China has one of the oldest and most impressive cuisines in the world. It dates back to the 1st millennia BC and has managed to survive and evolve into the diverse dishes we know today. An authentic Chinese meal includes a carbohydrate like rice or noodles, usually accompanied by a savory and aromatic dish with a protein as its main ingredient. Dim sum is also an essential addition to the Chinese cuisine having a combination of dumplings, spring rolls, and other appetizers in it. These snack dishes are commonly enjoyed with tea during gatherings.
Each Chinese region holds its distinct style of cuisine. In fact, you would find eight major culinary cuisines that offer diverse platters to choose from as per one’s palate. These are as follows: Cantonese cuisine which is simple and healthy and has slightly sweet and aromatic flavors; Shandong cuisine is salty and mainly includes seafood; Zhejiang and Jiangsu cuisines have a delicate texture; Sichuan cuisine is hot and spicy with the addition of Sichuan peppercorns; Anhui cuisine is all about fresh vegetables and herbs that make the dish flavorful and aromatic. Fujian cuisine has a soup or broth base with lots of seasonings; and lastly, Hunan cuisine is rich and aromatic with a dominant spicy flavor.
Chǎofàn, or Chinese fried rice, is a wholesome dish with a colorful appearance. The cooking technique varies from region to region, with the stir-fried technique being the commonest one. Leftover cold rice is mainly used for the preparation. Other ingredients like eggs, minced meat, and a whole lot of veggies are also added and stir-fried with garlic and soy sauce in a traditional Chinese wok. The savory and flavorful delight tastes even better when accompanied with ham or shrimps.
Chow mein is a Cantonese term with ‘chow’ meaning fried, and ‘mein’ translating into noodles. So, it is a fried noodles delicacy commonly enjoyed as a street food or a late-night dinner dish. The preparation is almost similar to traditional fried rice. Boiled noodles are stir-fried with sliced meat, veggies, and a savory sauce. A typical Chinese treat, chow mein has a widespread popularity all over the world due to its assortment of flavors.
Kung pao chicken, also known as gong bao ji dings, is a spicy stir-fried chicken delicacy. The star ingredient, diced chicken, is stir-fried with peanuts and peppercorns giving it an attractive red appearance. A well-loved Sichuan dish, kung pao chicken is a relishing combination of tender chicken pieces and crispy peanuts. It is best served with a bowl of steaming rice.
Also a popular takeaway food in Western countries, kung pao chicken is slightly altered by coating the meat in corn starch and adding a sweet and sour sauce to lower the spice level.
A popular duck dish, Běijīng kǎoyā or Peking duck, is one of the national dishes of China. The dish’s origin dates back to the 13th century Imperial Era, when street vendors sold the delicacy door-to-door. It is mainly enjoyed for the thinly sliced and crisp skin, served with a sweet and spicy hoisin sauce. Accompaniments include pancakes or steamed lotus buns and scallions, making each bite taste heavenly.
Xiao huntun or wanton soup is super-comforting on gloomy days and a perfect remedy for sore throats. While the wantons contain miced meat or diced shrimp filling, the soup is a broth prepared from various meats. Taking a bite into the tender, juicy, and flavorsome wontons with the help of chopsticks while slurping the rich and aromatic broth is indeed a heavenly feeling.
A Sichuan specialty dish, mápó dòufu or mapo tofu, is a hot and spicy stir-fried tofu dish. The dish’s name is translated into ‘pockmarked old woman’s tofu,’ referring to its creator, Chen Mápó. It typically includes a spicy sauce coated over the soft tofu cubes alongside juicy, seasoned bits of ground pork, fermented black beans, and Sichuan peppercorns. A highly appetizing dish, mápó dòufu is commonly served with Chinese fried rice or steamed rice for the perfect balance of flavors. One can also add accompaniments like egg rolls and spring rolls for a wholesome treat.
Baozi or bao are classic stuffed buns enjoyed all over China. They are mainly found in two variants, xiǎobāo or small buns and dàbāo or big buns. Fillings vary from region to region, with ground pork stuffing being the common one. Sometimes, a combination of meat and veggies like shredded cabbage and carrots are also used as fillings.
As baozi are typically steamed, it becomes soft and fluffy, having a juicy and flavorful inside. Found in every Chinese street stall, they are served with pickled red cabbage, cucumber salad, sweet chili sauce, vinegar, or soy sauce.
Char Siu is an authentic barbecued pork dish. Its name means ‘fork roast’ in Cantonese, referring to the traditional method of using long forks to roast the seasoned meat over a fire or in an oven. The deep red, sticky coating over the pork chunks has honey in it, which adds sweetness to the overall preparation, while the spicy sauces and fermented bean curd make it savory. Due to the assortment of flavors, char siu can be enjoyed plain or as a filling in baozi buns. One can also pair it with noodles or rice for a satisfying meal.
