I have eaten Chinese food with friends in the USA and Canada, and they usually order not-so-authentic Chinese food and lots of main dishes. Many people believe Chinese food is all about fried rice, noodle cakes, and chicken balls, but real Chinese food is very different.
Chinese food is very diverse and reflects many aspects of Chinese culture. As a country with more than 5000 years’ history, China has a wide range of foods, each of which can be cooked in multiple ways, resulting in different flavors and dishes.
Read on to discover the authentic and delicious food of China. In the end, you will know what Chinese food is really about. If you plan to visit China, be sure to try some of these dishes. I am sure you will become addicted to them.
Sichuan Boiled Fish (Shui Zhu Yu) is my all-time favorite
The most famous Sichuan food you can find in a Chinese restaurant is Sichuan boiled fish. The soup is made with doubanjiang and dou-zhi (a spicy bean paste). The fish is thinly sliced and comes with vegetables like bean sprouts and cabbage at the bottom, and is topped with chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorn.
In China, people share this dish in a restaurant together with other dishes and white rice. It takes lots of ingredients, preparation, and time to cook this dish, so not many people bother to make it at home.
The most important ingredients are the doubanjiang and dou-zhi, as they set the flavor for this dish. It tastes spicy at first, with all the spicy sauce and peppers. The level of spiciness is medium but bearable, and it is a bit addictive. I could eat this dish every dinner with rice.
Salted douhua, translated as tofu pudding, is a traditional Chinese dish. The main feature is the soft and tender tofu.
Back in the day, douhua was a popular dish in various Chinese cities. The soft tofu comes with chili oil, soy sauce, green onions, diced pickles, dried prawn, and seaweed. There are different ways of making salted douhua, and each offers different flavors. Some restaurants serve plain douhua, and put all the sauce and ingredients aside for guests to choose from.
It is a typical breakfast dish. When I was working in Shanghai, I would start my day with a bowl of douhua and soup dumplings. It is a dirt-cheap meal that gives you a good start to the day.
Another of my favorite Sichuan dishes is Fuqi Feipian. This is made of thinly-sliced beef and beef offal. The sliced beef is not the typical beef you can get in the supermarket. The beef slice always experimented and improved with new ingredients, resulting in a distinctively different taste from other beef dishes, with various spices mixed with it. I got addicted when I tried it for the first time 17 years ago. It was very spicy and made my mouth numb. But trust me, it tastes like heaven at the end of a hot summer day, if you team it with a beer.
It is quite usual to see soup dumplings on the menu in the southern and eastern parts of China. There are two types of soup dumplings, steamed and fried. In Shanghai, people are most likely to pair soup dumplings with beef soup with vermicelli for breakfast.
You will usually see people order West Lake Beef soup, chicken soup, shark fin soup, turtle soup, pigeon soup, and hot and sour soup at restaurants. Chicken soup, fish soup, and winter melon spare rib soup are two popular home-made dishes.
Spicy crawfish is a popular dish in the summer, and is made with different spices and peppers. The rich spicy flavor lingers in your mouth until it is numb. Crawfish is good paired with juice and beer, and eaten with other cold dishes on a cool summer night.
Unfortunately, crawfish is very scarce in North America and hardly any restaurants make authentic Chinese spicy crawfish. If you visit China in summer, be sure to try the delicious crawfish at night. There are plenty of restaurants in Shanghai serving crawfish and most will advertise crawfish dishes at the front. If not, I usually walk into a restaurant and ask the owner if they have any.
The Chinese love to share multiple courses and dishes with family and friends. At every meal, we love to have meat, seafood, vegetables, and soups. Most restaurants will give away a plate of fruit instead of deserts after a meal. We all love to try food cooked in different ways, be it fried, steamed, or cold dishes, and you can find hundreds of dishes at restaurants.
I am not a dessert person, but I cannot pass up sweet fermented rice soup with rice dumpling. On a cold winter night, a bowl of warm sweet fermented rice soup cooked with rice dumpling will warm you up and send you into a sound sleep.
Last but not least, Chinese herbal tea…There are different teas in every region and you can chew the leaves afterward. Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) Mao Feng is my favorite.
If you have not tried real Chinese food, I encourage you to try it now. There are many good authentic Chinese dishes and these are just the tip of the iceberg. I have had different Chinese food, and some are good and some are weird. I have tried many western foods but my taste buds are certainly fixed on Chinese food.
If you eat at Chinese restaurants in Western countries, I highly recommend you to look beyond fried rice, noodle cakes, and main dishes, as they are usually not typical Chinese food. Ask your Chinese friends and staff at the restaurants to recommend you some dishes. Chinese food is more delicious than you can ever imagine, and I promise you will crave more.
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