Most visitors appreciate that Chinese cooking has traditions which go further back in history than those of French cuisine, and understand that it is an art which grew out of a highly developed civilization. While Chinese cooking uses almost all of the meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables known to the Western palate, it has also embraced other foodstuffs which, to Western taste, may appear rare or even repugnant.
Northern or Pekinese cooking tears to be oilier and the dishes more salty and spicy. Grains other than rice tend to be used, and there are countless varieties of “breads” in the form of dumplings, buns, and Noodles.
The northern cooking style has evolved from four distinct back- grounds. The methods of cooking indigenous to Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing, and Shandong Province, which is contiguous, have been a major influence. Another has been the style of cooking found in the lower Yangzi River areas, and yet another comes from one province in the central west, Sichuan. A fourth influence has been the Moslem cooking of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, which features barbecuing, deep boiling, roasting, and the use of rich seasonings and sauces. And finally, there is the cuisine of the Old Imperial Palace which, by virtue of the or gin of the last dynasty, brought the influence of Manchurian cooking to China and with it the tendency to highly refined and rare dishes.
All these cooking styles make extensive use of local vegetable such as garlic, ginger, leaks, tomatoes, scallions (spring onions), bean sauces and pastes, cucumber, and particularly the famous northern while cabbage; for meats: duck, pork, chicken, and seafoods, particularly prawns, The Chinese Moslem influence was largely responsible for the introduction of beef, lamb, and duck into the northern repertoire.
Although restaurants in Beijing may be found serving food dominated by one of the four influences by far the greatest number represent either the Hebei, Shandong style or the Moslem-Chinese influence. The relatively small impact that the magnificent Cantonese style of cooking as had m the north often leads southern to describe northern cooking as “provincial.” This description is hardly fitting yet it is all, cult to find many restaurants in Beijing which cater to the taste of those who prefer the cuisine of the Lower Yangzi and central west, while restaurants preparing Cantonese food are rarer still.
Many visitors to China are surprised to learn that the northern style has been so influenced by Chinese -Moslem cooking. Yet this population is quite extensive and lives even now in a belt of land stretching westward from Beijing through Inner Mongolia to the far western border of the Soviet Union. These nomads had extensive herds and flocks and brought to northern cooking many lamb and beef dishes, particularly Mongolian hot pot and also the famous Peking roast duck.