Mandarin style cuisine is a delight to the eye as well as the palate.
But in this area of Chinese cuisine style and flavor are intricately linked. Originating in the royal courts of China centuries ago, Mandarin dishes pair mild spices with colorful vegetables. They combine sweet with sour, crisp with smooth. They are alive with mixtures of colors and aromas.
Sitting at the cultural center of China, the style is naturally a combination of influences from all the provinces. At the same time, it adds a delightful individuality of its own. Pleasing an emperor and his royal family wasn't easy. That led to some of the finest chefs in the land doing their utmost to create the finest dishes. If they failed, the results could be unpleasant beyond a lack of income. The result for moderns is a delightful array of the finest Chinese dishes.
Even smaller dishes often receive elaborate treatment. 'Snack food' such as scallions coated with dark soy paste might well be presented in a range of colors. The colors could be created by using boiled egg yolk, sliced just so in order to represent a flower. Or, they might be formed from multi-colored vegetable dishes combining carrot, beet and green onions.
Such dishes as stir-fried tomatoes paired with scrambled eggs make for a healthy breakfast that is at the same time highly colorful. The goal is to delight all the senses, not just taste.
Rice is not the central staple for Mandarin dishes. Wheat is the more typical grain here. But far from being a mundane structural element, Mandarin dishes with wheat products are a work of art. Whether in the form of Mandarin pancakes or used as a mung bean wrap for pork, it is always done with flair.
Even such relatively simple dishes as Mandarin pancakes - a blend of water and flour, seasoned with sesame oil - can make for a meal that does more than just fill the stomach. When combined with beef and sea cucumbers, they form part of a special dish called Da Lian Huo Shao.
Want a truly royal Mandarin dish, but don't have time for something complicated? Try some of the traditional hot and sour soup that is a classic of the genre. Filled with bamboo shoots, cloud ear fungus, day lily buds and chili oil, you'll find it a feast for the eyes and tongue. Seasoned with red peppers to make it hot and vinegar to make it sour, even a simple Mandarin dish is a kaleidoscope for the senses.
Thinking fondue? Go Mandarin style with a Hot Pot. A simmering bowl of thinly sliced beef or chicken, combined with leafy green vegetables, egg dumplings and mushrooms, this stew is both healthy and delicious. Throw in an ox bone and call yourself a native-style chef.
Try a bit of Mandarin cuisine and re-discover the true meaning of 'Chinese food'. You'll never be the same again. You may not become royalty, but you'll certainly feel that way.
Then go beyond and explore the other styles in Chinese cuisine.