Chinese cuisine includes styles originating from the diverse regions of China, as well as from Chinese people in other parts of the world including most Asian nations. The history of Chinese cuisine in China stretches back for thousands of years and has changed from period to period and in each region according to climate, imperial fashions, and local preferences. Over time, techniques and ingredients from the cuisines of other cultures were integrated into the cuisine of the Chinese people due both to imperial expansion and from the trade with nearby regions in pre-modern times, and from Europe and the New World in the modern period. Contrary to the beliefs of many, the usage of dairy can be traced to ancient recipes as early as 9th century B.C. Animals such as buffalos are important to agriculture and their dairy products are part of the Chinese diet and nomads also had influence on Chinese diets. However, it was not legal to consume beef over part of the ancient history. The belief that farming animals are sacred and beef is for the highest ritual has been lasting and influential, as same clauses existed in ancient Japanese and Korean laws.
The "Eight Culinary Cuisines" of China are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang cuisines.
The staple foods of Chinese cooking include rice, noodles, vegetables, sauces and seasonings.
A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine but perhaps the best known and most influential are Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine (specifically Huaiyang cuisine) and Sichuan cuisine. These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as availability of resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle. One style may favour the use of lots of garlic and shallots over lots of chilli and spices, while another may favour preparing seafood over other meats and fowl.
Jiangsu cuisine favours cooking techniques such as braising and stewing, while Sichuan cuisine employs baking, just to name a few. Hairy crab is a highly sought after local delicacy in Shanghai, as it can be found in lakes within the region. Peking duck and dim-sum are other popular dishes well known outside of China.
Based on the raw materials and ingredients used, the method of preparation and cultural differences, a variety of foods with different flavours and textures are prepared in different regions of the country. Many traditional regional cuisines rely on basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.
Rice - Rice is a major staple food for people from rice farming areas in southern China. Steamed rice, usually white rice, is the most commonly eaten form. Rice is also used to produce beers, wines and vinegars. Rice is one of the most popular foods in China and is used in many dishes. Glutinous rice ("sticky rice") is a variety of rice used in many specialty Chinese dishes.
Noodles - Chinese noodles come dry or fresh in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures and are often served in soups or fried as toppings. Some varieties, such as Shou Mian 寿面 literally noodles of longevity), are symbolic of long life and good health according to Chinese tradition. Noodles can be served hot or cold with different toppings, with broth and occasionally dry (as is the case with mi-fun). Noodles are commonly made with rice flour or wheat flour, but other flours such as soybean are also used.
Soybeans - Tofu is made of soybeans and is another popular food product that supplies protein. Other products such as soy milk, soy paste, soy oil, and fermented soy sauce are also important in Chinese cooking.
Wheat - In wheat-farming areas in Northern China, people largely rely on flour-based food, such as noodles, breads, jiaozi (a kind of Chinese dumplings) and mantou (a type of steamed buns).
Vegetables - Some common vegetables used in Chinese cuisine include Chinese leaves, bok choy (Chinese cabbage) dao-mieu (Chinese spinach) on choy, yu choy, bitter melon and Chinese broccoli or gailan (guy-lahn). Other vegetables include bean sprouts, pea vine tips, watercress and celery.
A variety of dried or pickled vegetables are also eaten, especially in drier or colder regions where fresh vegetables traditionally were hard to get out of season.
Herbs and seasonings - Spices and seasonings such as fresh ginger root, garlic, scallion, white pepper, and sesame oil are widely used in many regional cuisines. Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cilantro, parsley, and cloves are also used.
To add extra flavours to dishes, many Chinese cuisines also contain dried Chinese mushrooms, dried baby shrimps, dried tangerine peel and dried Sichuan chillies.
When it comes to sauces, China is home to soy sauce, which is made from fermented soy beans and wheat. Oyster sauce, clear rice vinegar, chilli, Chinkiang black rice vinegar, fish sauce and fermented tofu (furu) are also widely used. A number of sauces are also based on fermented soybeans, including Hoisin sauce, ground bean sauce and yellow bean sauce.
Egg custard tarts, an originally Portuguese popular dessert and pastry in Hong Kong. Generally, seasonal fruits serve as the most common form of dessert consumed after dinner. Chinese desserts are sweet foods and dishes that are served with tea, along with meals or at the end of meals in Chinese cuisine. In larger cities, a wide variety of Chinese bakery products are available, including baked, steamed, boiled or deep-fried sweet or savoury snacks. Bings are baked wheat flour based confections, and include moon cake, red bean paste pancake and sun cake (Beijing and Taiwan varieties). Chinese candies and sweets, called táng are usually made with cane sugar, malt sugar, honey, nuts and fruit. Gao or Guo are rice based snacks that are typically steamed and may be made from glutinous or normal rice.
Ice cream is commonly available throughout China. Another cold dessert is called baobing, which is shaved ice with sweet syrup. Chinese jellies are known collectively in the language as ices. Many jelly desserts are traditionally set with agar and are flavoured with fruits, though gelatine based jellies are also common in contemporary desserts. Chinese dessert soups typically consist of sweet and usually hot soups and custards.