Peking roast duck glistening on a hook. Dimsum warm on a bamboo basket. Carved winter melon with ham soup on its cavity. Sichuan spicy bean curd. Crisp fried spring rolls. Sweet and sour pork. These are just some of the common dishes found in Chinese cooking. Their flavors are fresh, with emphasis on good health and balance of the fan (grains and starches) and cai (meat and vegetables).
To the five traditional flavors fundamental to Chinese cooking, the Chinese cook add two additional flavors. Xiang refers to the aromatic tastes associated with wine, garlic, spring onions, sesame seeds, and Sichuan pepper, says Deh-Ta Hsiung in The Chinese Kitchen. Xian means delicious in a savory way, like a good meaty chicken stock, oyster sauce, shrimp sauce and even monosodium glutamate.
In the Chinese markets, an array of ingredients awaits he who wishes to practice the art of Chinese cooking. The selection, preparation, and presentation of these ingredients are based on the harmony of flavors, which is the philosophy of Chinese cooking. You will find bean curds, rice noodles, sesame seed oil, chilli sauce, plum sauce, dried shrimps, coriander, five-spice powder, bok choy leaves, chestnuts, sea cucumber, scuttlefish, and more when you venture out to your Chinatown market stalls.
In the Chinese kitchen, the cleaver is a requisite tool especially for chopping vegetables to uniform size, an important consideration so the vegetables cook well at the same time. The versatile wok is a must in creating stir fries, noodle dishes, scallion cakes, and bean curd recipes. Double-handed and single-handed woks are great investments. You can shallow- or deep-fry, braise, steam, and make soups using your trusty wok. For dimsums like steamed dumplings, meat buns, and chicken feet, a bamboo steamer does the job. Clay casseroles with covers help steam and stew other Chinese delights.