The Origin of Chinese Cuisine
China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. No one can speak of his or her history, culture, and traditions without mentioning Chinese cuisine. Cooking and eating food is a very important part of their culture and social life. Chinese believe that food is the highest among all human necessities. There is even an old Chinese saying that “Food is the first necessity of the people.”
Chinese cuisine has a long history. Its origin can be traced in as early as 1500 B.C. Before other countries develop their own civilizations, Chinese cuisine already exists. Legend has it that Chinese cuisine was introduced by an imperial minister called Yi yin of the Shang dynasty. Based on historical accounts, Chinese people started studying culinary arts in between the Shang and Zhou dynasty (11th century B.C. to 221 B.C.).
The present Chinese cuisine can be traced back from the two major classifications of Chinese cuisine during the old times, the northern cuisine, and the southern cuisine. The northern cuisine has adapted to the cold weather of the northern part of China that is why northern dishes are oily and rich in carbohydrates such as noodles, dumplings and all other foods made from flour. They need more carbohydrates to produce more body heat and combat the freezing temperature of the north.
On the other hand, the Southern dishes focused on foods that emphasize freshness and tenderness. Southern dishes usually contain lots of fresh vegetables and spices. Their primary source of carbohydrates is rice.
However as time goes by, local flavors were incorporated in the Chinese cuisine. Four major cooking style emerged and contributed to development of Chinese cuisine, the Sichuan, the northern (Beijing and Shandong), Cantonese and Huaiyang. Later on after the Song dynasty, eight types of cuisine evolved and influenced Chinese cuisine. Each type has its own technique and contribution.
Fujian cuisine – introduced wine marinating
Anhui cuisine – emphasized the use of heavy oil and sauce
Hunan cuisine – introduced steaming, simmering and stewing
Zhejiang cuisine – emphasized spicy and crispy style of cooking
Jiangsu cuisine – emphasized the mixture of salty and sweet taste
Northern cuisine – introduced the use of dried products such as shrimp and sea cucumber and the Peking duck dish
Sichuan cuisine – introduced the use of red and black pepper, fermented bean paste and foods with tongue burning spices
Canton cuisine – roasted meat, oyster sauce, black beans, and shrimp paste are the major ingredients of Canton cuisine.
Indeed, Chinese cuisine has been through many changes through its long history. Today, Chinese cuisine is still evolving and incorporating different local and international cooking styles. This may change the way of cooking Chinese food, however the distinct taste of Chinese cuisine will always be the same as it ever was.