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The Three Keys to Chinese Cooking

Updated on June 29, 2010

Keys to Chinese cooking

Chinese cuisine has three main keys that broadly describe it well. So much can be said about it but this is a good basic overview.

1. Detailed Balance of Opposites in Food

These structures of balance are really rooted in what we know as Yin Yang "principles". Its philosophically based on the idea of yin yang, and includes the idea that ingredients be blended harmoniously. So we would see opposites in play, but still working together rather beautifully. While being tasted separately, they would still come together well.

The principle of yin yang looks at existence in our universe as interaction between opposing forces, with great balance involved. Some say that this came about in China around the 4th century B.C. and moved on from there. It is rooted in Taoism and its connection to nature, as well as Buddhism's goal of enlightenment. Its basically a view of the world and universe and all in it as harmonious. It can be observed in nature and experienced by living in your own balance. These principles end up being applied in food, in balancing the body and one's diet. It is also known as the hot and cold food system. Yin would have cooling effects, while Yang would have strength and more heat to them. Very interesting way to look at food and cuisine in the Chinese culture.

Second Key to Chinese Cooking, the five notes of flavor

2. Five Notes of Flavor In Chinese cuisine there are five major notes of flavor. These are the sweet, salty, spicy bitter and notes that you will find in Chinese cooking. Maybe this is part of why so many love Chinese cuisine, its very rounded and includes foods that appeal not just to taste, but to all one's taste buds in one meal. So again we are seeing the balance here.

The ideal goal would be to have all five of these flavor notes in one meal, and this goal has been practiced for thousands of years. We get to reap the benefit of this, and thus the popularity seems to grow. You will see this more in more formal foods and settings, as it is a high goal and could get expensive at times, though that need not be. Creativity could account for some of what can be included to accomplish this. It would definitely be worth trying.

Some could compare this cuisine to the intensity and rigor we see with the French cuisine in the west. Some see this key as also being used for medicines. With all the health and nutrition we see in foods and herbs, I can see how this could be true. In short, ingredients are looked at for more than the flavor alone provides. It makes sense that having some balance in our diets, would help achieve good physiological and mental health both.

Rice growing on terraces
Rice growing on terraces

Third Key to Chinese Cooking, the use of Grains

3.  Grains, mainly rice round out the keys to Chinese Cuisine.  It would be hard to picture it without the use of grains, mainly rice.  There are some northern regions that will use wheat though.  Grains are at the center of Asian culture really, as well as the meal.  Rice is actually seen as part of a bigger relationship between grains and  any vegetables being used as well as seafood, poultry and any other meats.  This is referred to as the fan tsai principle. 

These keys to Chinese cuisine have spanned centuries now, and are a common thread we see woven throughout its very rich history and cultures.  These ideas then spread to other places like Pacific Asia and Southeast Asia as well.  It makes sense that they would the more I learn about them.  You will see these principles in play from very easy dishes to the very complex dishes throughout much of Asian cultures.  It would be wonderful for a cook to have the goal to to incorporate some or all of these ideas into their cooking. 


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      Pamela Sarzana 6 years ago

      This is truly an awesome article...I love Chinese food..what better way to know what to strive for in your own Chinese cooking , than to understand what it is supposed to taste like, and how to get there.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you Phoenix

    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 7 years ago from USA

      Great Hub!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Pamela, thank you very much for your comment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      This is an interesting hub. I have read some of this before but you put it all together very well.