Chinese food has become so much a part of the Indian culinary scene that one would be forgiven for thinking of it as just another one of India's many regional foods. We have so adapted Chinese cuisine to suit our Indian palates, as to make it practically unrecognisable in the land of its origin, creating in the process a whole new cuisine which has gained popularity the world over as Indian Chinese.
This new book attempts to give you an experience of authentic Chinese cuisine from the many different regions of China, and includes some of our popular Indian versions as well. Like India, China's vast lands are host to many different cultures and food styles, such as the bland but flavourful cuisine of the Cantonese region, home of dim sum; or the red cooking of Shanghai, considered the gastronomical capital of China. But the Chinese cuisines most similar to our own Indian Chinese versions are from the Sichuan and Hunan regions. Sichuan dishes like Sichuan Eggplants, are characterised by a liberal use of ginger, garlic and Sichuan pepper, which is neither a peppercorn, nor a chilli, but a berry and cousin of our own tirphal. The food of the Hunan region with its hot and sour flavours and use of chillies also finds great resonance in India.
Underlying the regional differences, however, is a philosophy of food, which is the unifying element in all Chinese cooking. Foods have been classified into Yin (cooling foods) and Yang (hot foods). The Chinese believe that Yin and Yang, symbolised by two interlocking shapes within a circle, are not limited to foods, but infuse every aspect of our lives. Another important element in the preparation of food is the Chinese concept of Five. Apart from the familiar 5-spice powder, Chinese cooking acknowledges the importance of the traditional five flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, hot and salty, to which have now been added xiang (aromatic) and xian (savoury). The perfect Chinese dish would achieve a balance and contrast in different flavours, colours, textures and aromas and ultimately contribute to the well-being of the consumer.
The secret to cooking Chinese food however, lies in the preparation and freshness of the ingredients. Ingredients of varying textures are cut in contrasting or complimentary shapes and sizes, and marinated or readied just in time for use. Many Chinese dishes require stir-frying on high heat to maintain their crispness and freshness. For dishes that are braised, stewed or boiled, ingredients are added according to their cooking times to ensure they retain their texture. The emphasis is on healthy and wholesome cooking which engages all the senses for maximum pleasure. In the words of an ancient Chinese proverb, A good meal is eaten first with the eyes, then with the nose and finally with the mouth. With this book as your guide, I wish you many happy hours of preparing and enjoying this ancient, aromatic and flavourful cuisine in your own home.