INTRODUCTION Chinese cooking as we know it today has evolved from the distinctive regional styles of the provinces. A century ago, when the means of preserving and transporting foods were inadequate for a regional exchange of ingredients, the style of cooking was restricted to its place of origin. Therefore, each regional style developed according to its geographic conditions, climate, available ingredients and local customs.
It wasn’t until the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD) that regional cooking styles began to merge into a national cuisine. Encouraged by the dynasty rulers, methods of growing, preserving, storing and distributing food progressed rapidly. Food and eating became an extension of the Chinese philosophy and were intimately connected with other aspects of Chinese Civilisation such as art and medicine, like Yin and Yang, complementary opposing forces, food and culture were distinct, yet inseparable elements of life in ancient Chinese society.
Northern-style cuisine embraces the geographical areas of China that lie north of the
The entire northern region is relatively dry and arid compared to the rest of China and this has severely limited the variety of ingredients available for cooking. Dusty, biting winds from Mongolia blow in the northernmost parts of the area, especially around Beijing, and the winters are long and cold.
The most distinctive features native to Northern cuisine, are the hardy staples, wheat and millet. Millet is perhaps the oldest of all foods in China, before both rice and wheat.
Steaming (zheng), baking (kao) and “explode frying” (bao) are the most popular cooking
methods used in the north. One reason for this is the scarcity of cooking fuel and bao is by far the fastest cooking method, requiring only 30-90 seconds. To cook bao style, oil is
heated in a wok until smoking, then all the ingredients are dropped into the deep oil, creating a sound like an explosion, locking in the original flavours.
The climate of the eastern/coastal region is the mildest in China, rainfall is abundant and the soil is fertile. The lower Yangtse River and its intricate network of small rivers, lakes and man-made canals dominate the region. These waterways provide water for irrigation, produce fresh water fish and molluscs and form extensive transportation networks for harvested foods.
Seafood and freshwater fish form the mainstay of the Eastern/coastal menu and fish recipes from this area are among the best in China. Abundant supplies of every type of vegetable are available as well, adding much colour and variety to the menu. Meat and poultry are also popular, the favourite choices being pork and chicken.
The Eastern/coastal region is one of the most diverse culinary areas of China. Fukien is
famous for its rich stews, soups and stocks, as well as congee. Kiangsu has developed the “red stew” to perfection using rock crystal sugar to achieve the light sweetness, shiny colours and smooth textures which characterize this type of dish. Elaborate kitchen preparations, especially very fine, even cutting, are part of the cooking style.
THE CENTRAL WEST
These Provinces are dominated by hot, humid weather. Hunan is a lush province of fertile soil, abundant rainfall and gentle topography where most ingredients for the Chinese kitchen thrive. Meat, fish and fowl play prominent roles on the Hunan menu and the entire spectrum of the vegetable kingdom is represented as well.
Szechuan or Sichuan, however, is a province of craggy mountains, abrupt, deep valleys and steep, jagged cliffs. The bulk of the province’s crops are grown in the broad plains surrounding the capital city of Chengtu. Szichuan cuisine offers less variety of cultivated ingredients than Hunan, but the mountain recesses provide a wide range of medicinal cooking herbs as well as wild game.
Red chillies of the bell pepper (capsicum) family are the king of ingredients in this region. Due to the pharmacological effects – they tend to dry out the body and thus balance excess dampness – chillies have been extremely popular in this intensely humid region ever since their introduction from the New World. The native fragrant pepper is also extensively used, as well as garlic, ginger and scallions. Fermented bean paste and chilli sauce feature too, giving the dishes a pungent style of their own.
The lush Hunan province produces plenty of meat, fish and fowl for its tables.
Southern Chinese cooking is the best known in the Western world. The culinary capital of this region, and indeed of China, is the city of Canton, which boasts more restaurants and culinary creations than any other Chinese city. Historically and geographically, the south has been China’s rice bowl, since rice thrives in the moist, warm climate and fertile conditions.
It’s location on the coast a gives access to abundant sources of fresh seafood from the
South China Sea.
