From the cosmopolitan New York in the West to the charming, fascinating Kolkata in the east, most important cities in the world today have their own China Town-home to the Chinese immigrants, who create independent and almost self-sufficient townships for themselves, producing and selling their wares ranging from leather goods, handicrafts, apparel, and most significantly, a whole range of mouth-watering delicacies which are delectable to taste and impossible to resist! Chinese food ranks among the world’s most favored cuisines.
Like other Asian foods, Chinese food involves cooking with a lot of vegetables, various types of meats and a wide range of sauces and oils that give the food its distinctive flavor. Onions, ginger and garlic form the base of many preparations and traditional Chinese cooking involved the use of lard as the cooking medium, but increased awareness about health and fitness has led to a shift to better oils like sunflower and groundnut oil. The oil content in most foods remains low, therefore, it does not seem heavy to those eating it. It is quick to digest, which explains the frequent small meals eaten by the Chinese. The essence of Chinese cooking lies in using high heat for cooking, adding ingredients only after the oil has been heated till smoking point. Stir-frying the vegetables this way leaves them tender-crisp with the original color retained, and its nutritive content locked inside.
The variety of foods consumed at a time, makes the cooking quite elaborate and each step quite time-consuming. Chinese food tastes best when cooked fresh just before serving, though the chopping and boiling can be done before. The final dish tastes best only if the vegetables are cut to perfection in thin slices for some and chunks for others, the rice has to be boiled till just soft, and noodles when boiled, must not lose their firmness. Overcooked ingredients will never taste like Chinese food at all.
Popularly used vegetables for preparing a Chinese meal include bamboo shoots, mushrooms, cabbage, carrots and beans, capsicum, bean sprouts, corn, peas, and spinach. The flavor enhancers include onions, ginger, garlic, parsley, chilies, a dozen sauces, and monosodium glutamate, which is now discouraged from use due to its high sodium content. A recent trend has been to use a lot of tofu, a cheese-like extract from soymilk. It is a perfect substitute of meats for vegetarians.
The Chinese are great meat eaters and can actually eat the meat of any living thing that moves! The starters and the main meal will have various types of meat from beef, pork and lamb, to chicken and seafood. Shell foods like crab, shrimp, oysters and clams are a delicacy. But now one finds that the Chinese menu varies from place to place depending upon the meal preferences of the residents.
A typical Chinese meal starts with appetizers, salad and soup, each with its fair share of vegetables and meats. The appetizers can be fried or steamed. With the present wave of vegetarianism many preparations are made without meat, but taste just as good. The main meal would include, rice, noodles or both to go with a meat dish, stir fried vegetables and some seafood. The meats are often served boneless, and the fish is even served whole.
Chinese food goes well with wines, but the perfect accompaniment is endless cups of fragrant Chinese tea. The tea helps to dilute the oil content of food and makes it easier to digest. The meal can be ended with some plum brandy or a dessert of sweet pancakes or deep fried fruits.
There is perhaps no city or town that does not have a Chinese restaurant within driving distance. This only goes to show how popular Chinese cuisine has become. It certainly ranks amongst the more nutritious cuisines.