In comparison to Western meals, where the main dish is meat or animal protein, the staple food is normally made of rice, noodles or steamed buns in a Chinese meal. The secondary dishes are ts’ai, vegetable and meat dishes. For liquid food like soups and congees, Chinese people use a ceramic spoon and for solid food, they mainly use chopsticks. Chinese people often eat rice with other dishes in a normal Chinese meal. In these meals, dessert is not the main course. Between two meals, desserts are eaten as snacks. Chinese people normally prefer fresh fruits as dessert if they eat it at the end of the meal.
In traditional Chinese banquet and in authentic Chinese restaurants, cold dishes are the first course. In the preparation of cold dishes, salt, sugar, chilli powder, light soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil are normally used. Chinese chefs give great importance to the design of dishes during the preparation of cold dishes. There is an increase in people’s appetite when they eat cold dishes.
There are differences between hot dishes and cold dishes. The hot dish is also called the main course. Stir-frying, deep-frying, Liu, quick-frying and Hui are normally used in the preparation of hot dishes.
Soups and Congees
Chinese chefs add refined starches from the corn to thicken the soups instead of adding milk or cream into the soup. They also prepare light soups without using starches. There is the use of vegetables and meat (pork and chicken) in the preparation of soups. There is a belief among Chinese people that soups are good for health. Soups are very popular in the good Chinese restaurants in Kolkata.
A kind of porridge or gruel is congee. Congee is made using rice and other cereals and meat, fish, vegetables and flavourings are added in it.
Staple Food and Xiaochi
As there are many rice farms in Southern China, rice is the staple food there. Steamed rice is the preference of the people. Wheat farming areas are abundant in Northern China and the people here eat flour-based food like noodles, mantou (a kind of steamed bun) and dumplings.
A kind of snacks falls under Xiaochi. In small street stalls or small Chinese restaurants, they are often sold. Xiaochi is often self-contained and easily portable and it is a kind of light meal. There are different Xiaochi in different regions. Among tourists and local people, they are very popular.