No matter where you are or where you live, you’re probably familiar with Chinese food. Once you’ve attained a Chinese visa and entered China you may be wondering what the food is like. That’s what we’ll be answering today as we go over some of China’s more notable cuisine.
If you’re familiar with Chinese takeout, you may notice some of your favorite dishes appearing. If you’re not familiar with Chinese takeout… I’m not sure how you avoided becoming familiar your entire life, but kudos to you! Many of the core Chinese dishes are based around rice. Rice is so important to the Chinese diet that the word “rice” in Mandarin is also the same word for “food”. That being said, a lot of the dishes we’ll be talking about will either include or are typically eaten with a side of rice.
Peking Duck was a dish that was previously reserved for China’s Emperors. Only the best ducks would have the honor of being roasted and served to China’s divine rulers. The dish is high in muscle and fat without being greasy, the skin is also very crispy thanks to the roasting process.
Nowadays you can purchase Peking Duck at many Chinese restaurants, mostly thanks to food becoming vastly cheaper as time has gone on. Beijing used to be called Peking, which is actually where the dish gets its name. Speaking of Beijing, it’s one of the best places to find this dish thanks to the cities history with the dish. Check out this article that explores some of the top restaurants serving Peking Duck in Beijing.
The dumpling is kind of the ultimate finger food. Small, easy to prepare, and a variety of stuffing and dips available. Whether it be chicken, pork, beef, or even duck, you can probably get it inside a dumpling. Dumplings are one of the most popular foods in China, mostly for the reasons listed above.
Dumplings are also cheap and can be purchased at various street vendors or at restaurants. I like to think of the dumpling like we think of chicken nuggets here in the States: every place has them with their own special spin. ALSO, they’re rather easy to purchase in the frozen food aisle.
Spring rolls! Another iconic finger food from China, the spring roll is made by wrapping flour around an assortment of minced veggies and sometimes, even meat. Not to be confused with its more popular counterpart here in the USA, the egg roll, which is made very similarly to the spring roll except that the egg roll shell is made of flour and eggs (hence the “egg” in egg roll).
Spring rolls, much like dumplings, are readily available at supermarkets, street vendors, and restaurants of all kinds in China. Since they don’t contain any eggs in their shell and because they don’t need to contain meat, spring rolls are an option for the vegans out there.
Chow mein is a delicious noodle dish that you’ll find mostly in Northern China. Popular at mom and pop Chinese restaurants around the world, the dish is made of bean and corn flour dough styled into thin noodles. Besides some eastern spaghetti, you also get a delightful medley of chopped veggies, eggs, and meat, usually pork.
Chow mein, like the spring roll, has a counterpart known as lo mein. The primary difference between the two is the style of preparation. Chow mein is stir fried until it’s crispy, while lo mein is cooked until it’s soft. Both dishes are typically served with similar peripherals, so take your pick!
Sweet and Sour…
Sweet and sour… Anything. Originally the dish was only sweet and sour pork, however the popularity of the dish outpaced demanded and as time went on variations were made to the dish. Today you can get sweet and sour chicken, beef, duck, anything really. Sweet and sour sauce itself has found its way out of China and around the world. Even the most recognizable fast food chain around, McDonald’s, has a sweet and sour sauce on the menu.
Like stated above, the dish began as a primarily pork dish. It should be noted that China has a lot of pork dishes. This isn’t because of some weird obsession with pigs… Okay, maybe a little. China basically loves pigs, or maybe just the taste of pork. In fact China loves pigs so much that along with having the largest population of humans in the world, China also boasts the largest population of pigs in the world with a staggering 450 million pigs.
Now For The Fun Stuff
We’ve gone over some pretty good dishes so far but some of you may be craving more, perhaps even something… different? Lucky for those folks, we saved the weird stuff for last. As much as everyone likes Chinese takeout, it isn’t representative of the entirety of China’s cuisine. After all, if the only difference between the food in the States and the food in China is location, why bother trying the food there at all? Needless to say, some things just aren’t meant for our western palates.
