China's cuisine has evolved into one of the world's most famous cuisines. For more than 5,000 years, food has played a major role in nearly all aspects of Chinese society, from health and medicine to business and celebration and it is no less important today. The overall importance of food in China can't be understated; upon greeting, the Chinese will always ask if you've eaten.
Rich in scenic beauty, China's geography includes a wide range of nature, from fertile plains to high mountains. Its climate also varies greatly, ranging from sub-arctic to subtropical and everything in between. This combination of varied geography, climate and sheer land size produces an extraordinary cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, meats and seafood and has evolved into one of the most interesting, creative and widely enjoyed cuisines in the world.
Emphasis on the freshness, flavour and texture of ingredients is the key to fine Chinese cooking. To get the most out of simple ingredients, a variety of techniques is used to express the qualities that the food has. Quick cooking with a wok and deep-frying are used in most styles of cooking in China. You'll also find other cooking methods such as steaming, roasting, barbecuing, stewing, poaching and braising used extensively. Many of the coastal regions of China have adopted outside influences into their cuisine. In general the farther south you travel the more tropical the weather, which in turn is better for growing conditions, therefore the lighter and more refined the food tends to be.
With harsh winters and time for growth coming in short periods, northern and western regions tend to offer much heartier cuisine. Traders, missionaries and tourists have all been shown how gastronomy has evolved in various regions. New World crops such as tomatoes and corn are now common ingredients throughout China; in Hong Kong you'll find the use of mayonnaise and chilies have directly influenced an entire genre of food from Sichuan. In ancient times and even today, those living in the remote areas didn't travel extensively so there have been few outside influences from other cultures on these places. The foods they eat and their cooking, essentially their entire way of life, has been insulated and has remained the same for countless generations. If you visit these remote places, you'll have a fascinating opportunity to get a real taste of ancient history.
It's worth noting for vegetarians or those who don't eat pork; if a dish has an unnamed meat, that meat is usually pork. Strict vegetarians and vegans will find it hard to avoid meat or meat products altogether as if you are to inform the place where you're dining about your dietary issues, some restaurants may simply pick out the most obvious pieces of meat from their dishes and some use lard in their cooking. The best way to avoid meat is to tell the service staff you're allergic to meat or that you're a Buddhist. Mono sodium glutamate (MSG) is also widely used, but you can ask for that not to be included.