Real Chinese food is like a million stars patched together - Chinese eat everything, from birds flying in the sky to beasts running on earth. There seems to be strange food in every culture. Some Chinese eat guts, animal feet and even bugs! French may eat snails, but have you heard that Vietnamese eat fried crickets, barbecued mouse and fetal duck egg?
The weirdest thing that I have ever eaten in China is fried dragon fly. Never want to try it again. Creepy things like these are surely not for everyone. Just forget about them! Let's look at real Chinese food that you can enjoy.
Food is super important to the Chinese. We have a way to turn most cooking materials into delicious Chinese foods. People say Chinese only have three stages: preparing to eat, currently eating and have eaten.
Chinese greet each other by saying :"Have you had dinner?"(ni chi fan le ma), though this daily greeting between us become more like "hi, there"(nihao) in recent years. Please note that he or she is not going to give you a treat by asking such a question.
Brief Introduction to Real Chinese Food
Staple foods of real Chinese dishes are rice and noodle. Southern Chinese love to eat rice along with other dishes, whereas the Northern Chinese are generally fond of noodles and dumplings.
Such separated preference of food is believed to be attributed to different crops grown in these regions: rice in southern China and wheat in the northern part.
In Southeast China, various cooking methods add flavor to seafood, but they all have one common aim, keeping the seafood fresh. You will be deeply impressed. The South Chinese pay special attention to their ingredients when cooking from wild plants to domestic animals.
In Northern China, Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) can be found on all families' tables, in three traditional types: boiled dumplings, steamed dumplings, and pan fried dumplings. The city of Xi'an, while not in the north, is famous for its dumpling banquets. No trip to Xi'an is complete without this indulgence.
Sichan Spicy Food:
Dare to try some spicy Sichuan food? It has bold flavors, particularly the pungency and spiciness from spices like chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan pepper, which has a numbing effect.
Sichuan dishes are known as a hundred dishes with a hundred tastes. Most common flavor include hot and spicy, five fragrances, mixed spices, chilli, Chinese prickly ash, sweet and sour.
Famous Sichuan dishes include Kungpao chicken, Mapo Tofu (bean curd with chilli), spicy pork shreds, fried carp, and many more. Venture into a Chengdu restaurant and find out how spicy you can take. Note that Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, is a UNESCO listed City of Gastronomy. Learn More about Chengdu Food.
Eight Cuisine Styles of Chinese Foods
Chinese cuisine is recognizably the top rival of French and Italian food. Having thousands of years history, it is one of the Chinese cultural treasures. Nearly all dishes feature diversified color, aromatic flavor and excellent taste.
Chinese culinary arts demand fine selection of ingredients, precise processing, particular care to the amount of fire, and substantial nourishment. Many traditional Chinese food rely on basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.
While opinions vary, real Chinese food can generally be divided into eight main cuisines based on flavors and the province where they originated.
- Sichuan Cuisine
- Hunan Cuisine
- Shandong Cuisine
- Fujian Cuisine
- Anhui Cuisine
- Jiangsu Cuisine
- Zhejiang Cuisine
- Cantonese Cuisine
Besides the eight main cuisines, each ethnic minority has their own unique food.
For instance, Sichuan cuisine is famous for being hot and spicy, while Zhejiang cuisine is well-known for soft flavor with a mellow fragrance. As you travel to different places described above, you will be amazed at the variety of flavors that you will encounter.
To sum up, generally speaking, dishes in Southwest China are spicy and salty, such as Sichuan food, Chongqing food and Hunan cuisine. While Southeast Chinese like mild dishes, which are not greasy, having but instead a fresh, soft flavor with a mellow fragrance, including Jiangsu cuisine and Zhejiang cuisine.
On the other hand, northern Chinese mainly eat food made of flour. So they are good at cooking noddles into various flavor. Lanzhou stretched noodles noodle, chilled noodles and fried noodles can be enjoyed in nearly all restaurants in northern China.
Here is a 9 minute clip from a wildly popular video about food in China: A Bite of China. It is a gourmet tour to all parts of China, exploring local foods that have amazed generations of Chinese, including where can you find them and even how can you make them.
Ask Us About What Food to Try During Your China Tour, Contact Us for More Information!
Detailed Introduction of Four Major Chinese Local Cuisine
Based on the raw materials and ingredients used, the method of preparation and cultural differences, a variety of foods with different flavors and textures are prepared in different regions of the country.
When you travel to different places in China, you can enjoy both famous China attractions and delicious regional food.
Each local cuisine has its own characteristics, but Chinese cuisine as a whole is divided into four major schools-Shandong, Sichuan, Huaiyang, and Guangdong (Cantonese). Four more can be added: Hunan, Fuijian, Anhui, and Zhejiang. Sometimes Beijing and Shanghai cuisine are also counted.
