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10/10/2014 03:47 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2014

What Are Some Genius Things About Chinese Food and Cooking?

What are some genius things about Chinese food and Chinese cooking?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Answer by Andrea Herrero

That a single tool, the cleaver, is used to slice, chop, peel, julienne, mince, divide chicken, tenderize meat, crush garlic, grind spices (with the butt of the handle), and scoop it all up afterward, all with the finesse of a much more expensive Western knife.

The versatility of the wok, which rivals that of the cleaver. You can boil a chicken, deep fry potatoes, stir fry vegetables, steam a fish, and cook an egg over-easy in the same vessel (at different times, obviously). The wok is traditionally made of carbon steel, so it never needs to be washed, developing a non-stick coating over time through seasoning.

High heat, open flame, and rapid cooking. Partially responsible for the impressive spread of equally-complex dishes in a single dinner by one cook.

Family style serving. Everything on the communal serving platter is already portioned so that people can take things into their individual rice bowl as they like, using chopsticks. For example, chicken is cooked whole then hacked into three or so inch pieces, bone and all, before serving. Most other ingredients are divided before cooking begins, as would be necessary for stir-frying to be effective, and every dish that needs it is given a serving spoon. So there need not even be elbow room on the table; people can carry their bowls as they eat, and no extra utensils are required. Chopsticks are ingenious as well for this reason.

Because rice and accompaniment mingle in the same bowl, the rice itself becomes flavorful, even when there is nothing left to eat with it.

Taking advantage of steam's special properties, power-stacking porous cooking vessels. A large volume of food can be cooked on a single burner.

General evolved efficiency.

The numberless variety of fermented bean product. Ubiquity and sophistication of fermented food, spirits, and condiments.

The specificity of conscious standards of "good cooking." Five flavors are commonly considered: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. A great proportion of dishes deliberately comprise all five, and it is considered substandard (but not necessarily bad) when one or two flavors over- or underwhelm the balance. Chinese eaters pay special attention to texture. Slipperiness, crispness, firmness, crunch, and softness create interest; no one texture is preferred. The food's interaction with the teeth is considered. Gelatinous foods are valued, such as tendon. Separating meat from bone by biting is pleasurable, so braising is not as common. Color and aroma are also an integral part of a dish, since all food is enjoyed first with the eyes, then with the nose, and finally with the mouth. These many factors have a more particular presence in a Chinese cook's consciousness than in that of a typical Western cook, enabling a more complex cuisine.

Some of these comments are subject to regional taste and custom, such as the concept of "good cooking," but most are true for all Chinese cooking.

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