What is Chinese cuisine? That’s a hard question to answer because the ingredients and cooking styles vary with every region and minority. In some regions food is traditionally spicy, in others sweet. So many different dishes and tastes. Chinese cuisine is like a world on it’s own. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it’s brilliant.
They say Chinese eat everything what moves but when you ask Chinese they say: “Yeah, in Canton (Guangdong province) only.” But well, I am sure you can find dog meat in any region as long as you know where to look for it. They sell dogs for meat at markets in the southern China but I haven’t seen that anywhere else. In Beijing there is a snack street (at Wangfujin) where you can find scorpions, snakes and such but that’s not something people eat daily. Heck, they even have a penis restaurant in Beijing.
When I think about it, Beijingers eat potatoes, rice, carrots, chicken, mushrooms, cabbage… doesn’t sound so special anymore, huh? The main ingredients of Chinese cuisine are vegetables, noodles, meat and rice. Just like in Europe we eat pasta, meat, vegetables etc. When it comes to vegetables Chinese have different types of cabbages (they really love their cabbage!!) and melons. Here are some examples of more “exotic” vegetables.
(fuzzy melon, bitter melon, bamboo shots, bok choy, lotus roots, mug bean sprouts)
But many vegetables are nothing too special: broccoli, carrots, celery, scallions, eggplants. The thing is that Chinese eat more vegetables, they don’t eat green salads but the vegetables are always cooked. Of course, in some cafe’s you can find salads and such but it’s not a part of daily cuisine. The meat is often minced or cut into small pieces (with bones even) and mixed with the vegetables. If you eat in any type of canteen (staff canteen, student canteen) you can come across fish heads, chicken feet, pig’s feet or anything between and beyond that. In restaurants you can order preserved black eggs (not too bad actually), mix of intestines and blood cooked with noodles (typical Beijing dish), fish head soup. Grilled chicken hearts anyone? How about liver with broccoli? Frog’s feet? This all is worth tasting.
What is the Chinese taste then? When do you know the food tastes Chinese? Garlic, ginger, star anise, chicken stock, white sugar, monosodium glutamate (doesn’t really taste like anything), pepper powder, starch, prickly ash seeds, dried red chili, cardamom, Sichuan peppercones (these will numb your tongue!) and Five Spices Powder (usually including : star anise, fennel seed, Sichuan peppercones, cinnamon, and cloves (sometimes also garlic and ginger.) When it comes to seasonings the usual ones are: hoisin sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, broad bean sauce (has many different varieties), sesame oil, peanut oil, chili oil, sweet and sour sauce, vinegar, and cooking wine. In China you can often buy readily mixed and minced spice mix for hot pots, soups and other dishes. Probably these are available in your local Asian food store as well.
Typically Chinese eat breakfast around 6-10am, lunch 11-13 and dinner from 6pm till late. It might be a hell trying to go to a local restaurant during midday around 12, everyone seems to be eating then. Same goes for dinner after 6pm.
Typical breakfast consists of rice congee (topped with about anything like mushrooms, vegetables, fish, nuts, pickles etc) and 包子(baozi) steamed buns with meat or vegetable filling. For drink hot milk or soya milk and yoghurt. A broader breakfast can include any of these: deep friend bread, steamed bread (馒头 mantou), wonton (dumpling noodle soup), noodles with vegetables (friend/soup), steamed/fried dumplings, sweet potato, pickled, fermented tofu, boiled eggs, sauteed vegetables, and local dishes (like Beijing pancake in Beijing or sticky rice wrapped in a leaf in the south).
Lunch and dinner consist of several vegetable and meat dishes with rice. With their food Chinese usually drink soup, hot water, tea or beer. But what do you know, soft drinks like Coca Cola and such are getting more popular second by second. In my opinion Chinese food tastes the best with some hot steaming tea.
Then comes the food safety which is not… something Chinese are proud of. Even the government has admitted there are many shortcomings. As for myself, I have spent about 2 years in China all together and never had any big problems. Sure, thrown up a few times and had some diarrhea, that can happen anywhere. But there are bigger problems than storing foods in wrong places or poor kitchen hygiene. Problems like gutter oil and fake foods. Once in a while you get to read from China Daily how almost all students from XX school were hospitalized after eating at the canteen, or how a family died after eating a home cooked meal. And you heard right, exploding watermelons.
But this doesn’t mean you should never try Chinese street food or eat in shabby looking restaurants. Like I said before: I have been eating Chinese food for about 2 years, in the shabbiest restaurants there are, and still alive.
Anyang breakfast noodles
Typical Chinese breakfast
The staff canteen food
Looks worse than it tastes. Usually it’s actually good.
Food at the hotel’s restaurant
This actually looks better than it tastes. Lacks in flavor quite a lot, just throw in some damn spices! But the cakes are super good!
Restaurant & street food
Beijing Street Hotpot
A dish every Chinese can make: fried tomato and eggs and mapo tofu.
Snacks at home
Supposed to be dried vegetables, tasted like cardboard soaked in sugar…
A random burger from the shelf of nearby grocery store. Not bad.
Dried strawberries were a good discovery.
Rice triangles with different fillings
Awesome tomato beef noodles at Younghedawang (Yong he king) franchise restaurant.
Chips with odd flavors