Noodles are a kind of very popular staple food among the Chinese. They can be made either by hand or more often nowadays by machine. By the way they are made, noodles can be divided into cut noodles or dried noodles. Made in whatever way, they may be of different widths, varying from ribbons to threads to suit the taste or habit of different people. As a prepared dish, they can be served warm or cold, dressed with chilli oil or without, eaten with fried bean sauce, pork or chicken sauce, duck chops and soup of any concoction. There is also a variety of ¡° instant noodles¡±, which are precooked, dried and commercially packed. Before eating, all one has to do is to soak them in hot, boiling water for a few minutes. They are very handy for a quick lunch in the office or on a journey.
As noodles are always in the form of long strings, they are symbolic of longevity and therefore indispensable at Chinese birthday dinner parties. As noodles are smooth to eat, they are symbolic of good wishes for people when they depart, and wish is often symbolized by smoothness of noodles: people wish everything would go smoothly with friends.
Several Chinese snacks have been known in English as ¡°dumplings¡±. Of these, jiaozi is taken by the northern Chinese as a symbol of festivity and served as the main dish for the Spring Festival or traditional New Year's Day.
The annuals of a northern country have this record from the early Qing Dynasty: ¡°On New Year's Day the family share a sumptuous at which various types of dumplings are served. They are called jiaozi because they are eaten at time when the New Year is ushered in and the old sent off¡±. In the vast areas of North China , especially in the countryside, jiao zi not only eaten at the New Year but served on ordinary days when there are guests for dinner. In provincial towns and market villages, many eating-places specialize in this dish.
Jiaozi dumplings are made of a paste wrapper with seasoned mincemeat as the filling. They are usually in the shape of a crescent moon. Cooked in boiling water for a few minutes, they become ¡°boiled dumpling¡± and are ready to serve. If steamed under cover, they are called ¡° steamed dumpling¡±.
A great range of good may be used as the principal material for jiaozi fill: minced pork, mutton or beef, minced prawn or shrimp, vegetables and dried mushrooms. The usual seasonings are soya sauce, salt, sugar, minced scallion and ginger root, peanut and sesame oils. Dumplings are particularly tasty because in the process of boiling or steaming the steam generated inside the wrapper does not escape, keeping the flavor inside and the fillings tender.
From a Tang Dyansty (618 -907 A .D.) tomb excavated in 1968 in Xinjiang, a wooden bowl was unearthed, containing a number of dumplings which look exactly the same as today's jiaozi. This testifies that dumplings had been introduced to the northwestern region of ethnic minorities by the Tang Dynasty a the latest.
Another type of Chinese dumplings is called huntun (or wontons). It is made in a similar way as jiaozi, but the wrappers is thinner and contains less filling, folded in such a way that is leaves a loose flap.
Huntun is always boiled and served about a dozen in a bowl of instant soup seasoned by sesame oil, soya sauce, a pinch or shredded parsley or some other dried vegetable.
Huntun is popular not only in the north but also in many southern parts of China . It was customary in old Beijing for people to eat huntun at the winter solstice.
The origin of huntun has remained obscurer. A Song Dynast (960-1279) wok suggested: ¡°it is called huntun because it was first made by the Hun and Tun clans of the northern parts outside of the Great Wall¡±. There are, however, others who would not endorse this opinion.
Deep-fried Dough Sticks and Dough cakes
These are popular snacks which the Chinese like for breakfast, with the southerners preferring the sticks and the northerners the cakes.
Their preparation is rather simple. A suitable amount of soda, salt and alum is mixed with water and flour to make dough, which is left to ferment for about half and hour. The dough is then cut into finger-sized lengths. Every two pieces are picked up together, stretched with the bands into 20-cm sticks and, by the same movement, twisted around each other. The twisted sticks, when deep-fried in boiling oil, swell in to the finished snack.
The cakes are cooked in a similar way except that the dough is not cut into long pieces but into cubes, which are pinrolled into thin cakes before deep-frying.
