Jason's Bistro

Cuisine Chinese
Description Chinese home cooking is not fried meats drowned in syrupy fruit sauce and random mishmash of vegetables that is commonly purveyed in bad Chinese restaurants around the United States.

A cuisine with tremendous regional variation, the common principles of Chinese cuisine involve ways to extract the most flavor possible out of the presented foods, often by using very hot oil to reduce the amount of water in the food and concentrate the flavor. Another important principle is balance (serving bland foods such as rice or noodles to complement stronger tasting dishes).

Vegetarian Appeal The sheer flexibility of the stir-frying method lends itself to thousands of interesting vegetarian possibilities. Many other classics, included dumplings, stuffed buns, and even soups can be reincarnated as vegetarian treats.

Meat and seafood are pervasive in most regions, but are usually used in small quantities except among more affluent people.

Basic Ingredients Your pantry should feature:
  1. Soy sauce (Chinese or Japanese)
  2. Chinese rice wine, sherry, or sake 
  3. Fermented black beans or prepared garlic black bean sauce.
  4. Tou ban jan (a chili sauce made with soybeans).
  5. Roasted sesame oil.
  6. Vegetarian soup stock or instant vegetable bouillon.
  7. A long-grain or medium grain rice.

Other frequently used ingredients include:

  1. Leafy vegetables. Green cabbage, Napa cabbage, yu tsai, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), bok choy, choy sum.
  2. Mushrooms. Shiitake, wood ear mushrooms (kikurage in Japanese), straw mushrooms (hard to find fresh), or any American/European mushrooms such as chanterelles, morels, crimini, and so on.
  3. Strong-tasting vegetables. Onions, garlic, ginger, spring onions, shallots, leeks.
  4. Crunchy stuff. Snow peas, mung bean sprouts, carrots.
  5. Pickled vegetables. Sichuan Ja Tsai pickles, snow pickles, and others can be used to add flavor to stir fried dishes and are good accompaniments to soup.

I frequently cook with tofu. If you're living in a small town, you may find that the tofu isn't restocked as frequently as it should be. The top of the container should never be convex--it indicates that the tofu has gotten old and probably a little sour.

Unusual ingredients Many Chinese vegetables are hard to find in the US, and some are only available in metropolitan areas. However, Chinese cuisine can easily adapt to locally-available ingredients as long as you have the essential things in your pantry.
A Typical Meal China has dramatic regional variations in its cuisine. Northern regions use wheat more frequently than other parts of the country. Chinese cuisine also morphs to take advantage of local ingredients in countries to which large numbers of Chinese have emigrated, such as Malaysia, Thailand, and so on.

Breakfast can be a rice porridge served with pickles or, sometimes, Chinese red dates. Breakfast is usually savory rather than sweet.

Lunch is frequently a generous bowl of noodle soup with pickled vegetables and other condiments to accompany. In the North, you might choose from a number of steamed buns with myriad fillings.

Dinner would usually feature plenty of steamed rice, some kind of soup, and generally at least two stir-fried dishes.

A Jagaimo.com Feature

© 2000 Jason Truesdell.
All Rights Reserved.

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