The Many-Faceted Charms of Chinese Cuisine

If you go to your local Chinese restaurant and ask the people there if the food they serve is the kind of food they would actually eat in China, chances are that the common answer will be no. Why is that? Because Chinese food is in reality nothing like what we normally find on the menu in our local Chinese restaurants. It seems that Chinese food is extremely similar whether you are traveling in the US, UK, or Western Europe, but it is not the same thing in China itself. So what exactly is Chinese cuisine?

Chinese cuisine

This question has a complicated answer. Sure, rice and noodles are common features in most Chinese meals, as is tofu. Foods that seem a bit strange to western Chinese food lovers are things like shark fins, snakes, frogs, seaweed and other things we might consider odd. The philosophy behind Chinese cooking holds that people must bring balance to their lives, and to their food. Thus, a very balanced presentation of colors, textures, and flavours is served.

However, because of the wide area that is China itself, the styles of food and cooking are very distinct depending on where you go. Let’s discuss some of these typical styles and the foods you can expect to be delighted by when you’re traveling to China.

Cantonese

This style of cuisine originates from the Guangdong province (formerly Canton) and will be the most familiar to most travelers of western origin. With dishes such as wonton soup, egg rolls, and sweet and sour pork, this will probably fit the bill if you’re looking for something not so out of the ordinary. Typical cooking methods include frying, steaming and baking.

Wanton

To dine in the traditional Cantonese style, you must combine eating the small dim sum dishes with washing them down with a bit of tea. In fact, the name for this style, Yum Cha, translating to ‘drink tea’.

Sichuan

Coming from the southwestern part of China in the Sichuan Province, this vibrant style is famous for hot spices. Garlic and chili peppers are used bountifully, along with other Sichuan spices that add gusto to these meals. One such spice is the Sichuan pepper, which activates a sensation of tingling numbness in your mouth.

Sichuan cuisine

Beef and rabbit meat are more widely used in this style, and all parts of the animal are used in cooking, including the head, tongue and liver. If you’re looking for something a little less spicy, try tea-smoked duck, an aromatic dish with lots of flavor and little spice.

Mandarin

Originating in northern China, this style develops dishes from wheat flour. This includes things such as dumplings, noodles, and pancakes.

Peking duck

This style includes a meal that may be familiar to some westerners: Peking duck. This delicious roast duck meat is a traditional recipe of the Mandarin style. Its origins come from before the revolution in China, when the capital Beijing was still known by its former title, Peking.

Hunan

Hunan or Xiang cuisine had its beginnings in the Hunan Province in western China. Renowned for the addition of chili peppers and garlic, it is sometimes compared to Sichuan cuisine, although there are differences in the type of spice that is produced. Hunan is known for instilling dry heat within its food through the extensive use of pure chili. It also tends to use more seafood. Smoking and curing are common practices in this style.

tofu

One food you can’t miss in the Hunan style is Stinky Tofu. The smell is all-engulfing and, as the name suggests, stinky. But the locals use a lot of seasoning and you can too. In fact, this is actually a very tasty dish for those who like tofu.

Foods from Street Vendors

When exploring different types of cuisine in China, it would be unfair to exclude the food you may find on the street. Here are a few different street dishes that may be ugly to the eye but are a great food adventure. You can’t say it’s gross until you try it!

  • Large Deep Fried Spiders
  • Deep Fried Crab (The whole crab, shell and all!)
  • Fried Flying Lizards
  • Sea Horse
  • Scorpions

scorpions

Enjoy your travels in China, and don’t forget to try out some of the weirder foods! You won’t regret it!

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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