In Malaysia, we have plenty of Chinese food options. From roadside stalls to hawker centres and even high-end restaurants. We are definitely spoilt for choice. The Chinese cuisine in our region has been made to suit the palate of locals, and Chinese fare are mostly dishes from China or related areas. Despite the majority of the population being Bumiputras, there is a high demand for Chinese food in this country, and this could be caused by its many dialect groups and cooking styles.
History of Chinese Food
In the past, Chinese cooking follows the spiritual balance of Yin (cool) and Yang (hot). While preparing for meals, they strive to achieve balance in flavours, textures, colours and types of food eaten. Rice is the staple food of China.
Yin can also refer to vegetables, fruit and soups while Yang can be referring to meat and starchy foods such as potatoes and yam. It can be served at any meal and at any time of the day. It can be served accompanied by a variety of dishes and various tastes.
Traditionally, the food consumed was scallions, bean sprouts and cabbage. Soybean and bean curd or tofu, are also important sources of protein for the Chinese. The meat consumed is usually chicken and pork.
There are essentially four main regional styles of cooking. In the Canton region, the cuisine cooked there is referred to as Cantonese cooking. The food highlights rice and side dishes that are lightly stir-fried.
The conventional Cantonese style food includes wonton, egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, and dumplings. The Mandarin province in Northern China has Mandarin cuisine which emphasizes on dishes made with wheat flour such as noodles, dumplings and thin pancakes.
A famous food prepared in this region is the Peking duck, which consists of roast duck and crispy duck skin strips wrapped with thin pancakes. The dish’s name came from Peking, which was the old name for Beijing, China’s capital, until past the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. China’s east coast is where Shanghai cooking originated and features seafood and pungent flavours.
Szechuan cooking which was from the Szechuan region in inland China is well-known for its hot and spicy dishes made using hot peppers, onions, garlic and leeks. With every meal, green tea is usually served. The most popular types of tea are green, black and oolong tea. The beverages are commonly drunk black or without milk and sugar added.
Examples of Chinese Cuisine
Hainanese Chicken Rice
This dish is immensely popular throughout the Cantonese region. Originating from the Hainan province in Southern China, this dish consists of boiled chicken that is rich with flavour. It is usually served with rice, ginger-scallion dipping sauce and soy sauce.
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
These dumplings are not your ordinary ones as they have hot broth filling that will make your mouth water. With only one caveat, which is the thin outer layer, which is easily punctured with chopsticks, one has to be gentle while eating it.
- Spring Rolls
Thinly wrapped with rice wrappers, the filling can be just about anything such as carrots, shrimps, lettuce leaf and chicken bits. The rolls can be eaten just as it is or fried till golden.
Char Siu Bao
The dish is steamed sweet buns that have shredded, barbecued pork as a filling. Usually found in dim sum restaurants, these buns are best served hot. Now, there exist many variations of this “bao” such as barbecue chicken bao and vegetable bao.
- Egg Tart
This pastry can be eaten as a snack or dessert. With a custard centre, it is usually enveloped with a flaky, buttery crust. This bite-sized delight is definitely one that is loved by the locals.
These savoury cakes are made from pressed daikon turnips and rice flour that are pan-fried. The dish is golden brown and has a crispy exterior and soft interior. Commonly found in dim sum establishments, this dish is also one that is eaten during Chinese New Year as the Chinese word for radish sound similar to the word for good fortune.
Clay Pot Rice
Cooking this dish will take up to 20-30 minutes, but the wait is worth it. The rice is cooked inside a clay pot above a charcoal stove and is topped with mushrooms, Chinese sausage, chicken and dark soy sauce. An egg can be added at the end of the cooking process to ensure that the egg is slightly runny. This end result is a rice dish that is rich with the flavours of the toppings and slightly crispy at the bottom.
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