China is a country where the preparation and appreciation of food has been developed to the highest level.
The art of Chinese cooking has been developed and refined over many centuries. Emperor Fuxi taught people to fish, hunt, grow crops and to cook twenty centuries before Christ. However, cooking could not be considered an art until the Chou Dynasty (1122－249 B.C.).
The two dominant philosophies of the Chinese culture are Confucianism and Taoism. Each influenced the course of Chinese history and the development of the culinary arts. Confucianism concerned itself with the art of cooking and placed great emphasis on the enjoyment of life. To the Chinese, food and friends are inseparable. A gathering without food is considered incomplete and improper.
Confucius loved and respected the art of cooking. He established culinary standards and proper table etiquette. Most of these are still considered to be the standards even today. The tradition of cutting foods into bite size pieces during preparation is unique to the Chinese culture. The use of knives at a Chinese dinner is considered "poor taste."
Confucius taught that good cooking depends on the blending of various ingredients and condiments rather than the taste of the individual elements. He believed that in order to become a good cook one must first be a good matchmaker. The flavors of the ingredients must be blended with harmony. Without harmony there is no taste. He also stressed the use of color and texture in preparing the dish. Most certainly Confucianism helped elevate cooking from a menial task to the status of an art, "the art of Chinese cooking."
Taoism was responsible for the development of the hygienic aspects of food and cooking. The principle objectives of this philosophy were people's wish for longevity. In contrast to supporters of Confucianism who were interested in the taste, texture and appearance, Taoists were concerned with the life-giving attributes of various foods.
Over the centuries the Chinese have explored the world of plants, roots, herbs, fungus and seeds to find life-giving elements. They discovered that the nutritional value of vegetables could be destroyed by improper cooking and that many items had medicinal value. For example, ginger, a favorite condiment, is also used to soothe an upset stomach and as a cold remedy.
Unlike the majority of eastern cuisines most Chinese dishes are low-calorie and low-fat. Food is cooked using poly-unsaturated oils; milk, cream, butter and cheese are not a part of the daily diet. Animal fats are kept to a minimum due to the small portions of meats used. Please note, however, that some dishes served in Chinese restaurants may be considerably higher in calories and fats than those in this cookbook that you prepare at home.
With this basic understanding of Chinese culinary history, you are ready to begin cooking in Chinese style.
(CCTV.com January 15, 2003)