Flour food（面食miànshí） has been popular with the Chinese people since ancient times. Flour of various materials is used to make all types of delicacies using an awful lot of cooking ways, such as steaming, boiling, frying, roasting, frying and stewing etc. Common flour food include noodles(面条miàntiáo), dumplings(饺子jiǎozi), wontons(馄饨húntun), stuffed buns(包子bāozi), steamed bread(馒头mántou) and so on.
The Chinese flour food culture originated from the Yellow River Basin, where simple flour food was made in remote ancient times. In the Spring and Autumn Period, flour food was generally referred to as “cakes”. There appeared things similar to steamed bread, boiled dough slices, fried pastry and noodles etc. And there were cooking utensils like pans and steamers especially used for making flour food.
In the Tang and Song Dynasties, Chinese flour food underwent further development. Meanwhile, exchanges with other countries on flour food were carried out. As a result, various flavors and styles of Chinese flour food took shape in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, when large-scale pastry bakeries were mushrooming in the market. Well-known products included palace pastry in Beijing and Jiuyuan stuffed buns in Sichuan.
Flour food has a long history in China. Take the most common type, noodles, for example. Noodles can be dated back to the Eastern Han Dynasty according to historical records. They are a type of food made into long and thin strips through rubbing and pulling dough pieces formed by pressing or rolling flour dough. Noodles can be boiled, stir-fried, braised or deep-fried. It is said that during the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Gao Ze, Emperor of the Northern Qi Dynasty, loved eating tangbing(汤饼tāngbǐng) (soup with dough slices, similar to today’s noodles). So much so, he held a banquet and treated his court officials to tangbing.
Noodles are considered as a symbol of longevity in China. That’s why a “tangbing feast” would be held as a birthday celebration on the third day of a baby’s birth, the completion of its first month of life, or the first birthday. There’s a saying in China that goes like this: “The best Chinese noodles are in Shanxi and the best Shanxi noodles are in Taiyuan.” There are numerous types of noodles in Shanxi. The cooking ways are special, with great emphasis on the vegetables and meat served with the noodles. The main types include hand-pulled noodles(拉面lāmiàn), knife-sliced noodles(刀削面dāoxiāomiàn), rubbed noodles and helou noodles(饸烙面hélàomiàn) (made from coarse food grains) etc.
Well-known noodles in other parts of China include Fried Sauce Noodles(炸酱面zhájiàngmiàn) in Beijing, Plain Noodles(阳春面yángchūnmiàn) in Shanghai and Hand-Pulled Noodles with Beef in Lanzhou, to name just a few.
With an equally long history as that of cuisine styles of China, Chinese flour food is a key component of Chinese food culture as well as an invaluable cultural asset. As time goes by, the flour food culture will definitely be carried forward and further developed, spawning more and more innovative flour delicates combining tradition and modern styles.