-seed glutinous rice, fresh mushrooms in oyster sauce, pot-cooked soft-shelled turtle, and crisp-skin roast piglet.
Huaiyang (Jiangsu Province) Cuisine includes dishes from Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Huai'an and Suzhou, Wuxi in Jiangsu Province. It focuses on the freshness of ingredients. Huaiyang dishes have a light flavour, retaining the original tastes of ingredients. They also have pleasant colors and pretty shapes. Some dishes can be sweet, sugar is widely used in Huaiyang Dishes to enhance the flavour. Famous dishes include beggar's chicken, sweet and sour mandarin fish, lion head with crab meat (large pork and crab meat ball steamed in delicious soup), chicken pieces with egg white, stir-fried shrimp, boiled salted duck, deep-boiled crab meat in clear soup and steamed shad. Suzhou Cuisine, the branch of Huaiyang Cuisine, is also famous for its many kinds of dim sum.
It is considered inappropriate to use knives on the dining table in China. Chopsticks are the main eating utensils for Chinese food, which can be used to cut and pick up food.