Xiaolongbao is a tasty and unique soup dumpling dish consisting of dumplings filled with soup. A rich pork stock goes into the bao once it cools down and solidifies. Upon steaming the delicate xiaolongbao in a small bamboo basket, the filling transforms into liquid state once again. The combination of umami and slightly sweet flavors of the dumpling and the rich, flavorful broth hidden inside make the dish well-loved by many Chinese people. The commonest way to enjoy it is by taking a small bite of the dumpling to remove off one of the tips and then slurp the broth before relishing the rest of it.
Huǒguō or hot pot is a deeply satisfying broth delicacy mostly enjoyed during gatherings. It is named after the preparation method which involves cooking and simmering raw and sliced meat and vegetables in a large metal pot on the dinner table itself. The longer it is simmered, the more the broth attains the rich flavors of the added ingredients. Traditionally, huǒguō is enjoyed steaming hot at the end of the main course from the same metal pot in which it was made.
A well-loved Cantonese dim sum platter, lo mai gai is a combination of sticky glutinous rice, lap cheong or traditional sausage, sautéed chicken and mushroom. All the ingredients are wrapped in a dried lotus leaf and steamed. Often enjoyed as a breakfast or lunch dish, lo mai gai has an assortment of flavors and textures that would satisfy anyone’s taste bud.
Another Chinese New Year delight, chūnjuǎn or spring rolls, are thin rolled fried wrappers with different stuffing. The platter is named so as they were earlier enjoyed during the Spring Festival. A meat filling, particularly minced and seasoned pork, is common. However, one can also use vegetables like cabbage, spring onions, and carrots to transform the platter into a mouthwatering vegetarian appetizer. The crispy, golden brown delicacy is mostly relished as a side dish or appetizer with a dipping sauce like chili garlic sauce, vinegar, or soy sauce.
Zha jiang mian is a yummy Chinese preparation. Its name literally means ‘fried sauce noodles,’ having a combination of thick, chewy noodles and a typical salty, fragrant Zhejiang sauce made with fermented soybean paste and stir-fried ground pork. Adding toppings of fresh or pickled vegetables and bits of omelets gives it a richer flavor. A renowned dish of Shandong province, zha jiang mian is now popular in restaurants and street-side food stalls throughout China.
Chòudòufu might not be appetizing to one due to its strong odor. The stinky tofu platter is fermented in brine for several months before deep-frying in oil. Despite the smell, it tastes delicious once cooked and attains a crispy outer crust and tender interior.
Often sold by Chinese street vendors as a snack, chòudòufu is cut into cubes and served with a drizzle of lip-smacking chili sauce. If seeking a healthier substitute, one can even steam or boil the tofu pieces instead of frying them.
Commonly known as congee, this is an authentic rice porridge dish that is enjoyed as a breakfast staple. Traditionally, it was prepared through a slow cooking method, requiring about 8-11 hours over a low flame. The result was a soft and silky smooth textured congee, often served with bits of meat, boiled eggs, and pickled tofu. In some regions, toppings of mung beans and sugar are added for a sweet delight. A comfort food, báizhōu is also a perfect cure for hangovers and fever.
Cōng yóu bǐng is a savory scallion pancake dish similar to an Indian paratha, an unleavened flatbread. The dough, prepared by mixing flour and minced scallion, is rolled into thin sheets and pan-fried in oil. A staple Eastern Chinese delicacy, cōng yóu bǐng is mainly relished for its combination of crisp edges and chewy texture. Besides being a snack item, it is also enjoyed as a breakfast by most locals as they accompany it with an egg and a dipping sauce.
An authentic eggplant dish, liáng bàn qié zi, has its roots in Shanghai. The dish includes steamed eggplant strips topped with ginger, garlic, and scallions. Hot oil is poured over to create a sizzling effect and finally it is drizzled with a sweet and savory sauce prepared with soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and pepper. The soft and tender eggplants soaked in the flavors of the sauce and aromatics make it a tasty appetizer.
Jiaozi, a type of Chinese dumpling, has a savory filling of ground meat and vegetables. These stuffed parcels can be made in various ways, including boiling, steaming, or pan-frying. A well-loved delicacy and a symbol of good fortune, jiaozi is a popular appetizer in the Chinese Lunar Year, though one can enjoy it as a snack throughout the year. The thin, delicate outer layer and tender insides loaded with flavors melt in the mouth, making it an irresistible treat.
If you’re craving hamburgers when in China, trying out their rou jia mo is a must. A well-known street food, it comprises a traditional bun stuffed with braised pork belly. Various spices and herbs go into the preparation of the meat filling, making it extremely flavorful and being perfectly balanced out by the soft bun. As its origin dates back to the ancient Shaanxi Province of Northwest China, many claim rou jia mo to be the first hamburger ever invented.
