Chinese cuisine is one of the most ancient in the world. Thanks to the availability of resources and a vast territory, the Chinese were already eating a wide variety of foods in 200 BC. The basic ingredients of Chinese cuisine are rice and soy, although every region has its specialties. Southern Chinese, or Cantonese, cuisine, is the most well known in the West, and comprises several varieties of fruit, vegetables and seafood. Dishes are seasoned with ginger, curry and other spices. Cantonese rice, served with peas, egg and ham, originated in this part of China, as did spring rolls, deep-fried pastry rolls filled with meat, fish or vegetables.
Wheat is the main ingredient of northern Chinese cuisine. Many dishes are pasta-based, like steamed dumplings stuffed with meat and soy sauce. Another famous dish is honey-lacquered duck. Originally, only the duck’s skin was served, dipped in honey. Today, however, the skin of the bird is served with its meat, seasoned with a sauce and wrapped in a pancake. Western Chinese recipes, based on vegetables and hot pepper, are the spiciest in Chinese cuisine. One feature of eastern Chinese cuisine is the widespread use of rice and grains. Food is often wrapped in lotus leaves and steamed. Chinese cuisine is tightly bound to medicine and traditional Taoist philosophy: yang foods, which are hot, fried and spicy, are combined with yin foods, which are cold, damp and tender. The tendency is to cook food lightly in order to preserve its nutrients. Food is cut and served in small pieces in order to make it easier to digest.
Unlike other Eastern cuisines, Chinese cuisine is not constrained by religious or cultural dietary rules. Dairy products are replaced by ingredients like tofu, a bean curd made by treating soy milk with coagulants. The Chinese eat an average of five or six meals a day. Chinese cooks consider the preparation of a dish a ritual: in addition to tasting good, it must also satisfy the eye and nose. All courses are served together and placed at the center of the table. Food is eaten using chopsticks and accompanied by green tea.