Foreign tourists after a round of dinners in Chinese restaurants and hotels may wonder what the average Chinese have for their meals at home. As they may well expect, these meals are much less elaborate and require little or no professional skill for their preparation.
Here is a collection of recipes which the Chinese cook at home when they have a free day; they are for dishes more frequently served in Chinese homes than in the fashionable establishments.
These recipes, taken out of a cookbook published by us in Chinese and from other sources, are marked for their tastiness as well as simplicity and easiness to prepare.
While recommending this cookbook to foreign readers who may be interested to try Chinese cooking back home in their own kitchens, we would like to make the following remarks:
(1) As was mentioned at the beginning, the Chinese family meal is far from being the 10 to 15-course affair which is so much talked about abroad. The average household in China, like its counterpart in the West, makes no more than a couple of dishes for its everyday meals. Even on festive occasions few families on the mainland make anything approaching the sumptuous feast for which Chinese hospitality is known.
As a matter of fact, except for formal occasions, the staple food at a Chinese meal is rice or steamed bread or some other starch food, and the dishes are meant to help the rice, etc. "go down".
So, when the readers cook a Chinese meal, they should use their own judgment, based on the quantity of each dish, the number of people sharing the dinner and the time involved in deciding how many dishes to prepare.
Incidentally, it should be noted that some Chinese dishes take far more time their preliminary preparation
(drawing of poultry and fish, marinating of meat, trimming of vegetable, steaming prior to frying, etc.) than for their final cooking. So for any given dinner, perhaps not more than two of these time-consuming dishes should be included. Nor, on the other hand, is it advisable to have more than two or three that are to be served immediately after cooking. A way to ease the strain on the hostess may by to cook one or two steamed or stewed dishes the day before and warm them again in the steamer or the pan just before serving.
In choosing the dishes, as for a Western dinner, consideration should be given that, in between the dishes, there be a good matching of color (e.g., a dish seasoned brown with soya sauce juxtaposed with one of bright-colored vegetables), of taste (a salty dish followed by one of light taste) and of materials (fish, pork, vegetables, etc.).
(2) There is no rigid order for the serving of the dishes (for instance, you may serve meat before fish or shrimp if this is more convenient for you) except that soup generally comes at the end.
A sweet dish is not a "must".
A Chinese meal is one of communal sharing. The dishes are placed in the center of the table, which is usually round. Diners help them-selves by means of chopsticks or spoons from the plates into their own saucers or rise bowls.
(3) The cooking utensils in a Western kitchen are generally sufficient to prepare a Chinese meal. The only things that might be lacking are perhaps the chopsticks and the Chinese fry pan. The former may be picked up easily in China or elsewhere. The latter, a round-bottomed pan better known abroad as a wok, would be convenient to have for the various maneuvers called for in Chinese cooking. Woks are available in "gourmet" cooking shops but, if not, the flat-bottomed Western fry pan or skillet may be used as a substitute.
(4) Thanks to growing trade, the various ingredients for Chinese dishes, though some of them may sound quaint, are increasingly available in foreign lands, especially where there is a sizable Chinese community. In case of difficulties, however, while others may be dispensed with or substituted for, the Chinese soya sauce, wherever called for, is indis-pensable as it is the main source of the Chinese taste for many dishes. Another ingredient which is important, if not absolutely necessary, is the cooking wine (also known as yellow, rice or Shaoxing wine), which gives the flavor its subtlety. If difficult to come by, it may be replaced by dry sherry with almost equal results.
Some of the materials suggested in the recipes are those popularly used and available in China, notably in North China around Beijing. Don't hesitate to try with local substitutes. The fish dishes, for instance, may be tried with sea-bass, perch, or pike or any other mild-tasting variety that is locally available. Chinese vegetables may also find sub-stitutes among Western varieties.
For frying, use any edible, tasteless vegetable oil in popular use in the reader's country instead of peanut oil as suggested in the recipes.
Water - cool, hot or boiling - needed for the preparation of the dishes is generally not indicated in the list of ingredients at the head of the recipes.
(5) One or two dishes have their names and origins in other Oriental countries. They are included because they have become "sinified" and may not be exactly the same thing as known in their countries of origin.
(6) All quantities indicated in the recipes may be varied to a certain extent according to individual taste and the strength of the materials locally available.
The measurements used in this collection are, in terms of water:
1 cup = 227 grams = 8 oz.
1 tablespoon = 14 grams = 1/2 oz.
1 teaspoon = 4.6 grams = 1/6 oz.