The deep-fried dough cake dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), earlier than the twisted sticks, which made their first appearance in the region of today's Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The following legend tells about their origin. In 1142, Yuefei, the famous national hero, was framed up by the traitorous Prime Minister Qin Hui, and executed at Fengbo Pavilion. The people in nearby eating house were making fried rice balls when they heard the sad news. In their indignation they picked up some dough, shaped it into figures representing Qin Hui and his wife and, twisting the two together, fried them in deep oil to give vent to their anger. Thus stared the deep-fried sticks, which have become a highly popular snack.
Not everybody knows its origin, though some still call it ¡°youzha gui¡± (oil-fried Gui, a variant of Hui).
Steamed Cron Bread
Wotou is a form of staple food in many northern regions of China . Made of corn flour, it is in the shape of a cone hollow from the base, rather like an inverted wo (bird's nest), hence its name.
It used to be the cheap coarse food for the poor, but kind of miniature wotou is served by Fangshan (imitation royal kitchen) Restaurant in Beijing as a specialty of the imperial cuisine. This may seem hard to understand but it is explained by the following anecdote.
When China was invaded by the troops of the eight imperialist powers in 1900, Empress Dowager Cixi fled Beijing with Emperor Guangxu for Xi'an . On the way, Cixi was offered a piece of corn bread which, in her hunger, she eat with great relish. Back in Beijing amidst the luxuries of the palace, she told the imperial kitchen to make wotou for her which she had found so tasty. The chef dared not contradict her but used the best and most refined corn flour he could find and mixed in it chestnut butter, sugar and sweetened osmanthus flowers. With these ingredients he made dainty pieces of wotou which he steamed under cover over a strong fire. The resultant wotou looked golden and tasted good. It became one of the delicacies on the imperia meun.
Pyramid-shaped Glutinous Rice Dumpling
Pyramid-shaped dumplings made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves are a traditional Chinese food for the Dragon Boat Festival which falls on the 5 th of the 5 th lunar month. The festival, popular among the Han People by tradition, was first established during the Warring State Period (475¡ª221 B.C.) in memory of Qu Yuan, a celebrated poet who was a high official of the state of Chu. A passionate reformist, he courted the wrath of conservatives, who talked the King of Chu into sending him into exile. Dismayed by his failure to salvage his country, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Guluo River on the 5 th of the 5 th lunar moth in 278 B.C. His fellow country men made it a point t honor the memory of this great patriotic poet by sailing dragon boats down the Guluo River and throwing pyramid-shaped rice dumplings into the water to feed his sould.
Such is the origin of the Chinese traditions of holding dragon boat races and eating pyramid-shaped rice dumplings on the 5 th of the 5 th lunar month.
Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding
The eight-treasure Rice Pudding is made from glutinous rice supplemented with red jujubes, lotus seeds, lily, seeds of Job's tears, gingko, dried longan pulp, and finely cut green and red plums. These in gradients may also be substituted with walnut meat, haw jelly, raisin, peanut and cherry. The Eight-treasure Rice Pudding is used as a banquet course for its pleasant color, fragrance, taste and shape. In some places, brown sugar is melted with burning liquor and as the icing for the Eight-treasure Rice Pudding in some places.
This practice of burning liquor to melt brown sugar originated in the story of the eight scholars recruited by King Wen of the Western Zhou of the Shang Dynasty. These scholars, who included Bo Da, Bo Shi, Zhong Tu, Shu Ye, and Shu Xia, indeed played a positive role in toppling the Shang Dynasty. When the triumph over King Zhou was celebrated in the Zhou capital city of Hao , the chefs of the imperial kitchen concocted a kind of putting made from eight treasured ingredients, and topped it with fiery-colored haw juice to symbolize the ¡°eight Zhou scholars burning King Zhou of Shang to death¡±. The Eight-treasure Rice Pudding thus came down through the generations as a favored course of the Chinese banquet.
