What are the key elements to note when enjoying Chinese food? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Answer by Fuchsia Dunlop, Cook & Author of Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China, on Quora.
As with any other cuisine, appearance, aroma and taste are extremely important in enjoying Chinese food. Beyond these basic elements, however, there are some aspects that are particularly distinctive of Chinese cuisine. One of them is the importance of texture and mouthfeel (kou gan).
The Chinese appreciate a far wider range of textures in their food than most Westerners, including, for example, slippery, slimy, gristly, bouncy, slithery and even rubbery textures - all of which sound fairly unappetising in English, but are generally delightful if you are Chinese.
Chinese people also tend to enjoy what my father calls the "grapple factor" of food, which is the process of using your teeth and tongue to engage with ingredients such as chickens feet and duck tongues. So if, as a Westerner, you really want to deepen your appreciation of Chinese food, it's worth giving some time and attention to expanding your appreciation of texture and mouthfeel.
I recommend, for example, ordering some jellyfish and really trying to consider the slippery-crisp sensation it produces in your mouth as you eat it. Or, for another example, order some chickens' feet and really try to consider and appreciate what your teeth and tongue are doing while you eat them, and look for pleasure in it.
Another element that is very distinctive of Chinese cuisine is the art of cutting. So you might like to consider the ways in which the ingredients are cut and how this affects the way they look on the plate and the way you experience them.
If your meal has been ordered by a Chinese person or someone else who is knowledgeable about the food, you might also like to pay attention to the variety of dishes, ingredients, cooking methods, colours and textures on the table. You might notice that there is probably a soup, a light broth that is intended to cleanse the palate and provide a pleasant contrast to dryer and more strongly flavoured dishes. You might also notice that there is it least one lightly flavoured vegetable dish, perhaps a stir fried green, which will also contrast with richer dishes and help to create a balanced meal that will leave you feeling relaxed and comfortable afterwards.
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