- Guangdong Cuisine (Yue Cai) ~ Guangdong cuisine uses a great variety of ingredients such as birds, freshwater fish, snakes, and saltwater fish. It emphasizes freshness and tenderness. Representative dishes of the Guangdong cuisine are three snake dragon tiger meeting, dragon tiger phoenix snake soup, stir-fried shrimp, eight-treasure lotus-seed glutinous rice, fresh mushrooms in oyster sauce, pot-cooked soft-shelled turtle, and crisp-skin roast piglet.
- Shandong Cuisine (Lu Cai) ~ This cuisine uses a wide and fine selection of ingredients. The plentiful dishes are cooked in many ways. Shandong soups are most famous, and green onion is commonly used as a seasoning. Shandong cuisine is best represented by its variety of seafood dishes, such as sea cucumber braised with green onion, braised snake-head egg, crab eggs with shark's fin, Dezhou roast chicken, and walnuts in butter soup.
Sichuan Cuisine (Chuan Cai) ~
Sichuan cuisine dishes are famous in China and abroad for their spicy-hot taste and the flavor of Chinese prickly ash. Sichuan cooks select their ingredients with great care, use a variety of seasonings and cook each dishes are differently.
Huaiyang Cuisine (Huaiyang Cai) ~ Huaiyang cuisine includes dishes from Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, and Huai'an in Jiangsu Province. It focuses on the freshness of ingredients. Huaiyang dishes have a light flavor, retaining the original tastes of ingredients. They also have pleasant colors and pretty shapes. Famous dishes include beggar's chicken, sweet and sour mandarin fish, chicken pieces with egg white, boiled salted duck deep-boiled crab meat in clear soup and steamed shad.
Special Cuisine of Chinese Food
Palace, vegetarian, Muslim and medicinal dishes fall into the realm of special cuisines in real Chinese food.
- Palace Cuisine ~ It originated from the imperial kitchens, where dishes for emperors and empresses were cooked. These dishes are made from prime ingredients and cooked with great care. Different dishes are served for each season. Cutting methods are exquisite. Diners are prepared according to traditional procedures.
- Vegetarian Cuisine ~
Vegetarian cuisine became popular in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) and developed further in the Ming and Qing (1368 - 1911) dynasties. Three divisions of vegetarian cuisine - temple, palace, and folk- appeared during that time.
Made of green vegetables, fruits, edible fungi, and bean products, and cooked in vegetable oil, vegetarian dishes are tasty, nourishing, and highly digestible, and they help the body resist cancer.
They are cooked in various ways, and some taste like meat. Famous dishes include 'chicken', mushrooms and gluten, 'meat' braised in soy sauce and spices, 'ham' with mixed vegetables, hot and sour spices, 'fish' with Chinese toon, 'shrimp,' and dried 'meat' strips.
- Muslim Dishes (Qingzhen Cuisine) ~
Muslim dishes became popular at the time when Islam spread to China, inheriting the cooking tradition of the nomadic peoples in ancient north-western and north-eastern China.
The most representative dishes include instant-boiled mutton, fried rice with mutton, dumplings with filling of mutton, cakes braised with mutton, and beef-entrails soup. Recommended places to try such dishes include Xi'an's Muslim Square and most cities in China's northwest Xinjiang Province.
- Medicinal Cuisine (Yaoshan) ~ Also known as therapeutic food, medicinal cuisine is an important part of Chinese cooking. Master Chefs have developed many food therapies by combining cookery and traditional Chinese medicine. Famous medicinal dishes include lily and chicken soup, shrimp meat with pearl powder, tianfu carp, duck braised with soy sauce and orange peel, and steamed dumplings stuffed with minced meat and podia cocoas, a medicinal plant.
Other famous cuisine includes Confucian dishes, Tan's dishes and full formal banquet cuisine, combining Manchurian and Chinese delicacies.
Chinese Snacks and Street Food
Fast food, such as Mcdonald's hamburgers, Kuntucky Fried Chicken, and pizza have become increasingly popular in China over the decade. Given that, local flavors and snacks are still the sweetheart of Chinese. China boasts incredibly rich amount of street food and snacks that are tasty yet cheap.
Local flavors and snacks and special dishes have formed according to regions, local products, climate, historical factors, and eating habits. Beijing flavors is famous for sweetness, Guangdong snacks are more Western, and Suzhou snacks have pleasant colors and beautiful shapes.
The most famous Chinese street food and snacks include bean curd jelly in Beijing; Guobuli steamed dumplings in Tianjin, small steamed soup dumplings with the ovaries and digestive organs of crabs in Zhenjiang, small steamed pork dumplings served in the steamer tray in Shanghai, dumplings stuffed with crab meat sesame paste and pea sprouts.
