Authentic Chinese Cuisine: What to Take Out before You Fly In

Take Out

While preparing to embark on a vacation to an exotic destination such as mainland China, it is important to think about the various ways in which Chinese culture will impact your daily life. It is hard to think of anything that could impact your life in a more personal manner than the food you eat each day. Experiencing the authentic cuisine of China before you arrive is an excellent way to prepare yourself for the exotic flavors you will experience on your journey. Sampling a few dishes from the province to which you intend to travel is an excellent and tasty way to decide what you prefer in these traditional styles.

As a first step, it is helpful to get to know the staples of the Chinese diet. These staples are familiar to most Americans:

Rice
Rice Noodles
Wheat Noodles
Lye-Water or Egg Noodles
Bok Choi or Nappa Cabbage
Various Pickled and Fresh Vegetables

There are many Chinese regional cuisines, and each has its own personality and typical presentation. These cuisines rely on many of the staples listed above and combine each with regional elements to create truly unique flavors. The following are some of the common cuisines you may encounter on your trip to China:

1. Cantonese or Yue Cuisine

Most Americans have eaten a wide variety of Chinese appetizers. Some, such as the ubiquitous “pot sticker,” are more properly part of the Cantonese style known as “Dim-Sum.” Others are not truly authentic Chinese cuisine. For instance, what Americans call “eggrolls” are an American adaptation of the more authentic “spring roll.” For an authentically Cantonese dining experience, order such dishes as:

Jiao zi or Dumplings
Char Siu Bau or Steamed Buns
Shanghai Steamed Buns
Lotus Leaf Rice
Char Siu Spareribs

2. Hunan Cuisine
South-Central China is the home of Hunan province and its regional cuisine; a cuisine known for its spicy and full-bodied flavor. Garlic is a mainstay of Hunan cuisine, as are fresh chilies and smoked or cured meats. If you are traveling to Hunan province, try the following dishes as a preview:

Steamed Fish Heads in Chili Sauce
Cured Ham with Cowpeas
Pearly Meatballs
Numbing and Hot Chicken
Dong’an Chicken

3. Szechuan or Sichuan Style

Sichuan province is located in southwestern China, and the cuisine native to that province is often said to balance sour, pungent, bitter, salty, aromatic, hot and sweet flavors. Sichuan is famous for the use of the “Sichuan peppercorn”; these pods are not truly peppercorns but are the seed-husks of a plant native to the Sichuan region. In America, we most often find the spicy, chili-laden fare that has made Sichuan cuisine famous; however, the Sichuan style contains many mild but equally delectable dishes. If Sichuan province is your destination, you should be sure to try these mouth-watering examples of authentic Sichuan cuisine:

Kung Pao Chicken
Twice-Cooked Pork
Dan Dan Noodles
Sichuan Hotpot
Tea Smoked Duck

4. Jiangsu Cuisine

Jiangsu cuisine encompasses many styles, all of which are carefully adapted to the season in which the cooking takes place. The food tends to be softer in texture than other styles, and soups are a very prominent part of all Jiangsu cuisine. Representative dishes of the many Jiangsu styles include:

Braised Spareribs
Ji-Yu Fish Soup
Whitebait Omelet
Ji-Yu Fish with Fried Shallots

5. Fujian Cuisine

Native to Fujian province on the southeast coast of China, Fujian cuisine depends heavily upon fish and shellfish for its protein content, with bamboo shoots and a wide variety of mushrooms making up the bulk of the dish. The dishes are often flavored with a fish sauce that is reminiscent of the “nam-pla”—fermented fish sauce—that is served as an accompaniment to Thai cuisine. Here are a few representative examples of Fujian’s delectable cuisine:

Oyster Omelet
Popiah
Fried Five Spice Rolls
Clams in Chicken Stock
Red Yeast Rice Chicken
Bak Kut Teh or Meat-Bone Tea

Americanized Chinese cuisine bears little resemblance to the savory, flavorful dishes that are native to mainland China. There are, however, many authentic Chinese restaurants located in large American cities; cities with significant Asian populations. Ordering takeout from these authentic restaurants, and choosing dishes such as those listed here, is an excellent way to tune your taste buds to the gastronomic experience that awaits you when you reach your destination in China.

Julie Pierce is a freelance blogger who occasionally writes for delivery.com, a site she loves using to find a local Delivery Chinese Restaurant using their Delivery NYC directory.

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