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As explained in the introduction, this booklet of recipes is prepared for the use of ingredients readily available in supermarkets. Some supermarkets carry a larger line of oriental ingredients than others.
The author has noticed that fresh bean sprouts and other Chinese vegetables are now appearing in the vegetable sections of some supermarkets. Evidently, the preparation of Chinese foods is becoming more and more popular.
When shopping in the supermarket, carefully look over the brands and conditions of foods that are available. Also, compare prices. It is well to read the weekly grocery advertisements of your local paper.
Plan your meals according to the meat "specials" that are appealing and available that week. To operate your food budget economically and yet eat well, work out your evening meal plans for the forthcoming week. Include any guests that you expect to have. Before shopping, look in your freezer and refrigerator to see what meats and vegetables are in your inventory, if possible, plan to utilize what you already have. Then make up your shopping list.
People in China plan their meals only a day or so at a time as they do not have refrigerators. Consequently, shopping at the market for fresh vegetables and meat is a daily chore. Only dried foods can be stored in bulk in most Chinese homes. Therefore, fresh foods are purchased in only the quantities that can be utilized that day. The Chinese delight in going to the market daily to choose the freshest possible ingredients. They check to see if the vegetables and fruits are crisp and unblemished. Fish, shrimps, and other sea delicacies are purchased alive. Fowl is purchased alive and slaughtered just before being put into the pot. Interestingly, an extant Han Dynasty stone relief picture dipicts this process. The Chinese have been particular about selecting fresh foods for centuries.
Most supermarkets try to keep their meat and vegetables in the best possible condition. It is wise, however, to look over the fresh foods carefully to see if the leafy green vegetables are unwilted, the celery and lettuce crisp, the cauliflowers white, and the fruits unblemished. Meat should have a very good colour and appearance.
Seafoods are generally sold in the frozen state in supermarkets. When thawed and cooked properly, they are almost as good as fresh.
The Chinese do use a bit of spice and other flavouring agents in their cookery. Currently these items are not available in most supermarkets. For this booklet we will utilize the most important flavouring agent of all, soya sauce. Chinese tea is not available in the supermarket. It can be purchased from stores in the "Chinatowns" of large American cities. The following is a description of the foods used in the recipes of this booklet.
RICE: For daily consumption, long grain rice is used. There are many types of long grain rice. In this country, the Chinese usually buy the kind called PATNA rice.
NOODLES: Noodles are a staple food item for the inhabitants of northern China. For our recipes, choose EGG noodles from the supermarket. Pasta or macaroni is not recommended in our recipes as it does not contain egg. Because of this, pasta is not as "tough" or "elastic" as egg noodle; therefore it readily breaks up in a "chow mein" when stirred too much.
OILS: Polyunsaturated oils are preferred for Chinese cooking. Chinese consider peanut oil as being the most flavoursome, but corn, safflower, and soya oils are used. Butter, margarine, and olive oil are never used for Chinese wok cookery.
TEA: There are three main types of Chinese tea - green, red, and black. Green tea is unfermented, red tea is semi-fermented, and black tea os completely fermented tea leaves. There are many different grades of teas within these three broad classes. Generally speaking, the higher the price of the tea, the better the grade. Chinese tea can be purchased from Chinese grocery stores in the "Chinatowns" of large cities.
VEGETABLES: All vegetables available in local markets are used in Chinese cookery. In addition to fresh bean sprouts, some supermarkets will seasonally stock celery cabbage and snow peas. Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts are available from the oriental canned goods section.
MEAT: Except for luncheon meats, all types of American meats are suitable for Chinese cookery.
CONDIMENTS AND SEASONINGS: Soya sauce, ginger powder, nuts, corn starch and other condiments used in our recipes are all available in supermarkets.
There aren't any definite rules for planning Chinese meals. In Asia, some Chinese people will eat "congee" or "dim sum" for breakfast, while others prefer it to lunch. Some families will consume rice and a two course meal for breakfast while others will dispense with eating breakfast altogether. Family evening meals are the main events of the day. They generally consist of rice, a soup, and two or three wok cooked dishes. Even though one has limited funds, a Chinese weekly menu can be very varied. There are literally tens of thousands of recipes used in Chinese cookery, new ones being invented daily. It is impossible for any one person to even have heard of all the available recipes, let alone having tasted most of them. Because of their existence, most Chinese are spurred on to enjoying greater eating and cooking experiences. We hope our booklet will help to initiate you along this road.