Chinese cuisine, a culture discovery

This is a short introduction about Chinese cuisine and what you should expect when you travel to China. Food and beverages are strongly linked to social behavior, and it is always recommended to know a little bit of what to expect when you land in a new country, more if it is China.

My travels always were focused on learning more about people, about their cultures and beliefs. To understand something or someone who is foreigner, it is important to go where this people live, learn the history, live the weather and geography, see how they live, consume, what they wear, listen, read and eat!
Food and beverages are an important point to understand a culture, and while you eat their food, you also virtually swallow their culture, their history, their climate and their art!

China is fascinating. It is a country of contrasts: Communism and Capitalism, modern and traditional, poor and rich, sweet and sour, spicy and soft textures, etc...
During the whole 18 days I spent there, I kept this strange feeling with me; I did not know who was discovering the other: is the Chinese discovering the white occidental or the white occidental is discovering the Chinese? Anyway there is undoubtedly a common attraction!

One of the goal of my trip was to identify the Chinese cuisine and gastronomy.
A millennium culture famous for some of the biggest invention of the world as paper, gunpowder, or compass, with emperors who settled the values of harmony or the beauty contemplation should also have an amazing and refined cuisine. 
In addition,  with such an expanded country, the gastronomy must vary a lot from North to South and will tell me more about culture and climate. My journey started in Beijing 18 days ago and ended in Hong Kong.

First of all, I want to explain a little bit some general points that are good to know when you travel to China (food wise).
Chinese eat very differently as we do! The use of chopsticks is perhaps the most obvious! All touristic places will also propose you forks, spoons and knives, but I would recommend you to learn how to use chopsticks before going!

Be careful, to never plant your chopsticks right in your rice bowls! It is non respectful. It remains the incense sticks burned during funerals, so it is not a very nice sign to show on a table. Never point your guests with the chopsticks neither.

What I did discover the first day is that Chinese people do not eat at special time but when they are hungry throughout the day. You will find then plenty of street stalls and tiny restaurants where you can buy some food to take away. I did try all kind of food in the street and never get sick, but always follow the safe rules: no raw food, no tap water! The Chinese cuisine is usually well cooked, so you should not have any problem!

At the restaurant, you will be seated at a round table with a moving round tray in the middle where everyone will be able to pick and choose the food from the different dishes. 
You will order a series of dishes that will be served all together at the same time. Usually, you have some cold appetizers, and then different meat or fish, vegetables and finally, we will serve you some soup, noodles and rice. The steamed or fried rice will always come at the end of the meal. This is the tradition and a mark of respect for the guests. Traditionally it was not well seen to serve rice to your guests at the beginning, because it may mean that you want to fill them up with rice, and do not have enough food to offer. So do not expect to see rice before the end,...

The most used way to cook, I found on my way was fried, steamed, stewed, grilled and roasted.

Don´t expect to have desserts at the end of the meal. Chinese do not have a sweet tooth and menu never include desserts. The only place where you will find cakes and sweets is in Hong Kong, actually quite famous for the sponge cakes!

Although, a lot of dishes includes in their preparation a little bit of sugar. Chinese people master the art of mixing and balancing the flavors and use quite a lot of sugar in dishes where we don't!
The point is to balance the five flavors (sweet - sour - bitter - spicy - salty) with the five elements (metal - wood - water - fire - earth)! This is another inheritance from the emperors and scholars times.

One of my most amazing experience in Beijing was to try the Peking Duck. Sliced in front of you, a small part of the skin, is served a part and has to be eaten with a little bit of sugar! The complex taste of the fat and sweet of the skin and crispy texture was just amazing! 

No forks, no knives, no bread, no wine,... during the meal, Chinese usually drink tea! You can find wines,... European wines are extremely expensive, the Chinese production not really recommendable yet,... There is a huge range of teas that will go perfectly with meals! Alcohols are served after dinner,... Again, the etiquette is really important when you want to drink with guests. Never help yourself, but first serve your guests.

Once you get these couple of tips, you can start to enjoy China!
(to be continued...)

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