The key to making great Chinese food at home is focusing on the soul of Chinese food—taste. Traditional Chinese cooking incorporates a variety of seasonings and spices to create the depth of flavor at the heart of your favorite Chinese dishes. The key flavors present in Chinese food are spicy, salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. Aside from being present in your meal, all five flavors should work in harmony and balance to achieve optimal taste and health.
Turn Up the Heat
The flavor dominating most of Central China is spiciness. This flavor is common in Sichuan and Hunan regions and consequently in many dishes named using either of those words like Sichuan hotpot or Hunan steamed fish head. Both regional climates are hot and humid and the liberal use of chilies and spices helps keep diners comfortable. Spicy food stimulates your palate and stimulates the body to expel wind and cold, eliminate any internal chill, and promote blood circulation.
With a Grain of Salt
Salty food is a staple in coastal areas and Northern China. Much of the salt used in Chinese cooking is produced by the evaporation of seawater, so its heavy usage in coastal areas is no coincidence. Northern China, however, is known for harsh winters. The heavy presence of salt in Northern cuisine comes from pickling and brining vegetables for the winter. Salt helps the body maintain balance and dissolve stagnation, as long as it is consumed in moderation.
The Power of Sour
The sour flavor is popular throughout the Southern minorities and Shanxi Province. The Southern minorities rely on inexpensive ways to make their cuisine taste great, so much of their food is pickled in vinegar to prevent spoilage. Pickled vegetables are a common topping for congee, a popular Chinese breakfast dish. The Shanxi Province is well known for its love of vinegar due to its alkaline water, which requires calcium carbonate and vinegar to balance the pH and make it usable. Sourness reduces any fishy or greasy flavor, aids in digestion, and whets the appetite.
Can’t Have Sour Without Sweet
Eastern China loves the sweeter, lighter flavors of Chinese cuisine like in sweet and sour fish. Sweetness can help tone the body, relieve illness, and cheer you up! Sweeteners used in Chinese food include sugar, honey, and flavored jams.
It’s Okay to Be a Little Bitter
The final flavor is popular throughout all regions of China—bitterness. It is almost never used by itself to flavor a dish. Instead, hints of bitterness are used to make a dish fresher and more appetizing. Bitter flavors are also common in traditional Chinese medicinal food. Bitterness can strengthen the stomach and whet your appetite, much like sourness.
Ready to Experiment with Flavor?
Lotte Plaza Market is the perfect shop to supply you with the ingredients you need to make all of your Asian dishes shine with authenticity and flavor. With over 10 locations throughout Maryland and Virginia, we have provided excellent service and quality groceries to our customers for 40 years. Contact us online for more information and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. For locations, sales, and all of Lotte Market in the palm of your hand, download our app!