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Q: Why is there so much oil in Chinese food?

I've been to many Chinese cities and enjoyed so many delicious dishes but found a layer of oil on the bottom of the plate when everyone is finished eating the meat and veg. There seems to be so much controversy around the quality and sources of oil used here. In China mobile they have promotions where if you purchase a new phone you get a free 5 Liter bottle of oil...I couldn't use 5 liters of oil in a year. I just want to know what this obsession with oil is all about when all the health articles and reviews seem to point at consuming less oil being more healthy and the Chinese are generally quite health conscious.  

 

 

10 years 33 weeks ago in  Food  - China

 
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I think it all boils down to cooking practices and reluctance to break from tradition. Obviously, the most popular method of cooking food is frying and unlike the west, where we often gently and slowly fry something in a little oil or butter at a fairly low temperature, the opposite is the case here. Most dishes are "explosive fried" or 爆炒 as they say in Chinese, which essentially means frying something really quickly at a super high temperature. One needs to use a lot of oil for this to prevent the food from burning or sticking to the bottom of the wok.

 

I do feel your frustration however and wish the food was less oily here too. I just don't think they're going to change this approach any time soon however since it's been the accepted way of cooking for generations and Chinese (rightfully) believe that fat gives flavour hence the preference of fatty meat over lean meat. 

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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
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Shifu

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Back home we are crazy about oil to but not the type of oil your thinking about. In china they probably are crazy for cooking oil which I'm not sure why. At least here they don't put artificial stuff in the foods to make you full like they do in chinese restaurants across America.

subhash.sah:

Are you serious, no artificial stuff here?

10 years 33 weeks ago
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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
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Shifu

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5000 year history!!

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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
Posts: 1724

Emperor

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They think that because oil isnt cheap it must be good, so the more you use the more "expensive" your dish is.   

It has nothing to do with the way they cook. Obviously you yourself have fried stuff before and you know it doesnt need that much oil. Its litterally the typical Chinese mentality: "oo this is expensive, therefore it must be good."

derek:

Yes, that is absolutely correct!!!

10 years 33 weeks ago
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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
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There are a few different factors to consider when it comes to oil in the food here.  Xunliang made a great point about oil being a sign of wealth or a dish being expensive - ask any Chinese person who was around in the 70's about oil.  It was difficult to come by, so even today it is seen as a sign of affluence.  Deep fried foods especially so, as it requires more oil to cook them.

 

I think one of the main things with oil deals with the Chinese food culture.  First off, using oil is a great means to enhance the fragrance and flavor of a dish.  Many of the herbs and spices (as well as hot chili peppers) will release their flavors into oil.  Traditional Chinese cooking (and even the wok) have evolved over time to cook food FAST, so oil is the ideal means of blending flavor.  Fuel for cooking (wood, coal, etc) was scare for quite some time here, so the cooking style evolved to efficeintly make food without using too much fuel.  Oil heats fast and cooks food quickly.

 

Next, there is the general "mouth feel" of food.  It's common that people will order food here that compliment each other not so much by taste, but by texture, mouth feel, and balance.  Granted, if you go to dinner with Chinese friends and they order, they will often ignore this and simply order food that they think the laowai will like, so you might be missing on the actual way food is ordered in a "normal" setting.  For example, if the host orders a lamb dish (warming or "hot" food) they will almost always order a "cooling" food to balance it.  Same goes for oily dishes.  There will be something ordered that "balances" the oily dish.

 

Many people are used to eating oily foods here as well.  I have friends that don't feel "full" or like they've eaten anything unless they have eaten something oily.

 

Also, take into consideration that restaurants will use more oil than dishes cooked at home because dining out is an experience and not primarily for health concerns.  Fat = flavor.

 

 

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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
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What cooks food the quickest, well a ton of oil. It's gives more taste than steaming or boiling and puts the food on the table pronto. Any other explanations should be direct to Chinese. When they sit down to eat, they want their food with in minutes, they want it over salty and a little spicy

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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
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I have heard that some of the oil used is taken from drains and used in food. Yuck! Hopefully not many places use oil from there. I have heard of even worse sources of oil but I won't say what that one is because it turns my stomach.

 

I do like Chinese food and China. I think tradition and speed are the reasons. It is hard to explain traditions. Maybe they will use less oil in the future. When I was growing up in Ireland they did not eat foreign food and now they do.

 

Does anyone have any forecasts on what the Chinese people will be eating in say 30 years time?

 

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10 years 33 weeks ago
 
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