According to Chinese tradition, the Eight-treasure Rice Pudding is served and eaten on the 7 th of the 1 st lunar month to mark the end of Spring Festival and the beginning of New Year.
Yuanxiao is a special dumpling is China for the Lantern Festival (the 15 th night of the 1 st lunar month). It is a ¡°ball¡± made of glutinous rice flour.
Yuanxiao, it is said, made its debut in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 -420 A .D.) and became popular during the Tang and Song Period (7 th to 13 th century), but not under its present name. The Notes of the Year in Hubei , a book by a 10 the century scholar., mentioned ¡°bean-paste-filled cakes¡± which were made on the 15 th day of the 1 st lunar month and, in another context, ¡°floating cakes in thin gruel prepared at the middle of the first moon¡±.
As the 15 th night of the New Year was later called ¡°Shangyuan¡± and the ¡°yuanxiao¡± festival, so the dumplings cames to be known by the name of the festival.
Yuanxiao dumplings fall into two categories. One is those without fillings. A suitable amount of water is mixed into glutinous rice flour to make dough which is then shaped by hand into small ¡°solid balls¡±. The balls or dumplings are boiled in sweetened water and, when cooked, are served in bowls. They can also be boiled in plain water and then sprinkled with sugar in the serving bowl. A third way of preparation is to cook them with dried longan pulp, candied dates or jujubes and similar ingredients to make a kind of porridges of assorted balls. Sweetened with sugar and osmanthus flowers it makes an excellent dessert.
Another category of dumplings is those with filings, which may be either sweet or salty I taste. For the sweet variety, the filling may be sugar, walnut meat, sesame, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean or jujube paste, used a alone or in combination. The salty variety can be filled with mincemeat, certain vegetables or a mixture minced and well mixed with flavorsome seasonings.
The way to make stuffed dumplings also varies between the north and the south. The usual method followed in southern provinces is to shape the dough of rice flour into balls, make a hole in each and insert the filling inside, close the hole and smooth out the surface by rolling the ball between the hands. In the north, where sweet and non-meat stuffing is normally used, people pressed the fillings into hardened cores dip them slightly in water and roll them in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of the flour will be stuck on the fillings, which are dipped again in water and rolled again in the rice flour. And so it goes on snowballing until the dumplings grow to the desired size.
Yuanxiao dumplings must be boiled in the right away. First bring a pot of water to a boil on strong fire. Drop in the dumplings gently and, when they float up on the water a few minutes later, keep them in the pot for a few more minutes to make the inside well cooked. But at this stage the fire must be reduce, for dumplings boiled in rolling water may burst open. To make sure that this does not happen, some cold water may be added little by little into the pot to keep the water simmering instead of boiling.
New Year Cake
At the Spring Festival, namely, the Chinese traditional New Year, most Chinese families will eat the New Year Cake (niangao), which is made of glutinous rice or millet flour and garnished with various auxiliary materials such as bean or jujube paste, assorted fruits, assorted preserves and so on. The cake is divided into two categories, the yellow one and the white one, representing respectively gold and silver. It used to be the belief that to eat niaogao at New Year would bring good luch.
New Year cakes may be cooked by steaming or frying and are served in either case with sugar sprinkled on. Down in the south there is another way of preparation, that is, to soak a kind of plain, ungarnished cake in water and then cut it into slices, stir-fried in a cooking pot with oil and salt mixed often with spinach or other greens.
Toffee fruits on sticks are popular in the northern parts of China .
They are made of various kinds of small fruits¡ªhaws, crabapples, water chestnuts, grapes or yam. First the fruits are trimmed and cleaned, they are then stringed one after another on a slender bamboo stick and coated in a bath of rock-sugar syrup. As soon as the toffee hardens, the tanghulu is ready. A tanghulu is generally made of six or seven of such fruits or, in the case of yam, one length of 5 or 6 inches. With the crisp sugar coating, it look bright and inviting, and it generally tastes sweet and sourish.
