A Journey Through Chinese Gastronomy, Ancient Cuisine

Chinese gastronomy is linked to the history of the country. Learn about its origins, its main ingredients and how to enjoy it during your next trip.
A journey through Chinese gastronomy, ancient cuisine

Chinese gastronomy is directly related to philosophy, traditional medicine and, ultimately, to the culture of the country. In search of the perfect balance, Chinese cuisine mixes ingredients with daring flavors that will not leave any palate indifferent. For this reason, it is one of the most recognized gastronomies in the world.

The origin of Chinese gastronomy

As in other ancient cultures, Chinese gastronomy begins with the foundations of livestock, in which pigs stand out, and agriculture based on the cultivation of cereal. The first of these cereals, the basis of their diet, was millet. This was cultivated mainly in the northern zone.

Bowl of soup

Over the centuries, other cereals such as wheat to make pasta and rice, the basis of their traditional cuisine, began to gain importance. In the same way, different types of fat are used to enhance the flavor of the dishes.

However, it is not until the times of Confucius that gastronomy became an art. At this time, during the end of the Zhou dynasty, oil and soybeans were introduced into the elaboration of dishes. In addition, the first rituals related to the preparation of dishes are attributed to this time.

Finally, already during the Han dynasty, intensive crops were increased and crops were centralized. The construction of state-owned granaries also became popular. At that time, culinary techniques such as fermentation began, and tofu or miso appeared for the first time.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the way in which religion, especially Muslim, affects its traditional gastronomy, eliminating meat and replacing it with vegetables. In addition, new foods are introduced by Spanish and Portuguese traders, such as the consumption of spices or chili, the star element of Sichuan dishes.

Basic ingredients of Chinese gastronomy

Rice noodles, Chinese cuisine dish

The main ingredient in most Chinese dishes is rice, especially long grain, and other grains such as wheat, corn, and soybeans. In the same way, all kinds of sauces are used, most made with oils and spice blends such as star anise, pepper, cinnamon or fennel. Peanut oil and sesame oil stand out, widely used to prepare stir-fries.

On the other hand, the well-known rice noodles are also prepared with rice, which have their characteristic texture and translucent appearance. And with this same cereal vinegar and wine are made with which a multitude of dishes is cooked and seasoned.

Special mention should be made of the use of soybeans, not only in sauce but also in its sprouts. Fresh or ground, it accompanies meats and rice with other pickles such as bamboo stems or ginger.

Dishes are also garnished with Sichuan pepper and chilli sauce, for those who love spiciness. The oyster sauce is well known worldwide, which is made from fermented oysters and with which the meat is usually seasoned. Other classic elements of traditional Chinese cuisine are mushrooms and tofu.

Enjoying Chinese cuisine

Young people eating with chopsticks

There are many tourists who decide to travel around China to discover its gastronomy. However, it is important to know that, in addition to having dishes with a lot of flavor, whether spicy or salty, the customs at the table are usually very similar.

For this reason, it is usual to drink tea before eating and save the soup for last in order to facilitate digestion. Also, it depends on the area, you may not get used to having dessert. One tip is that we always ask for bottled water, since in general many areas of China do not have drinking water.

In the different restaurants, even without knowing Chinese, we can easily choose the dishes, since they are usually presented on the menu using photographs. Menus are usually divided into cold meals, vegetable dishes and meat dishes. These can be accompanied by noodles, rice or soup.

It is also important to know that they may not have western cutlery, so we will have to learn to eat with chopsticks. Many of the rules at the table include chopsticks as the main item.

When we are satisfied with the plate, the chopsticks should be placed on it, together and in the center. In addition, we must try not to point the chopsticks at any diner and not stick them in the rice, since it reminds them of the incense sticks used at funerals.

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