Food, and the preparation of it, is something that enables people to come together and speak a universal language.
Eating is an essential part of human existence, and it is a comforting, simple and enjoyable thing to do. Food acts as a way of saying thanks, of celebrating, and of paying respects. Moreover, it represents different cultures and helps strengthen cultural ties.
China owes much of its exciting and diverse cuisine to its varied inhabitants. While Cantonese is arguably the most widely recognised regional cuisine, there are many other styles that make up the Chinese repertoire.
Chinese Islamic cuisine, also known as “huizu cai”, is the unique cuisine of the Hui people. The religion of Islam was introduced in China around the Tang Dynasty (651AD) by Arab traders, and as it thrived throughout the country, so did the cuisine.
Huizu cai is heavily influenced by the food of Beijing, with nearly all cooking methods identical, and it differs only due to religious restrictions, such as the omission of pork.
Traditionally, there is a distinction between northern and southern Chinese Islamic cuisine: the former is meat-heavy, relying on beef and mutton, while the latter is lighter, with a focus on duck, geese and seafood. This is due to geography and subsequent availability of ingredients: while ducks, geese and seafood are relatively rare in the arid climate of northern China, beef is easily purchased and transported from nearby countries.
Huizu cai blends the flavours of the Middle East with authentic Chinese dishes: hand pulled noodles called lamian (“la” means to pull or stretch, while “mian” means noodles) are served in meaty stocks of beef or mutton with a tomato-based sauce, a slick of chilli oil and a flourish of coriander leaves; chuan, or meat kebabs, are flavoured with cumin and dried chilli flakes and roasted over charcoal.
Food is often at the heart of celebrations. For Muslims around the globe, Ramadan is a time of reflection and fasting. During Ramadan, two main meals are served: the suhoor, served before dawn and often consisting of heavy and hearty foods to last throughout the day; and the iftar, which is served after sunset.
The act of fasting is intended to be humbling and increase moral discipline as well as serve as a reminder of those less fortunate. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, called Eid al-Fitr.