Toffee fruits on sticks appear on the street corners in autumn and winter, sold by hawkers, they are welcomed and enjoyed both old and young.
The chafing dish is a favorite with the northern Chinese, especially in winter. The main ingredient for this dish is usually mutton; however, beef, fish or prawn ay also be used. It is eaten with vermicelli, fresh vegetables and sometimes dumplings.
The Chinese food hot pot is different from the Western chafing dish in that its soup container is built around (instead of over) its belly-like heater. It is usually made of copper or brass, but may also be available in aluminium and burnt clay. It is called ¡°Mongolian pot¡± by some Westerns perhaps because of its association with mutton from Inner Mongolia .
The preparation of the chafing dish is simple: first, water (preferably boiling water) is poured into the container and then burning charcoal is filled into the heater from the top of the small chimney. When the water is brought to the boil again, the meat or fish slices may be put in, little by little, by the diners themselves. After a while they may be taken out with chopsticks and, before eating, dipped in a sauce prepared in advance.
The meat for this dish must be from the tenderest parts of the animal. Take mutton, the commonly used meat, for example. From a sheep of over twenty kilograms, only six to seven kilograms are fit to be eaten this way. Each kilogram is cut into at least 120 slices. They must be paper-thin in order to be cooked instantly in the boiling water and remain tender when taken out.
Along with the mutton slices, fresh vegetable and vermicelli are put into the pot, to be boiled and eaten. The dumplings, if any, usually come last.
The sauce in which the cooked slices are dipped is very important. It is a mixture of: sesame paste, sesame oil, shrimp sauce, soya sauce, chive flower sauce. And sweetened sloves of garlic may be eaten for added relish.
¡°Cross-bridge¡± Rice Noodle
This is a special dish from Yunnan Province , a snack with rice noodles as its principal substance. It consists of: a bowl of pre-cooked plain rice noodle, a big bowl of rich and piping hot chicken (or meat) broth, a plate of assorted paper-thin slices of raw pork, liver and chicken with fresh vegetables. When these are served, all the diner has to do is to put this slices, vegetables and noodles, in that order, into the big bowl and the result will be a very tasty dish of ¡°noodles in soup.¡± But why the unusual name of ¡°cross-bridge¡± noodles.
Legend has it that a scholar in the old days was jailed on an island in the middle of a lake and his wife had to cross a long bridge to bring him his meals. The food invariably became cold when she arrived at the prison. As greasy chicken broth does not get cold easily, she hit upon a solution of the problem by bringing this dish ¡°cross-bridge¡± rice noodles.
Cake Particles in Mutton Soup
Soaking cake particles in mutton of beef soup first appeared in the pastureland in northwest China . Today it has become a special snack of Xi'an . Chunks of mutton or beef are washed and sliced into pieces and boiled with scallion, ginger, wild pepper, star aniseseen, cumin and cinnamon. Baked wheaten cakes are then torn with hand into particles the sizes of soybeans and place in bowl. Mutton slices are then added to the born cake before mutton soup is ladled into the bowl. The serving is thus ready with the addition of minced scallion, sliced cabbage, rice wine, bean noodles and salt. Diners may drink the soup while eating the cake particles, or allow the soup to be completely absorbed by the cake so that when the cake has been eaten the bowl becomes empty. A third method is to place the cake and meat in the centre of a bowl and inundate the mixture with soup. Some customers like to have this snack together with chilli paste and sweetened garlic.
The Chinese moon cake is for the Mid-Autumn Festival and is so called because it is made in the form of a disc representing the full moon of the festival.
The cake consists of a crust and stuffing. The crust is made in varying ways and with varying degrees of crispness, but the usual main ingredients are wheat flour, oil or fat, sugar and maltose. Part of the flour is mixed with water to make dough, and the rest is kneaded with fat. Arranged in alternate layers the flour becomes the crust after baking. A wide variety of materials may be used and almond. The usual flavorings are osmanthus flowers, rose petals and other natural essences.
