For today's traveling gourmet intent on sampling all Chinese cuisines, the handiest place left outside of Hong Kong is Taipei. The myriad streets and back alleys of the booming capital of the Republic of China on Taiwan (Formosa) contain migrant restaurants by the dozen, thought there with the Exodus from Communist rule in 1949. Although the winds of change are blowing. You'll find Cantonese and Mandarin dishes side by side on the same menu; many of the ex-mainlanders cling doggedly to their traditional styles. So richly varied is the fare that many a visitor spends his own stay munching happily through a different gustatory province at each meal. Here are some of the distinct paths:
The Guangzhou school, after centers of attracting the best cooks in China, has, like Paris, absorbed the top dishes of other regions into its cuisine. The Cantonese also cook certain things not commonly found elsewhere, such as frogs' legs, turtle and shark's fin soup, dried fish, or squab pigeons. They use more expensive materials: a concentrated chicken stock, for example, and rare herbs for pungent flavoring. The style is truly gourmet and cosmopolitan, erring if at all, in people words, "rather on the right side by making some dishes a little too rich or by crowding too many good things into one feast."
The great variety of Cantonese dishes led to the classic Chinese gourmet banquet, which could run to 40 courses or more, take a team of cooks three days to prepare, and floor even the fattest trencherman after five or six hours in the eating. Such a feast is now a thing of the past-a mere fourteen courses is considered a banquet, and and more than six or eight well-prepared dishes are dimly viewed as an example of conspicuous waste. One reason for the shrinkage is the total disappearance of exoticisms such as bear's paw, owl's eggs, camel's hump, or ape's lips. The youngger Chinese have never tasted them, and in all likelihood never will.
Shandong is noted for wheat (rather than rice) flour noodles, usually cooked soft, like spaghetti. Chao (stir-fried) dishes are rare, a principal difference from the Cantonese, who tend to mingle ingredients rather than serve them separately. Wine, wine vinegar, and sesame oil are frequently used in cooking, with just a touch of hot peppery sauces.
The most famous Mandarin delicacy, Beijing duck, takes all day to prepare and, it is said, one year to learn how to prepare. The duck is dipped in boiling water, rubbed with herbs and -honey, and hung up to dry. Then it is roasted over an open fire and turned constantly by hand (an electric rotisserie is considered cheating). The meat is sauteed with vegetables and the crisp, honey-gold skin is eaten separately, dipped in plum sauce. It is, indeed, a noble dish.