All The Food in China

ing as to its origins and recipe. Sometimes it is best not to … Chinese food, will be released by New Holland Publishers in October, 2007. …

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All The Food in China theconsultant Bonus Issue 2007 27 All The Food in China By Sally Hammond 29 theconsultant Bonus Issue 2007 All The Food In China Who hasn’t fallen for dim sum, that noisy, exuberant, untidy meal that can extend from breakfast through until mid-afternoon? What’s not to like about that con-stant procession of trundling trolleys and trays bearing everything from plates of exquisite dainties, to hefty servings of soup and noodles and rice? Off the beaten track, in outback China, things may get a little more, well, unsophisticated. Be prepared for street food which might include scorpions and slender snakes threaded onto bamboo sticks, or hunks of cake carved from a huge slab (where are the ovens big enough to bake these monsters?) and iced on the spot for you to take back to your hotel. In most towns and cities there’ll be freshly baked breads too, and little filled pies, often cooked at almost cremation heat on the insides of round tandoor-style ovens on the footpath, their magical aromas making them easy to find. Just don’t pass on that blood-red drink you’ll find in bottles on the footpath sometimes. It’s possibly freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, and as delicious as it is healthy. China is a massive country with a long and complex history. Over the centuries several distinct cuisines have sprung up largely influenced, of course, by local crops, as well as the ethnic mix. So, in Macau for example, there is a strong Portuguese influence. In other regions, minority Chinese groups may have put their own cultural stamp on the food, and in still other places, influences from adjoining countries such as Kazakhstan in the west, or Vietnam and Myanmar in the south, show up in various dishes. Religion plays a part too. Muslim food in the north and west dictates more mutton will be used to take the place of the ubiquitous pork dishes found throughout much of the rest of China. In places where Buddhists have long been established, vegetarianism or a form of it is popular. In Tibet, adherents can eat yak, but not small animals such as fish. What’s very evident is that the Chinese really like to EAT! At any moment of the day you will pass people selecting watermelons or chickens from a market, squat-ting on the footpath enjoying a bowl of noodles or snacking on packets of seeds or nuts or those other in-definable treats that fill any town’s multitude of grocery stores and stalls. The rest will be seated in groups around steaming hotpots, dipping pieces of meat or vegetables into the bubbling broth, or watching critically as a ven-dor flips and tosses their order of stir fried rice or noodles in a blackened wok. Business deals may be done over banquets in secluded restaurants, lushly decorated with red and gold drapes C hinese food has long held a certain mystique for Westerners. And while there are some things we still cannot quite handle how are you, for instance with chicken’s feet, frogs, or fresh snake’s blood? hundreds of other dishes have us well and truly hooked. Colour, freshness and flavour are integral parts of Chinese cuisine and with many vegetarians, beans such as these sprouted ones, form an important source of protein. 31 theconsultant Bonus Issue 2007 All The Food In China and polished wood panelling, while families gather in large restaurants where the laminex tables and plastic chairs may give little hint of the excellent fare awaiting them. Tourists groups inevitably find themselves seated at round tables for ten with a large turntable in the middle on which dish after shared dish is set. The real thing is this: it hardly matters how or where you eat in China. Your fellow diners may often prove to be noisy companions, eating rapidly, enthusiastically slurping their noodles, and messily throwing scraps and bones on the table. It’s all part of the routine. Eating in this country is a happy social activity and the plentiful, freshly-prepared and tasty food is meant to be shared and enjoyed. Over the many centuries that China has evolved, the various regions have settled into fairly clear schools of cookery. Much has to do with what will grow in each region, but is also affected by the races that inhabit it. Northern (Beijing) fare Because Beijing was historically the city chosen by Chi-na’s ruling classes as their capital, a more extravagant meat-based cuisine evolved there. Unfazed by religious limitations, they were free to eat anything, although the Mongolian rulers favoured mutton, and many of these dishes persist today. Onions grow well in the colder north and these are found in many dishes, often stir-fried at the beginning of a dish. Most hardier crops such as corn, sorghum, wheat, cabbages and root vegetables are grown here, and dishes predictably lean towards flour-based dishes such as steamed dumplings and noodles rather than rice. Crisp-edged slices of Peking duck breast, anointed with a dab of Hoisin sauce and wrapped in paper-thin pan-cakes, are one of life’s great pleasures. Better yet, make your way to a restaurant where there are several courses, each using that same duck in various ways, and you will be a northern cuisine fan forever. Mongolian hotpot is another not-to-be-missed experi- ence in the north. Plan to take your time. Experiment with the various meats and vegetables, noodles and eggs, and finish the meal with a bowl of the stock in which these morsels have been cooked. By then it will be a rich and flavourful broth, and you will both understand and applaud the emperor’s liking for this cuisine. Eastern (Shanghai) food The cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou are at the cross-ro

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