中国八大菜系 The 8 Great Regional Cuisines of China
- Sichuan and Hunan cuisines: hot & spicy
- Anhui and Fujian cuisines: includes wild foods from their mountainous regions
- Guangdong (Cantonese), Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu: great seafood, and generally sweet and light flavors.
- Shandong Cuisine: fresh and salty with a lot of seafood dishes.
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兵马俑 Terracotta Statues
The Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor and its Terracotta Army was built in 210-209 BCE by the first Emperor of China to serve and protect him in his afterlife. Although there are thousands of these life-size clay soldiers, each of them has unique facial expressions and are placed according to their rank in formations that are in strict accordance with the ancient Art of War directives. These soldiers are accurate representations of the army that triumphed over all other Chinese armies during the Warring States Period and united the Kingdom of China over 2,000 years ago.
明式家具 Ming Dynasty Furnishings
Following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty came to power for 276 years (1368-1644). It was an era of social progress, economic prosperity and political stability. Representing the zenith of Chinese furniture, Ming furniture is treasured for its precious wood, comfortable design, simple decoration and superb craftsmanship. Ming Dynasty scholars differentiated from their counterparts in previous dynasties not by bizarre dress, but by their novel interest in furniture design, which helped it throw off rigidity and develop cultural meaning. The scholars' aesthetics helped Ming furniture follow an elegant and natural taste. The scholars grasped the essence of "less is more."
Cupboards for books and antiques varied in size and style. A table for a qin, a seven-stringed plucked instrument, had a crystal cover with a tin pool under it. In this tin pool, fish swam in floating grass as though they were a dance band. Even a bed was not just for sleeping. An adjustable bed made of cane should be light enough to be moved around. A backrest was a must so a scholar could either read books or enjoy the beautiful scenery among trees and flowers. A bed made of wood and bamboo from Hunan was for naps so the scholar could visit Dongting Lake in his dream!
Dumplings, originally known as "Jiao Er" (literally means tender or frail ears), were invented by a doctor named Zhongjing Zhang. According to legend, Zhongjing Zhang was appointed as the prefect of Changsha and often provided medical services to the people. One year, during the spread of a plague, he built a large pot to distribute the cure to the sick and won the hearts of the people. Zhongjing Zhang returned home after retiring from Changsha during the winter solstice and witnessed a horrendous sight of poor people enduring cold and hunger with severely frostbitten ears by the shore of the river. Frostbite was common in the winter season and many have died from its conditions. His heart was heavy with the image of their suffering and he was determined to them. Although he was extremely occupied with the large volume of people visiting him for medical attention, his thoughts often drifted back to those unfortunate people by the lake shore. Building on his old idea from Changsha, he called in his disciples to build a medical tent and cauldron in a clearing of the Dong Guan district to provide medicine and treatment to the poor.
Zhongjing Zhang's medicine was called the "Qu Han Jiao Er Tang" (cold dispelling frail ear soup), is also the epitome of the 300 year Han Dynasty's clinical practice. Mutton, spicy peppers and some cold dispelling medicine are boiled together in the large cauldron, and then diced before wrapping them up into the shape of an ear with dough skins. These are then boiled again before distributing them to the patients. Each patient would receive two Jiao Er and a bowl of soup. This helped keep their bodies and ears warm and increase blood circulation. The people ate this from the day of the winter solstice to the Chinese New Year and was cured of typhoid fever and frostbite.
Zhongjing Zhang served his medicine until Chinese New Year's eve but on New Year's day, the people made copies of the shape of his Jiao Er without the medicine to celebrate both the new year and their recovery from frostbite. The people named these the "Jiao Er", "Jiao Zi" or "Bian Shi" and ate them during the Chinese New Year and the Winter Solstice to commemorate the deeds of Zhongjing Zhang.
Zhongjing Zhang died over 1,800 ago, but his story, the "Qu Han Jiao Er Tang", and his kindness is widely circulated in Chinese folklore and deeply engraved in the Chinese culture. Today, we do not need Zhongjing Zhang's Jiao Er to help keep our ears warm, but it has become a favorite and irreplaceable food among the Chinese.
