C U I S I N E
A glimpse through China’s
main food provinces
Beijing The main staple of Beijing is wheat flour and noodles, because there is a lot of wheat grown. Their most famous foods are Peking Duck and potstickers. Wheat fields in Northern China grow in a dry area, and they have a lot of winter wheat. And in Northern China, you cannot grow rice because the weather is too cold. So because of the weather, geography and soil, they can grow wheat, and the wheat ends up on the table, as the main staple. So that’s why you have a lot of potstickers, noodles, dumplings, all kinds of buns and all kinds of baos, all wheat based.
Canton Canton is known for seafood, the simplicity of cooking; the integrity of the ingredients. So there’s a lot of steaming, stir-frying, seasonal ingredients. Canton is in the southern tip of China, exposed to a lot of rivers and lakes as well as the ocean. So you see a variety of seafood, and it’s also an area of four seasons, which are not available in the north and the west of China.
Shanghai Being also a port city and also a metropolitan, international city and a centre of commerce, you see a lot of food from different parts of China in Shanghai because it is metropolitan— the best of Beijing, the best of Canton, the best of Sichuan, you find them all in Shanghai. And also, Shanghai being a coastal city, you have a lot of seafood. They are very famous for red-cooked dishes, which means that meat, chicken, or seafood is cooked in a rich, brown, sweet sauce and they are cooked to a point that end up like stews, |62| India-China Chronicle
and braising. So they are very famous for that. So Shanghai sounds a lot like Venice, which as a port town had all of the different spices and flavours there because of the trading ships. Also because of Hangzhou and Suzhou being the centre of silk and embroidery. During the famous Silk Road, a lot of those spices and foods and cultures were introduced to this area. So you see a lot of richness, sugar, soy sauce... everything is cooked very richly.
Sichuan If you see yourself when you get out of a Sichuan restaurant, you have instant perm! Your hair will smoke! Just like being in a Thai restaurant! Sichuan— being a basin where it’s very very harsh and cold in the winter, yet in the summer, it’s very hot and humid. And because of that, the foods, whether it’s winter or summer, use chilli peppers, spices, and become important. Because in the summer, when it’s hot and humid, you really don’t have much of an appetite! And the use of chilli also serves to preserve the food, as well as to cool you down. Because when you eat, you perspire and it cools you down. And you also eat the chilli in winter because it’s so cold, it kinda warms you up! But I think Sichuan and Hunan, being in the west, share the same spicy chilli as the tropical areas. You go to Singapore or Thailand, it is so hot, 95 degrees, 95% humidity—you don’t really have an appetite. You are soaking wet...and unless your food is spiced, it is too hot to eat. Also, the food spoils practically instantly, unless you have something like chillies to cook with, then even the bugs won’t hang around too much. So I think that’s another reason why spices and chillies are not only used as a flavouring, but also as a preservative.