Introduction to woks

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The "cooking craze" for gourmet meals and exotic cooking at home has finally arrived, states a feature article of TIME magazine of december 19, 1977. The "cooking craze" rampage has caused homemakers to purchase thousands of Chinese woks across the country. From the sensuous pleasures that these people have derived from dining at top quality Chinese restaurants across the nation, the zeal for Chinese food has reached a popularity that surprises even the most seasoned Chinese restauranteur. Few of these wok purchasers know much about wook cookery, but most express a desire to learn how to cook well in one. Hence, the reason for writing this booklet.

The author has spent some ten years teaching Chinese cooking both formally in a university classroom and informally to various consumer groups. This booklet was written in response to the numerous questions that she has been asked within the last two years. The basic instructions and recipes have all been used by her many students.

One should have a desire to know something about China and its foods before seriously embarking upon cooking stylistic dishes of its cuisine. It lends greater fascination to know how some of these dishes were developed and gives one a slight insight into Chinese customs and culture.

The country of China, now known as The People's Republic of China, is the largest country in the world by population, with 800,000,000 people. It is the third largest country in the world by geographical area. Probably the best known feature of Chinese culture and civilization is its cuisine. Chinese restaurants are found in almost all large cities of the world.

Chinese cuisine has been at a high stage of sophistication for countless centuries. This is evidenced by Confucius when he wrote in his "Analects" during the sixth centure, B.C., that he liked his meat minced fine and his rice polished white. Regional cooking styles have existed in China for at least a thousand years. Even foods described in poetry by the Sung Dynasty poet, Su Tung Po (1037 to 1101 A.D.) are not much different from the ones consumed today. There are extant descriptions of court banquets at Hangchow of the Sung Period (907 to 1279 A.D.) that consisted of 40 to 200 courses and were served over a period of one to three days. To serve all this food, the "elite" of this period used gold, silver, jade and all types of porcelain dishes. Some of these wares are presently on display at the Peking Museum.

Since it is impractical in our society to strive toward ancient Chinese court life, we can nevertheless strive to become sopisticated gourmets. Some students are quite content to learn some Chinese dishes and add variety to their diets. To become an accomplished wok cook, it is not essential to use truly Chinese ingredients. Some students do prefer Chinese ingredients, but the author has found that most beginning wok cooks could not readily find the time to go to a Chinese grocery store. Because of this inconvenience, this initial booklet is designed to utilize ingredients that are readily available in a large supermarket. Recipes utilizing true Chinese ingredients can be found in another booklet, "Advanced Wok Cookery", by the same author.

China has had a long legacy of high civilization, and it has long been recognized that man must exist harmoniously with society and nature.

Even today, despite increased technology in agriculture and animal husbandry, nature still creates its catastrophes; hence, the Chinese reverence for good food, well prepared. If one has only one life to live, then at least let it be pleasant as possible for one's duration on the Earth.


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