Remember when we mentioned how many pigs lived in China? Well, 450 million pigs is 1.8 billion pigs feet, why waste them when you can taste them? If you’ve been to a traditional dim sum spot in the USA you’ve probably seen pigs feet, but the dish is much more popular in China. While not exactly unique to China, the dish definitely coincides with China’s love of pork. Pig’s feet are low in fat and the skin is often cooked to a crisp which can lead to a very pleasant dining experience.
Like any food that too closely resembles the animal it came from, it can big hard to stomach pig’s feet at first. It’s believed that pig’s feet along with other items appearing later on this list may have first been consumed out of necessity rather than curiosity. Food shortages have struck China multiple times throughout history…this may have led to the common folk of China using every part of the animals they slaughter to cut down on waste.
Century eggs are probably less appetizing than pigs feet just based off appearance alone. Unlike pigs feet, this dish does not come from scarcity. It is prepared by preserving an egg (of any kind available really) in a mixture made of clay, ash, alkaline salt, quicklime, and rice hulls. The egg is left in this caustic prison for days or months, eventually taking on a new appearance and flavor as the egg essentially rots. The process was birthed during times of plenty when folks sought ways to preserve their eggs when hard times came around.
Today the century egg is treated as a delicacy in China. Careful however, some have begun altering the process of the egg’s creation, even going as far as to add potentially harmful metals to the process to speed it up. China’s government has mentioned that it is attempting to place stricter regulations on the food industry, including a crackdown on fake food.
Stinky tofu! But is it actually stinky or is this some kind of mistranslation? Nope, it stinks. This dish is fermented tofu which is then prepped in a variety of ways depending on what region of China you are in. The dish isn’t usually served in restaurants but rather lunch bars and street food stands. I wonder if that has anything to do with the smell? Probably.
Stinky tofu is served in a variety of ways depending on where in China you are, if you’re getting it from off the street it’s typically fried. This fried variant is probably what most Americans would consider to be the easiest to stomach as we Americans love anything fried, even Oreos. Especially Oreos. Regardless the fried stinky tofu is often served with a side of sweet dipping sauce to offset the pungent taste and aroma. In some parts of China, stinky tofu is served as a side to congee (rice porridge) during breakfast. This means that you can enjoy stinky tofu for breakfast with your congee, for lunch as a side at a bar, and for dinner fried on the streets!
Thanks to China having such a long and extensive contiguous history, many traditions have been based down through the generations. This includes some practices that might not be looked upon favorably here in the west. For example, the Chinese have a strong belief in the power of ancient Chinese remedies. Things like using tiger bones to create a tiger wine which is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Similarly, the Chinese believe that snake soup is good for the skin.
Snake soup is essentially what it sounds like; soup made using snake. The soup is typically made using the meat of two snakes, and some say it tastes like chicken. The dish is native to Hong Kong, so you won’t need a Chinese Visa to try this ancient delicacy out. Don’t hesitate if you want to benefit from the alleged healing properties of snake soup. The art of creating this dish is dying out as less of Hong Kong’s youth show interest in taking up the tradition.
To cap things off, let’s talk about animal genitals. The Chinese have a knack for cooking up some spicy genitalia. For example, rooster testicles are a popular dish that can be found in mainland China. Uncooked, they appear like large soggy white beans. When cooked, they also kind of look like big soggy beans, but this time warm. Despite how off- putting thinking of munching on another creature gonads are, rooster testicles have a rather mild flavor, kind of similar to tofu with a touch of chicken liver.
I hope all this talk of oddly colorful cuisine hasn’t left you without an appetite. I can assure you, that was only half of our intention. Luckily, for anyone who might have second thoughts of going to China because of the chance that they may have to try something on the second half of this list, China has fast food! In fact, KFC is huge in China so you can enjoy some crispy chicken after you devour some rooster testicles.
If you plan on traveling to China soon, you’ll need to apply for a Chinese visa. Lucky for all of you, we can help with that. Whether it be business visa, tourist visa, or work visa, we here at China Visa Department specialize in getting you’re visa before your big trip. Click here to get started!