China is a huge country with a lot of different regions and languages enveloped in its borders. It would take years in order to be able to adequately visit all of it. And there is an abundance of food, depending on the region of China you choose to visit. All in all, you are talking about 23 different provinces and over 50 ethnic groups, so food can vary greatly. But there are a couple of dishes worth seeking out if you take a trip. Here are a couple of Chinese dishes that are worth looking out for when you travel to China:
The region of Shaoxing is a rainy place with vast historical canals and bridges that transport you to a different era. This region has some of the tastiest rice wine in the country. With a heavy focus on the traditional making of wine, they guard a taste that has been perfected thousands of years. It’s the best drink for the damp cold day that Shaoxing can be known for.
The wine itself is aged from rice and wheat over a period of over 20 years. It varies in color, from light beige to dark brown (which also comes with a range of sweetness depending on the palette of the person). There are plenty of knock off versions in super markets, mostly used for cooking, so be sure to look for smaller stores and ask around to get a quality bottle for drinking. That being said, you can totally use for cooking too.
One of the best dishes with Shaoxing wine is hairy crab, a popular dish in Shanghai. It starts gaining popularity again in fall when markets begin stocking up. These crabs have furry claws and are fairly sizable. The meat itself is abundant and fresh tasting, but more than that, it’s the eggs that attract people to these crabs. The creamy egg center is found in the center of the carb.
Meigan Cai, or picked and dried mustard greens, is the perfect ingredient for a variety of dishes. It is soft and dark with a very strong beef smell to it. Basically, it is mustard green that has been aged, fermented, and dried. Native to Shaoxing as well, it’s sold in many stores and used to flavor many dishes in the region.
Xiao Long Bao-Soup Dumplings
These dumplings wrap around liquid and ground pork, making them the perfect warm winter snack. The stock uses a combination of pork, chicken, scallions, wine and ginger to give it a savory and flavorful taste. The broth is prepared over low heat for hours and then cools. Be careful though, the dumplings are very hot so you should poke a hole in the first before you shove them into your mouth.
This is not your supermarket’s tofu. This is fresh tofu made from the house. It is steamy, warm, and smooth with the flavor of soybeans very prevalent. The softness of the tofu makes it much more enjoyable to cook with and it goes great with sesame and soy sauce. Put it in soups and other dishes. It can be found in any market in China, no matter the region.
Fuqi Feipian (Chilled Sichuan Beef)
Poached beef, ox heart, lung, and tripe are mixed together with spicy chili oil and Sichuan pepper. Topped with black vinegar and some sesame oil, this dish is a kick of spices and meat that goes really well with peanuts and scallions. The meat is chilled and combined with fresh cilantro. The playing of flavors creates the perfect balance of spices and refreshing summer meats. It’s cheap and delicious.
Knowing the Regions: Softer Flavors
It’s worth it to know the basic differences between the types of food. Cantonese food tends to be stir fried or steamed, with a soft and slightly sweet smell. Zhejiang cuisine tends to be very seafood centered, but can be accompanied with fresh vegetables and bamboo shoots. Shandong food, coming from Eastern China, also has a lot of seafood since it is a province located on the coast. Everything you can think of from the sea is found there: shrimp, clams, scallops, sea cucumbers. As expected, they have very salty food. Another region known for its softer flavors is the Jiangsu region, where many of the ancient royal cuisine originated from. They use many sweet sauces.
Knowing the Regions: Packing a Punch
By contrast, these regions tend to rely more on stronger flavors:
Szechuan food uses very spicy and bold spices. It’s particularly known for the use of peppercorn in many dishes, and is perfect for people who love a bit of spice to their food. Anhui cuisine relies on vegetables, herbs, bamboo and mushrooms. The wildness of the herbs contributes to the strong flavors that come through in each dish. Fujian cuisine concentrates more on soups, with many stews and steamed vegetables making it into meals. The proximity to the mountains and seas make it so the freshest ingredients and seasonings make it into dishes.
Hunan food is the hot and spicy food that adventure seekers are looking for. It’s often deep in color and smells amazing, using a lot of fish and rice. Hunan stew is one of the most famous of the country, in addition to their baked meals.
China is home to a lot of wonderful food. You may not have time to eat it all but you should definitely check out as much as you can. Given the size of the country, there is something for everyone, no matter what it is you like to eat the most. Come hungry and leave happy!