In Europe, we are most familiar with, and love, Cantonese cuisine from the province of Guangdong in the southeast of the country. Cantonese dishes, including chow mein and barbecue ribs, are often slightly sweet. Ingredients are stewed or braised and the sauces are mild because there are not many strong seasonings involved. The aim of the Cantonese chef is to preserve the original taste of the ingredient used, be it meat, vegetables or fruit. Because relatively little sugar, fat or dairy products are used, Cantonese food is also fairly slimming.
The taste base of many Chinese dishes consists of garlic, ginger, five-spice powder (star anise, cinnamon, clove, Sichuan pepper, fennel seed) and roasted sesame oil, made from white sesame seeds. Fermented products such as soy sauce, rice vinegar, Shaoxing rice wine and fermented bean paste have a strong taste and aroma and are usually used in small quantities or processed into a dip, with the aim of adding a savoury dose of umami. Sichuan peppercorns, also called flour pepper, are typical for Chinese cuisine. These citrus-like grains are not actually pepper grains but the skin of a very small fruit. They are processed in salt, fried in oil until they release their aroma, or roasted in the wok and sprinkled over dishes. Pork has traditionally been the main meat ingredient of Chinese cuisine. Pigs were the first animals that were farmed for food. When Chinese people referred to meat, they were actually always talking about pork. And pork is still the star of many dishes, including cha sieuw and siu mai. It is stewed, stir-fried, steamed and fried.