“Have you eaten already?” is a popular greeting among the Chinese. Although it may sound awkward to westerners, when you meet local Chinese, it is one of the unavoidable first greetings. You might think, “Why do you ask me if I have eaten or not?” Perhaps you are wondering if Chinese people want to treat you for a dinner. Well, this sentence is just a polite way to start a conversation – the same thing as saying, “Hi or Hello” in English.

China is a country that pays great attention to courtesy, and the Chinese food culture is deeply rooted in its history. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) said, “The path to your friend’s heart and soul begins from your cooking.” Even now in modern days, dining is still a major “marketing event” to Chinese families, as it is a time when all the family members get together, share feelings and exchange information. Since meals are an important part of life in China, many important business deals are also done at the dinner table.   

Difference between Chinese & Western food

Cuisine in China is a harmonious integration of color, taste and presentation. The Chinese believe the following characteristics outline the basic differences between Chinese and Western food:

·         Several dishes in a meal

·         Diverse and sophisticated

·         Nutritionally balanced

·         Healthy and tasteful

How to cook

Cooking Chinese food is not difficult. The two most important tools in Chinese cooking are a hot stove and a sharp knife. Following the basic cooking rules below, you can master Chinese cooking and surprise your friends.

·         Balance the meat and vegetables in a dish, so that there are an interesting variety of flavors, textures, and colors.

·         Drain tofu before using, so it can absorb the other flavors in the dish.

·         Cut the meat into uniform pieces so that it will cook more evenly.

·         When adding oil for stir-frying, drizzle the oil down sides of the wok.

·         When deep-frying, determine if the oil is hot enough by simply putting a chopstick in the wok. When the oil sizzles around it, you can begin adding the food.

·         When a recipe says to add soya sauce, always use light soy sauce, not the dark one. Dark soya sauce is usually for cooking meat.

·         If preparing stir-fried meat and vegetables, stir-fry the meat first and set it aside. Normally, you will return it to the wok with a sauce during the final stages of cooking.

·         When stir-frying vegetables, cook the toughest and thickest vegetables for a longer period than the softer, leafy vegetables.

·         Always use fresh ginger, not powdered.

·         Use sugar as a substitute for MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).

Start with Fried Rice

Whenever I travel to visit friends, the simplest dish to prepare is Fried Rice – a dish that is always well appreciated. You can’t go wrong with the recipe and everyone can make it work! The following is a basic recipe for fried rice that you can alter to suit your taste.

Ingredients:

1 – 2 green onions, as desired

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

4 tablespoons oil for stir-frying, or as needed

4 cups cold cooked rice, or you can reduce the amount as needed

1 – 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or oyster sauce, as desired

Preparation:

Wash and chop the green onion. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.

Heat a wok or frying pan and add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggs. Cook the eggs by stirring until they are lightly scrambled, but not too dry. Remove the eggs and clean out the pan.

Add 2 tablespoons oil. Add the rice. Stir-fry for a few minutes, using chopsticks or a wooden spoon to break it apart. Stir in the soy sauce or oyster sauce as desired.

When the rice is heated through, add the scrambled egg back into the pan. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the green onion. Serve hot.

Tips:

If you like, feel free to add different vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Remember to cut them into small bite-sized pieces, stir-frying the vegetables first, and setting aside for later mixing.

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