Among the main ingredients that commonly appear on southern menus are fish and
crustaceans from the ocean and fish from freshwater ponds and paddies. Poultry is also
featured. From the vegetable kingdom comes an incredible variety of fresh vegetables; the green, leafy varieties with crispy textures are especially favoured. Cantonese food is further renowned for its great variety of snack foods, collectively called dim sum. Dim sum is usually eaten for lunch or as a mid-afternoon snack with pots of strong, fragrant tea.
The dishes include stuffed dumplings, delicate pastries, cakes, puddings and cold plates of roast meats and poultry. Southern-style cuisine is generally considered to be the most
highly developed form of Chinese cooking and is certainly the most diverse. Southern
flavours are the most natural, relying almost entirely on the fresh flavour of the main
In medieval France, both cooking and learning were nurtured within the confines of convents and monasteries. Gradually, literature and cooking emerged from the cloisters and French peasants, who had previously supped on a basic Celtic and Roman cuisine, eagerly adapted the food as it appeared and began to develop it. The geography of each region offered its own contribution in the way of available produce and gradually, over the-centuries, a regional cuisine developed.
French cooking as it is known today combines dishes that reflect the varied produce and
characteristics of each region. By discovering what each area has to offer, one can begin to understand the diversity and richness of one of the world’s most outstanding cuisines. Here some of the better known regions are outlined.
ILE-DE-FRANCE: The historical centre of France.
This region is irrigated by three rivers creating a fertile agricultural basin. Even though many of the old farms and market gardens have been replaced by factories and houses, the area still produces a varied selection of ingredients such as Chantilly cream, Brie cheese and mushrooms. The immediate vicinity of Paris provides the Parisians with their game.
However, the best known products of this region which have been copied throughout France are such pastries as Gateau, Pithiviers and Tarte Tatin. NORMANDY
Normandy’s Northwest coastline produces an abundance of seafood. Eel, sole, turbot,
herring and mackerel are caught daily, as are mussels, one of the area’s great specialities.
Freshwater fish are plentiful and the streams in the south provide trout, salmon, pike and crayfish.
Local pastures are rich grazing areas and the dairy industry makes the best butter and cream in France. Most of France’s Camembert is also produced here.
The salt marshes by the sea are used for grazing sheep and Normandy is renowned for the salt-flavoured lamb and mutton served in its homes and restaurants.
Normandy is the most important apple-growing region in France and cider replaces wine as the local drink and cooking aid. The cider is also distilled to make an apple brandy called Calvados.
The westernmost corner of France, Brittany is a rock-bound peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides. It has gained many of its ancient traditions and its inhabitants still Converse in an ancient Celtic dialect.
Brittany is acclaimed for its lobster, oysters, cockles and sea urchins as well as other
crustaceans particular to that area. Sea bass, monkfish, mackerel, sardines and whiting are cooked into hearty soups and stews such as Cotriade.
BURGUNDY AND LYONNAISE
Burgundy is situated in the heart of France and is renowned for its traditional dishes which incorporate the local wines. One such dish is Boeuf a la Bourguignonne, a rich beef and baby onion stew cooked in red wine. Matelote is another stew incorporating red wine.
The province of Nice and the Mediterranean island Corsica share a tradition of flavourful, colourful food. Settled by the Greeks and then the Romans, these areas are the wealth of centuries-old olive vines, pungent herbs, fruit, tomatoes and nuts. Classic dishes from this region include Salade Nicoise and Ratatouille.
A sunny Southern province on the shores of the Mediterranean, Languedoc is most famous for Cassoulet. This dish was also introduced to the Romans and has been refined and improved to its present form. The quality of Cassoulet is taken very seriously by neighbouring townships who hotly contest the superiority of their recipes.
Languedoc has a good supply of game, sea and fresh, vegetables and fruit. Livestock is
also plentiful and includes mountain lamb and mutton, veal, beef and pigs.
Home of the black truffle, the Perigord region is surrounded by fertile river valleys whose
rivers abound with fresh crayfish and the forests grow walnuts and chestnuts. The rich valley region yields a big selection of vegetables and stone fruits. Mushrooms and truffles are also collected in meadows and alert visitors may spot the secretive buying and selling of truffles in the local market.
Bordeaux boasts an abundance of fresh and saltwater fish, salt mutton, cheese, fruit and vegetables. Its most acclaimed product, however, is wine.
