Though there are many different schools, branches, regional variants, etc., of Chinese cooking, together they constitute what one might reasonably term "Chinese Cooking", where "Chinese Cooking" is distinct from, say, "Italian Cooking". A nation's cooking culture reflects its food traditions, from the food-preparation and eating habits of the countryside to the food-preparation and eating habits of the city, notwithstanding the increasing introduction of foreign fare that is not only served in "foreign" restaurants in the city, but which today is also found in the freezer section of most supermarkets even in the countryside.
In spite of these globalization tendencies, a large swath of any country's population will continue to enjoy their country's cuisine, partly because it is familiar and they like it (they have grown up with it), and partly because it is based on food staples that are cheaper to obtain (the very existence of a large market for a given food item means that its production permits what economists call an 'economy of scale'). "Chinese Cooking" will live on in New York City, in London, in Paris and in Sydney, even should the people of China - perhaps inspired by the scaled-down versions of Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, etc. - ever discard it in favor of an amalgamation of various foreign cooking traditions.
What makes Chinese cooking "Chinese Cooking", you may ask? Well, while some of the following features may apply to just about any national cooking tradition, they all come together in "Chinese Cooking" (note that the description below does not delve into the particular "How-To" techniques of "Chinese Cooking", but rather, looks at the phenomenon of "Chinese Cooking" from a more generalized perspective).
"Chinese Cooking" is characterized by:
Distinct Regional Flavors - Since China is a very large and a very ancient country, with varying ethnic and cultural traditions, and since China possesses an abundance of agricultural resources that reflect local and regional differences in climate, products, customs and habits, it has developed a variety of local and regional food flavors over the course of its long and illustrious history. One of the most common - and generally accurate - generalizations regarding China's eating habits is the saying "rice in the south, noodles in the north". A similar broad - and broadly accurate - saying is the following: "sweetness in the south, saltiness in the north, sourness in the east and spiciness in the west", which corresponds to the cooking traditions characterized especially by Bashu (Sichuan Province), Qilu (Shandong Province), Huaiyang (Jiangsu Province) and Yuemin (Guangdong and Fujian Provinces), respectively.
Seasonality - The Chinese people have a long tradition of consuming local foodstuffs, implicit in which is the notion of consuming produce that belongs to the particular season. The easy availability of a particular foodstuff is of course related to its consumer price, and since local foodstuffs are readily available in large quantities "in season", the price range is generally low. Morever, consuming seasonally available (read: locally available) foodstuffs means that one is assured of obtaining fresher foodstuffs, all other things being equal, than purchasing non-seasonal foodstuffs which have to be transported over long distances. The third factor is intricately linked to the other two: seasonal/ local availability means that people have become adept at developing recipies that make the most of particular foodstuffs at specific times of the year. To highlight the extremes, locally available winter foodstuffs are generally served hot and are braised, stewed or simmered, while locally available summer foodstuffs are often served chilled and are dressed with a piquant sauce.
Holistic Aesthetic Appeal - Chinese cooking has traditionally placed a great deal of emphasis on the...