Other popular Chinese snacks and street foods include Smelly Tofu in Hunan, Candied Gourd on a Stick in Tianjin, Erkuai in Yunnan and Chuanchuan Xiang (vegetables and meats cut into slices and put on bamboo sticks) in Chengdu will impress travelers deeply.
Street barbeque, which are nearly found all cities and towns in China, are both scrumptious and easy to find in the night. Of course, in different China attractions, you can taste totally different flavors of street barbeque. Besides, Chinese desserts are famous as well. Wife cake, Niangao (Chinese new year cake), Red bean cake and Steamed buns can be found in all super markets in China.
Most Popular Chinese Food
Renowned Peking Duck is one real Chinese food you must try when you travel to Beijing. Peking Duck is prized for the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook.
Another celebrated dish in Chongqing is popular among visitors - hot pot. Combined with spicy ingredients like chili, Chongqing hot pot creates a sensation on the tongue that is both spicy and burns and numbs slightly, almost like carbonated beverages.
Mapo Tofu is one of famous dishes in Sichuan, which set tofu in chili broad bean paste (salty bean paste), creating numbing, spicy hot, tender and soft flavor.
Expats including overseas travelers tend to love the following eight Chinese dishes as nominated by China's state media Xinhua News Agency. Check out whether they are your true favorites! The eight dishes are: (according to the level of popularity)
- Sweet and Sour Pork (Tang Cu Li Ji): At the very beginning there is only Sweet and Sour Pork, but now chicken seems more delicious.
- Gong Bao Chicken(Gong Bao Ji Ding): This Sichuan-style dish is popular to both Chinese and foreigners.
- Ma Po Bean Curd(Ma Po Dou Fu): Another Sichuan-stytle food. Foreigners like spicy very much.
- Wonton Soup (Huntun): Wonton Soup has a long history. It is a pasta with pork in it.
- Dumplings(Shui jiao): Dumplings are the symbol of Chinese food. Almost every Chinese eat them During Spring Festivals.
- Spring Rolls(Chun Juan): This is a Cantonese dish. Many foreigners who are working in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, like this dish very much.
- Chow Mein(Chao Mian): The 'Chow Mein' is Cantonese pronunciation. It means Fried Noodles.
- Peking Duck(Beijing Kao Ya): Every foreigner knows this dish before he comes to China.
Survial Skill - How to Oder Food in China:
When you go to a restaurant in China, in most cases you can choose the table by yourself. You will only be seated by the waiter or waitress if it is a really fancy restaurant, or it is very busy in the restaurant at that moment and there appear to be no seats available.
Learn more about this survial skill in How to Order Food in China, which is battle tested, and designed to help any travelers in a easy and quick way.
Chinese Tea and Alcoholic Beverage
Drinking habit of Chinese is very different from that of American or European. Contrary to Westerners, most Chinese do not drink tea with their meals. Rather, tea is consumed for its own sake.
A glass of tea in a Sichuan Tea House is something the locals may spend the better part of a day relaxing over. In general, the only liquids the locals will drink during their meal are alcoholic beverages or a bowl of soup: go ahead, it is fine to drink from the edge of the bowl once it cools off.
Chinese tea and wine are well-known worldwide, but the Chinese enjoy different teas and wines, depending largely on their region and ethnicity. For example, people in Yunnan like Pu'er tea, in Zhejiang they like Oolong tea and Tibetan people love butter tea. None of these is like the black tea that is commonly used in England and America. You can enjoy various teas in China, including green tea, red tea, black tea and white tea. With unique curing techniques, each of these teas has an inimitable flavor that will impress your taste buds.
Chinese alcoholic beverages are also an essential part of Chinese culture, and are produced from grains, legumes, fruits or sometimes other types of ingredients. From these main materials, Chinese drink has three major types: grain-based drinks, fruit-based wines and beer. Grain-based drinks have two main kinds, Huangjiu (fermented beverages) and Baijiu (distilled beverages). There are also alcoholic beverages that contain Chinese medicines, which can be used for medicinal purposes in health care.
Final Tips For Overseas Travelers in China
Two travel tips for you regarding food and drink in China. When you come to China, you should learn the following two essential skills:
Learn to use chopsticks. Use chopsticks is a "survival skill" when you eat most Chinese foods. Food are shared by a group of people. If you are not efficient in using them, you may wind up starved!
Follow local customs, especially when you travel to Tibet or places like that. Read about some Tibetan taboos you should be aware.
Real Chinese food is so much more than take out food in your home countries. The best part about traditional Chinese food is that you can actually stumble upon something scrumptious to eat around every corner! Just go with the locals, eat what they have for dinner, instead of only try popular Chinese food. Make sure you are not allergic to the food though.WindhorseTour invites you to comment on your favorite Chinese food as well as the weirdest food that you have tried!