Centuries ago, when the Romans inhabited the city of Bordeaux, they planted grape vines around the city in all directions. In the 1100s the area was ruled by the English, who popularised the local wines and exported large cargoes back to Britain. The wine continued to grow in popularity and the local cuisine developed alongside it, matching the high quality of the wine.
In the Middle Ages, when the Romans lived in Provence, they planted olives and vines
throughout the sunny rolling hills and used the wild herbs, which grew abundantly, to flavour their food. Provence has an ideal climate for growing any variety of fruit and vegetable and lemon and orange groves dot the hillsides. The air is scented with thyme and rosemary and the huge salt marshes of the Camargue provide grazing ground for cattle.
The culinary traditions started by the Romans here have been adapted and refined by the French, who then introduced southern-style cooking to the rest of the country.
Germany has no natural frontiers on its western or eastern borders. Consequently,
Germans have spent much of their history fighting over borders and territories. Until the last century Germany was a group of states, each with its own ruler. After its unification by the Prussian, Bismarck, in 1871, it had a unity, which was not geographically based, as is the case with many nations.
Historians have suggested that the popularity of pork in Germany is due to the fact that pigs were a good supply of meat for armies on the move. They were easily bred, easily fed and easily roasted.
The earliest written record of German life is that of the Roman historian, Tacitus, who
described the various tribes which occupied the area now known as Germany in the first
century. Like most people of that time in Europe they lived on breads, cheese, wild fruit,
berries and meat. When the Huns began to move down into Germany during the fourth and fifth centuries the land could not support the increased population. The German tribes, such as the Angles and the Saxons, were forced to find other suitable places in which to live. Throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern age, German eating habits were based on available food supplies. The poor, particularly in rural areas, ate the same kind of foods that their ancestors had eaten for centuries in the past. However, the well-to-do and upper class feasted on roast poultry, game and meat, spicy pies, marzipan sweets. Imported delicacies included capers, rice, figs, currants, cinnamon, mustard and sugar.
German cookery for the wealthy was strongly influenced by the French, particularly during the eighteenth century. During the next century, as the middle classes became more affluent due to Germany’s industrialisation, richly flavoured food and elegant dinners and table manners were no longer the prerogative of the upper class. World War 1 brought an end to the old ways of living for the wealthy.
Germans tend to have an early breakfast of bread with butter, honey or jam, sausage,
cheese and. coffee – not a large breakfast by some standards. However, around 11 a.m. a second breakfast is eaten. During the nineteenth century this was almost a formal meal: even the farmer in his field would stop work for some thick slices of bread and ham, washed down by a glass or two of fortifying schnapps, a kind of brandy. Today, second breakfast is usually just a sausage sandwich.
The evening meal is, not surprisingly, a light one and usually cold. Several kinds of bread, cold meats, sausage, cheese and salami are the common elements of this somewhat informal meal. The American hot-dog has its origins in the spicy frankfurters of Germany.
Frankfurters are but one of a bewildering array of sausages (hundreds and hundreds of
them!) that are found in German delicatessens, with the most common falling into half a
dozen or so categories.
Salami is made of raw smoked beef and pork. Fleischwurst consists of finely chopped meat
that is not smoked and is often flavoured with garlic. Blutwurst is basically dried pig’s blood
and fat. Leberwurst is made of calves’ or pigs’ liver and is usually spread on bread.
Bockwurst is a kind of sausage that is heated in water before being served. Bratwurst must
be grilled or fried before being eaten. Some sausages are flavoured with herbs, spices or
The flavours of German food do vary from one region another although many of the
available ingredients are common throughout Germany. Apples are used as a sweetener in
potato, pork and other vegetable dishes. These combinations have a bittersweet and often
salty taste. German cookery also uses a great deal of butter, eggs, pork fat and aromatic
flavourings such as caraway.
Cabbage is second only to potatoes as Germany’s favourite vegetable, with most of the
millions grown each year end up in fermenting vats to become Sauerkraut. This has a salty
slightly sour taste and is used everywhere from sophisticated restaurants to snack bars in
railway stations. It is cooked with apples or pineapple, beer or wine, and served with just
Another German speciality is goose, which is roasted, stuffed with apples and prunes, or
eaten as a smoked delicacy. A popular saying about the prodigious German appetite is that
a goose is not enough for two people but a little too much for one.