Famous Chinese Dishes
Of the world’s two great cuisine, the Chinese is as varied as, and, in fact, much older in tradition than the French. Chinese chefs are masters at creating culinary triumphs from the barest necessities. Indeed, some of the most prized delicates are said to have been concocted during times of famine – many from substances never before considered edible.
In Chinese gastronomy three senses must be satisfied: smell, sight, and taste. To begin with a dish should not have a strong aroma dominating the other dishes. Certainly any unpleasant smells would not be tolerated. In addition, a dish must be of an appearance and composition that is pleasing to the eye, and there should be a balance not only of colors but of different textures. As for taste, there are several considered necessaries: salty, sweet, sour, hot, … And “balance” is not confined to taste alone: the texture of food in the mouth should vary, so that a banquet should contain dry and sticky dishes as well as crisp and juicy ones. Usually a crisp dish is followed by a smooth one, and the salt dish followed by a sweet one, and so on.
There are many Chinese dishes that are well known throughout the world and even though they may not have been tasted by a great many, people have heard of them. For example, one of the great dishes is birds’ nest soup, which is made from the mucus from the salivary glands of the small salangane. The mucus is collected by boiling the nests to these birds. It is soup with a most subtle flavor.
Shark’s fin soup is another rare and famous dish and, because the fins are purchased dry, requires a long and careful preparation. In addition, chicken stock is also a must before it can be served. In preparing shark’s fin soup, half a catty is needed for twelve servings. Only the loose shark’s fin is used, and this is prepared with shredded chicken, crabmeat, or pork in chicken stock. The finest and most costly shark’s fin soup is a clear one to which no starch is added. To allow guests to savor the delicate soups mad from shark’s fin, they are served at the beginning of a banquet, a rare exception to the Chinese practice of serving soup at the end.
Another world-famous dish is Beijing roast duck, one of northern China’s famous specialities. It is prepared from a 3-4-month-old white Beijing duck; after cleaning, the duck is plugged and half filled with water; it is then placed in the oven so that while the water steams the inside of the duck, the outside is roasted over a fire made from wood of the jujube, pear, or apricot tree. The duck is cooked for about three-quarters of an hour and is basted with its own fat.
The whole duck is usually brought to the table by the chef and then taken away to be cut into thin slices which are eaten wrapped in thin crepes or in rolls covered with sesame seed. The slices of duck are usually dipped into a thin brown sauce, chopped leeks, cucumber, and scallion.
In the famous Mongolian hot pot thinly sliced strips of lamb are cooked in boiling water contained in a special vessel attached to a brazier. The lamb strips are picked up with chopsticks and placed in the boiling water, then taken out a few minutes later, when cooked, to be dipped in one or more of the sauces that are set out for each guest, such as soy sauce and sesame seed sauce. To end the meal a soup is prepared using vegetables, noodles and bean curd which are added to the boiling stock in the brazier.
Sea cucumbers are also well known to foreign visitors, perhaps more for the distaste they arouse than the delight they bring to the palate. However, to the Chinese these small sea creatures represent one of the finest gastronomic experiences possible. They are often served with abalone or fish maw, so if you do not like the thought of swallowing the sea slugs themselves, concentrate on the other portion of the dish.
Snake is a highly fancied dish in the south of China but is rarely eaten in the north; it is usually in the form of stews or soups and has a flavor somewhat like chicken.
Bear’s paws are another famous dish but are becoming extremely rare; some gastronomes consider them the rarest delicacy of all.
Fruit is almost always served at a Chinese banquet, usually at the end but not always so; and aside from the fruit well known to the western visitors there are also strawberries, grapes, chestnuts, and figs to be ordered, as well as tropical fruit such as pineapples, mangoes, and papaya. You should also try the delicately flavored lychees, well known in China and abroad. And the persimmon is also highly favored by the inhabitants and is picked in the late autumn.