The north of China offers a great contrast to the rest of the country: the
environment is fairly bleak and the climate harsh for much of the year.
The North China Plain, bordered by mountains to the north, stretches away
in the west to the borders of Inner Mongolia. Spring and summer are dry
and dusty, while the winters are freezing cold.
Wheat is the staple food, rather than rice. Wheat flour is used to
make noodles, steamed buns, dumplings and pancakes. Meat is much more of a
luxury up here and even vegetables must be stored over the winter. Dishes
in general are much more plain, solid and nourishing.
Mutton and lamb are popular - nodoubt due to the influence
of the Mongolian invasion - though they are rarely eaten elsewhere in
China. Mongolian Hot Pot is a good example of the kind of cooking
preferred - plain-cooked meat served with hot sauces. The strong flavours
of leeks, onions and garlic feature largely. The most popular vegetable in
this region is the Chinese cabbage, which can be stored over winter.
Peking, which lies to the north of the region, has been the capital
of China for nearly 1000 years. The reparation and service of food became an
important part of Court ritual and over the centuries the Imperial chefs
brought about a great concentration of culinary expertise in Peking. This
tradition is still evident in Peking cuisine today, which is lighter and
more elegant than that of the outlying regions. Peking duck is of course
the best known dish of all. In Peking ducks are specially bred for this
dish and forcefed to just the right degree of plumpness and tenderness.
Shantung, the most southerly region of this province, is also the
most productive. It produces the fruit and vegetables which also help to
make this ideal chicken-rearing country.
The Yellow River, which flows across the North China Plain, is
regarded as the cradle of Chinese civilization. (The earliest settlements
were found along its banks). The river is famous for its carp, with golden
yellow scales and delicate flesh. Of the many carp recipes to be found,
Yellow River Carp is one of the best.