烤全羊 Roasted Whole Lamb
Roasted whole lamb originated from the nomads of northwestern China and is the epitome of Mongolian cuisine. According to legend, thousands of years ago, the Ordos people living in the Hetao region of Inner Mongolia started fires to roast their hunted preys whole, a culinary method specific to these people, that eventually became part of their nomadic lifestyle that continues even to this day.
Known in Mongolia as "Zhao Mu", it is also Genghis Khan's favorite dish and the center piece of the Yuan Dynasty's Royal Banquet- the "Zha Ma" Feast. Traditionally, it was used by Genghis Khan to welcome his distinguished guests or to reward his generals for their victories and a luxury reserved for the nobles and elites of Inner Mongolia to celebrate festivals and events.
烤鸭 Roasted Duck
The roasted duck was created as early as AD 400 during the southern and northern Dynasties of China. Records from the Song Dynasty show that roasted duck was a famous city food in Lin'an (Hangzhou).
Later, after the successful siege of Lin'an by the Yuan Dynasty, professionals from all trades were forced to move to "Dadu" (Peking), and thus the duck roasting skills also reached Peking. Soon thereafter, roasted duck became one of the treasures of the Yuan Dynasty Palace cuisine. As the Dynasty shifted in power and subsequent Dynasties arrives, roasted duck was a court favorite of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Roasted duck was an irreplaceable dish in the palace during the Lantern Festival of the Ming Dynasty and is said to be Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Qian Long's favorite dish.
It was then officially named the "Beijing Roasted Duck" or the Peking Duck and, along with socioeconomic progress, gradually moved from the palace to the common peoples.
麻婆豆腐 Mapo Tofu
Mapo Tofu is one of the richest local flavor dishes in China and has become the international symbol of Sichuan cuisine. With a history of over 100 years, this dish is a handed down recipe of the "Chen's Mapo Tofu Shop" in Chengdu city. The shop is also a must visit for all Sichuan food lovers and connoisseurs visiting the area. Mapo Tofu was invented in the later years of the Qing Dynasty by Mrs. Liu, the wife of Chen Sen Fu (or some call him Chen Fu Chun), a small restaurant owner under the Beijiao Wanfu bridge in Chengdu.
Liu's face was full of freckles and spots and therefore, she got the name "Chen Ma Po" (which literally means freckled or spotted wife). After creating the Mapo Tofu recipe, their little restaurant's name was also changed to Chen Mapo Tofu Shop.
The primary cooking method is braise and the delicate white tofu is dotted with brown-red ground beef and bright green garlic sprouts in a red spicy chili oil. The unique flavor is a combination of hot, spicy, tender, crisp, sweet and umami.
宫保鸡丁 Kung Pao Chicken
Invented during the Qing Dynasty by the governor of Sichuan, Baozhen Ding, while he was working in Shandong province. With some knowledge in the culinary arts, he loved chicken and peanuts and was particularly fond of spicy food. While working for the government in Shandong province, he ordered the kitchen to modify the famous "Jiang Bao Ji Ding" (Jiangbao Chicken) from the Shandong cuisine to make it spicy. Originally a homemade dish of Baozhen Ding, it later became known as the famous Kung Pao Chicken. Later during his office as the governor of Sichuan, his wok fried delicacy of chicken , peanuts and red hot chili peppers became widely circulated.
The so-called "Kung Bao", is in fact derived from the honorary titles of Baozhen Ding during his 10 year time in office. In recognition of his achievements, the Qing government bestowed him the title "Prince Tai Bao" posthumously; therefore, the name of his dish became "Kung Bao".
水煮鱼 Sichuan Poached Fish
"Poached Fish" originated in the Yubei region of Chongqing city in Sichuan, China. With a background in the Sichuan culinary arts, the chef who invented this dish took part in a cooking competition in 1983 and won the grand prize. Although he used a more traditional cooking method in the competition, it is based on the old dish the "Poached Meat" and is still very similar to the "Poached Fish" culinary methods that we are using today.