There are four major cooking styles in China: Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong and Huaiyang, each distinctly different. Restaurants in Beijing cater to all these regional styles.
Sichuan (Chuan) Cuisine Edit
Sichuan cuisine is distinctly spicy. Chili peppers, huajiao (mild Chinese pepper), black peppers and fresh ginger are indispensable ingredients.
Cantonese (Yue) Cuisine Edit
Ingredients in Cantonese food range from fish, shrimp and poultry to snake, wildcat and giant salamander. Snake dishes have been part of the Cantonese diet for 2,000 years. The most famous dish is called "Combat between the dragon and the tiger". The dragon is a cobra, and the tiger is a spotted cat. Dim sum, or Yum Cha, as it is commonly referred to in English, is something like a local institution in Canton.
Shangdong (Lu) Cuisine Edit
Thanks to its coastline, the province excels in fish and seafood dishes such as sea cucumber, "squirrel fish", jumbo prawns, crab and eel.
Huaiyang (Huai) Cuisine Edit
Simmering, boiling or baking in earthenware pots over a low fire are a feature of this cuisine. Jiangsu specialties are "West Lake Fish" and "Beggar's Chicken", baked in lotus leaves in a clay pot. Legend has it that a Hangzhou thief invented "Beggar's Chicken". As the thief had no stove, he wrapped the stolen bird in clay and baked it in a hole in the ground.
Beijing Cuisine Edit
Because of its more northerly location, the Beijing food tends to be more substantial, to keep the body warm. Instead of rice, which is the staple diet in Cantonese cuisine, more noodles, dumplings (jiaozi), and bread (baked, steamed or fried) is served in Beijing -style restaurants. Hot pot or Mongolian Hot Pot is very popular in Beijing. It was said that this was traditionally an imperial delicacy. A Qing Emperor summoned his court to a feast on thinly sliced mutton boiled in 1,500 fire pots. The pots are round with a charcoal fire underneath and a small chimney running up through the center. The meat is dipped in the pot and removed almost immediately. Shrimps, mushrooms and other food may be added. Beijing's most famous dish is roast duck. The crispy skin is the most prized part of the duck. To achieve the right crispy texture, the duck is dried, and then coated with a syrup and soy sauce before it is roasted. The skin is skillfully carved. These pieces are wrapped in thin pancakes with onions or leeks, cucumber, turnip and plum sauce. Some restaurants also serve up just about every part of the duck, from the webbed feet to the beak and liver. On request, the remainder of the duck meat can be sautéed with bean sprouts and the bones made into wonderful soup with cabbage.
Jiaozi (Chinese Dumpling) Edit
Jiaozi are dumplings filled with meat and vegetable, very popular during the New Year and other festival. Eating jiaozi symbolize good luck and prosperity in the coming year. There is no standard filling for jiaozi. The filling can range from vegetables, meat to seafood. Jiaozi are usually boiled in water and served with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic or pepper oil.
Hunan (Xiang) Cuisine Edit
Hunan's culinary specialties are very similar to the spicy dishes of Sichuan. Chili peppers, garlic and a special sauce are used. Honey is used in desserts such as cassia flower cakes.
Chaozhou Cuisine Edit
Chaozhou is renowned for its seafood cooking. Prawns, oysters, crabs and eel are often combined with an array of different pickles. Shark fins and edible bird's nests (haiyan) are cooked in a unique way with special seasoning sauce. Famous dishes include salt-baked goose with vinegar, steamed shrimps with orange juice, and fried rice with bean sauce. A tea ceremony is held while the dishes are being served. The tea is to help digest the food.
Shanghai Cuisine Edit
Shanghai does not really have a cuisine of its own, but has combined different regional styles from surrounding provinces. Flavors are generally richer, heavier, sweeter and oilier than those of Cantonese Cuisine. Its best-known delicacy is "hairy crab". Other popular dishes include "eight treasure" duck, "drunken" chicken, braised eel and yellow fish.
Court Cuisine Edit
Two restaurants offer meals fit for an emperor in brilliantly restored rooms where the court of the Qing Dynasty used to dine. They are Fangshan, located below the White Pagoda in Beihai Park, and Listening to Orioles Restaurant, formerly a theater in the Summer Palace.
Muslim Cuisine Edit
Chinese Muslims of the Hui ethnic group have a strong presence in Beijing. There are several large Muslim restaurants and many hundreds of small "snack bars" on the street offering spicy mutton kebabs (yangrou chuanr) chicken kebabs (jirou chuanr).
Chinese snack food constitute a cuisine of its own. Zhonggulou snack market has more than 20 snack shops and is open for lunch and dinner. Another market for traditional snacks is open in Donghuamen Street (next to the East Gate of the Forbidden City). Donghuamen Street in the Wanfujing area also has a rich variety of snacks.
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