There are four main types of Chinese cooking. Cantonese, Mandarin, Shanghai cooking and the spicy food of Szechuan.









Chinese cooking has developed over thousands of years, influenced by Chinese philosophy. Confucian doctrine related food to the enjoyment of life, teaching that proper cooking relies on the blending of various ingredients to create harmony.  A perfect meal should be in balance by including the Four Natures (hot, warm, cool and cold) as well as the Five Tastes (pungent, sweet, bitter, sour and salty).  The Taoist religion focused on the desire for longevity, exploring plants, roots and herbs to find life-giving elements.


There are four main types of Chinese cooking:  Cantonese stir-fries from the south, Mandarin dishes from the north which use wheat flour to make noodles, dumplings and pancakes, Shanghai cooking from the east coast focusing on seafood and strong-flavored sauces, and the hot and spicy food of Szechuan from the interior, relying on hot peppers, garlic and onions.  In a typical Chinese meal, each person is given their own bowl of rice, with the accompanying dishes serviced on communal plates, from which each diner picks out food on a bite-by-bite basis with their chopsticks.  As human manure was used throughout China’s history for fertilizer due to the shortage of farm animals, raw food has not been part of the typical Chinese diet.  Desserts are rarely given at the end of a meal – if sweet foods are desired, they are served during the meal.  Believing that cold drinks are harmful to digestion of hot food, tea and hot water are served instead. 


An old Chinese proverb, “The common people regard food as heaven”, provides some insight into the important role that food has played in the life of Chinese people. “Have you eaten?” is a much-used greeting among older Chinese, dating back to the days of scarce food in China, and acts as an expression of concern for the other person.  The greeting is not in fact an invitation to a meal; although you may be invited, you are expected to decline!




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