Varying Shades of Chinese Cuisine
NEW YORK—There are over 100 cooking techniques for Chinese food. Stir-fried and steamed are well-known, but what about dry-cooked, soft-fried, braised, and pickled?
Many have no equivalent names in English and bear no resemblance to Western culinary techniques.
Each region has specific cooking techniques derived from its unique history and geography.
Szechuan cuisine is not just spicy Chinese food.
Szechuan Province, located in Southwest China, has over 40 cooking techniques and 24 basic flavors. Each flavor represents a different kind of spiciness.
The array of techniques and flavors are the result of an abundance of natural resources and historical migrations.
After emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China 2,000 years ago by conquering adjacent kingdoms, many people migrated to Szechuan, which helped form its rich cuisine.
Popular Szechuan techniques include oil-dipping, basting, and braising. Food is often cooked with spices such as garlic, hot pepper, and peppercorns.
Chefs of Sichuan cuisine use peppercorns to add an exclusive touch of numbness. Although most spicy food leaves your mouth feeling thirsty and dry, Sichuan dishes leave a tingling sensation.
Oxen are particularly abundant in Szechuan Province and many dishes in the region use beef as a main ingredient.
A delightfully authentic Szechuan restaurant in the city is Grand Szechuan. It has a location on 21 W. 39th St. (between 5th and 6th ave); and another called Grand Szechuan Eastern on 1049 2nd Ave. (between 55th and 56th St.).
Shandong cuisine, also called Lu cuisine, is known for its seafood dishes as it is located on China’s eastern peninsula.
Shandong literally translates to “mountain east.” It’s the region where Mount Tai is located, which is famous from Taoist legends.
Shandong cuisine emphasizes knife precision over decoration, and mainly uses the techniques of “bao” and “ta.”
what do you mean my “knife” here?
Bao is a quick stir-fry. It’s a great way to preserve nutrients, as the food is not overcooked.
“Ta” is a special way of frying food, a cooking method unique to Shandong cuisine. Many Shandong dishes are spiced, starched, Ta-fried, then simmered in soup or sauce.
The taste is light and non-greasy. Ingredients are briefly stir-fried before a drop of creamy soup is added as an enhancer.
Authentic Shandong food is found in Flushing, Queens.
During the Qing Dynasty, chefs of Northeastern cuisine were invited to the palace to cook in the imperial kitchen, as the rulers of the dynasty were from the Manchurian area in the Northeast.
Northeastern cuisine has a strong focus on casseroles and marinated cooking techniques.
Dishes are tender but not rare.
The Northeast has lengthy, brisk winters and the food is often cooked in hot-pots to preserve warmth.
Cooking techniques also include stir-frying over flames and roasting.
A traditional Northeastern dish to look out for is the Quick Boiled Sour Cabbage with Pork—it’s a classic dish usually eaten in the winter. The sour cabbage is meticulously chopped into thin strips. The pork is boiled to a point when it can melt in one’s mouth.
There is an intricate balance between the taste of pork and the cabbage. A good northeastern chef can make a dish that is not too dry or watery.
One of the most important elements of the dish is how long it is boiled. The cooking technique for the dish is called “quick boil,” which requires the chef to have impeccable timing and nimble fingers.
Authentic Northeastern food is found in Flushing.
Cantonese cuisine comes from southern China. It is known for its steaming techniques, fresh ingredients, and a lighter flavor profile compared to other cuisines.
Cantonese cuisine’s most famous dishes is the dim sum, with its transparent skins and colorful fillings.
Chefs of Cantonese cuisine are known for their creativity. They adjust flavors of the dishes according to climate, seasonal changes, and time of day the dish is served.
Jeff Xu, a Cantonese contestant in the 2010 International Culinary Competition in New York, once said: “To cook Chinese food, one is required to have a solid grasp of nature and its changes. Only then will one know what materials are the best to pick for the time being.”
Most Cantonese soups have a preparation time as long as 5 to 6 hours. The papaya bone soup is a must try for ladies, as it is known to have great nutrients for skin.
A superb authentic Cantonese restaurant is Radiance Tea House & Books on 158 West 55th St., between 6th and 7th Ave.
Rule of thumb: Most Chinese restaurants in Manhattan Chinatown have Cantonese flavor profiles. Most northern style Chinese restaurants are in Flushing because they are newer immigrants.
Huaiyang cuisine is named after several major cities along the Yangtze River, which runs from the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau to Shanghai.
Due to the geographic location of the Huaiyang region, the cuisine combines the richness and savory quality of Northern dishes with the tenderness and mildness of Southern dishes.
A good place for Hui Yang food is the Tang Pavilion on 55th St. between 5th and 6th Ave. This is a Suzhou restaurant, which is basically Huiyang style. Not everything there is authentic Hui Yang, but many dishes are.
Diana Zhang and Yi Yang contributed to this report