This delicious rice and chicken dish is a creation of immigrants of Hainan in southern China. It includes poached chicken and rice cooked in chicken broth along with various seasonings and spices. The flavorful and aromatic dish has its popularity spread in other Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. It is usually served with sliced cucumbers and a hot chili sauce before serving it at room temperature.
Huíguōròu, or twice-cooked pork, is of Sichuan origin, well-loved by everyone in China. Its preparation includes simmering the pork meat, particularly pork belly or leg, in a traditional pot and cooled down before stir-frying it with cabbage, mushrooms, bell peppers, and other vegetables. The crispy edges of the pork slices are delectable, with sweet, savory, and salty flavors in each bite.
This Chinese platter is served in most Chinese wedding ceremonies. It consists of four, or sometimes more than four appetizers, that represent the four seasons, summer, winter, spring, and autumn. For example, appetizers like spring rolls represent spring; siu mai dumplings are a summer treat; the delicious, flavorsome lobak or five-spice pork rolls represent autumn; and finally crab meatballs are a favorite that symbolize winter.
Many Chinese immigrants spread the authentic Chinese dishes worldwide over the years. These have been well-accepted and adapted by the culinary experts of most countries to popularize it among the local population. Two popular fusion culinary styles include American Chinese cuisine and Indo-Chinese cuisine.
1. Sweet and Sour Chicken
A favorite American Chinese takeout dish, sweet and sour chicken is ideal for a quick snack. It includes a tasty combination of battered and fried chicken and sweet and sour sauce. The crispy yet tender meat smothered in the delicious sauce results in a burst of flavors in each bite. It’s best served immediately to maintain the crispness and zingy taste.
2. Crab Rangoon
Crab Rangoon is a delectable appetizer commonly served in American Chinese restaurants. It consists of a wonton sheet, and a combination of crab meat and cream cheese. Deep-fried or baked, these dainty golden delights are crispy and taste even better when served with a sweet and sour sauce.
3. Lemon Chicken
Chinese lemon chicken is a delectable dish prepared with boneless and skinless chicken breast pieces. They are dipped in batter and deep-fried in oil before cooking in a sweet and tangy lemon sauce. The juices oozing out in every bite with the flavors of the relishing sauce make it one of the most ordered takeaway foods. Pairing lemon chicken with a bowl of rice is ideal for a wholesome meal.
1. Sweet Corn Chicken Soup
Sweet corn chicken soup is a relishing comfort Indo-Chinese food. Its preparation includes cream-style corn, chicken stock, and an egg. While the seasoned stock gives it the flavor, the egg and cornflour are responsible for the smooth thick texture. Garnishing it with scallions adds to the taste and is perfect for the slight crunch as you slurp the heart-warming soup.
2. Gobi Manchurian
Gobi manchurian is a well-loved Indo-Chinese vegetarian delight. While ‘gobi’ in Hindi means cauliflower, manchurian refers to a slightly sweet and savory sauce made with sautéed vegetables like scallions and capsicum, and a combination of soy sauce, chili sauce, and tomato ketchup. The tender cauliflowers combined with an assortment of flavors make it a delectable dish.
Depending on one’s preference, it can be enjoyed as an appetizer by coating the cauliflower in a thick sauce or a main course by transforming the sauce into gravy. If preparing gobi manchurian with gravy, it is goes well with chow mein or fried rice. Manchurian also exists in other varieties, with chicken and paneer or cottage cheese being the two other common ones.
3. Chili Chicken
Chili chicken is a yummy dish made with marinated and fried chicken soaked in a sweet, spicy, and garlicky sauce. The juicy chicken meat with a crispy outer layer has a burst of flavors and, when smeared in the sauce, acquires a more flavorful taste. The name chili chicken might be misleading as it is not overly spicy but a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and sour flavors. Chili chicken is often served as an appetizer or enjoyed with schezwan fried rice or chow mein for a complete meal.
These Chinese dishes are sure to make you drool with their aroma, flavors, and attractive appearance. After enjoying a wholesome meal, you could try one of the Chinese desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Best Chinese Fast Foods: Běijīng Kǎoyā, Rou Jia Mo, Chow Mein
Best Chinese Side Dishes: Chūnjuǎn, Jiaozi, Húndùn
Best Chinese Breakfast Dishes: Báizhōu, Lo Mai Gai
Best Chinese Spicy Dishes: Mápó Dòufu, Kung Pao Chicken, Char Siu
Best Chinese New Year Dishes: Jiaozi, Chūnjuǎn, Běijīng Kǎoyā
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