‘The kitchen is the heart of the home.’
Chinese people have many customs and traditions, such as ‘you must always respect your elders’ and ‘the littlest of actions have huge significant meanings’. Over the years I have not always got these right and have been told off by my grandma and dad on many occasions. Even now, Dad will correct me on the smallest of things, so much so that it’s now just expected and often laughed about.
After pouring tea, it is essential never to point the spout of the teapot at others because this gesture has the same meaning as using the finger to point, which in Chinese culture is considered rude. Therefore, the spout must be directed to where no one is sitting, usually outward from the table.
It is customary to serve fish at Chinese New Year as it symbolizes ‘surplus and prosperity’. This dish is normally served with a pair of serving chopsticks.
When presented with a bowl of rice, receive it with both hands as it marks a sign of respect. Receiving with only one hand signals laziness or disrespect.
Chinese meals are usually served on a Lazy Susan to make family-style eating all the easier. When a dish is served, the most senior person gets first dibs and then it’s rotated around the table. It is polite only to take a small portion to make sure everyone gets some.
Under no circumstances should chopsticks be placed upright in your bowl.
This symbolizes death.
Be prepared for your Chinese host to place food in your bowl, usually without even asking. The host will often put chicken legs or other choice parts of the meal in the guest’s bowl. Though Westerners may see this as interfering with one’s independence and personal space, it is a sign of hospitality in China.
The guest is always seated at the ‘head’ of the table, customarily furthest from the door, with any fish, chicken or duck heads pointing their way.
Chinese attach particular meanings to certain foods based on shapes, colors and legends. Superstition and tradition dictate that certain foods must be eaten for certain festivals and events to invoke a blessing. For example, ingot-shaped dumplings mean wealth at New Year and round moon-cakes represent family reunion in mid-autumn.
The invention of chopsticks reflects the wisdom of ancient Chinese people. A pair of chopsticks, although they look simple, can nip, pick, rip and stir food. Nowadays, chopsticks are considered to be lucky gifts for marriage and other important ceremonies.
Cantonese cuisine originates from the Guangdong Province of China. From this major trading area, the cuisine rapidly spread throughout China and into Hong Kong, to America in the 1850s as Chinese immigrants flocked to build the Transcontinental Railroad, then into England and Europe in the 1950s and ’60s with the mass migration of Chinese immigrants, especially those from rural villages who came to the West for a better way of life. Chinese food, especially Cantonese food, has become a favorite ethnic cuisine. Not just tasty, this style of cooking is far healthier than other popular delivery foods, with many stir-fries containing fewer calories and lots more vegetables.
The Holy Trinity of aromatics features heavily in Cantonese cooking – garlic, ginger and spring onion – and whether used alone or combined, they allow the chef to produce tasty yet delicate flavors.
An authentic Cantonese chef’s goal is to preserve the food’s original flavor. Unlike other Chinese styles of cooking, such as Szechuan where the cook buries the food in a lot of spices, a Cantonese chef aims to draw out or highlight the original flavor of the vegetable, meat or fruit.
The Chinese believe that food, besides being an absolute necessity for existence, is one of the few pleasures that span the entirety of our lives. For this reason, the joy of eating is given huge importance. Chinese people pay great attention to the color, smell, taste, texture and shape of their food; the taste is regarded as the soul of Chinese food. There are five main flavors, which can be categorized as salty, spicy, sour, sweet and bitter, and recently umami has been added to this list. Mastering how to combine the flavors harmoniously improves taste.
Top tip! If you want just a hint of their aroma, cut the aromatics into larger pieces and add them at the beginning of cooking, whether stir-frying, steaming or poaching. The large pieces will gently flavor the dish and can then be easily picked out while eating. For a bolder flavor, finely chop or grate the aromatics: their greater distribution during the cooking process will allow more of their flavor to enter the dish, adding intensity.
Szechuan cuisine originates from southwestern China’s Sichuan province, a region famous for bold flavors, especially its generous use of garlic and spices. Renowned ingredients used are dried chilies and Szechuan peppercorns which produce a distinct spicy and mouth-numbing taste sensation. Due to the very wet climate, Szechuan cuisine specializes in preserving techniques such as drying, salting and pickling.
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