Moon cakes are normally called by the fillings they contain---assorted fruits, five nuts, rose, ham, jujube paste, pepper and salt, and so on. The stuffing may be either sweet or salty or mixed in taste. There are literally a thousand and one kinds of moon cakes made in difference regions of China , but it is generally agreed that the best moon cakes are produced by three schools --- Jiangsu , Guangdong and Beijing .
Spring rolls are great favorite with the Chinese. They are also very much appreciated abroad. At receptions given by Chinese embassies or consulates, spring rolls often prove to be a gastronomic delight to the guests. It is not without reason that they are served by Chinese restaurants abroad. In China , their appearance on the dining table with their inviting brown color has rarely failed to make foreign tongues click in admiration.
The principal ingredient for the filing in spring rolls is usually bean sprouts, which are mixed with shredded pork, dried mushroom, plumped and shredded vermicelli, shredded bamboo shoots and the necessary seasonings. The fillings are deep-fried in oil and served hotel when the wrappers are still crisp.
Bean Curd (doufu)
Bean curd may be justifiably called a great invention in old China . An ancient work on medicinal herbs mentioned bean curd in these words: ¡°The method of making doufu dates back to Liu an, the Prince of Huainan. It is made of soya beans, either the black or the yellow variety.¡± Legend has it that the prince of Liu Bang, in his search for a panacea to help him achieve immortality, experimented with soya beans and bittern and, through the chemical reaction, stumbled on the earliest bean curd. That was more than 2,100 years ago.
An analysis of 100 grams of bean curd shows that it contains water (85 grams), protein (7.4 grams), fat (3.5 grams), calcium (277 mg), phosphorus (57 mg) and iron (2.1 mg). As a food of high nutritive value, it has met with widespread acclaim.
The Beijing roast duck is a dish well-known among gastronomes the world over. To cook ducks by direct head dates back at least 1,500 years to the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, when ¡° broiled duck¡± was mentioned in writing. About eight hundred years later, Hu Sihui, imperia dietician to a Mongol of the Yuan Dynasty, listed in his work Essentials of Diet the grilled duck as a banquet delicacy. It was made by heating the duck stuffed with a mince of sheep's tripe, parsley, scallion, and salt on a charcoal fire.
Today the Beijing roast duck (or Peking duck) is made of a sepia variety of duck fattened by forced feeding in the suburbs of Beijing . After the duck is drawn and cleaned , air is pumped under the skin to separate it more or less from the flesh. And a mixture of oil, sauce and molasses is coated all over it. Thus, when dried and roasted, the duck will look brilliantly red as if painted. Perhaps that is why it is known among some Westerns as the canard lacquer or ¡° lacquered duck¡±.
¡°Buddha Jumping over the Wall¡±
This is a well-known dish of Fuzhou . It is made of an assortment of materials: shark fin, shark lip, fish maw, abalone, squid, sea cucumber, chicken breast, duck chop, port tripe, pork leg, minced ham, mutton elbow, dried scallop, winter bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and so on. These are seasoned and steamed separately and then put into a small-mouthed clay jar together with cooking wine and a dozen or so boiled pigeon eggs. The jar is covered and put on intense fire first and then on simmering fire for some time. Four or five ounces of a local liquor is added into the jar, which is kept simmering for another five minutes. Then the dish is ready.
The origin of the dish is explained by a local story. A Fuzhou scholar of the Qing Dynasty went picnicking with friends in the suburbs and be put all the ham, chicken, etc. He had with him in a wine jar which he heated over charcoal fire before eating. The attractive smell of the food spread in the air all the way to a nearby temple. It was so inviting that the monks, who were supposed to be vegetarians, jumped over the temple wall and partook heartily of the scholar's picnic. One of the party's participants wrote a poem in praise of the dish, of which a line reads: Even Buddha himself would jump over the wall to com over¡±. Hence the name of the dish, ¡°Buddha Jumping over the Wall''.