At the mere thought of Chinese food, notes of rich, spicy, salty, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors begin circulating throughout the hungry soul. Tasting a new dish in China is like experiencing a breath of fresh air for the very first time. Not only is the food delightful and aromatic, but it also allows you to experience the historic and authentic culture with every bite. Let us introduce you to some fan favorites and ancient Chinese food you should try in China.
Hot pot is a traditional Chinese meal dating back to the Zhou Dynasty. It is prepared in a large metal pot with a soup base. The soup base is served alongside various raw ingredients, such as exotic meats, poultry, seafood, tofu, and vegetables. Hotpot can be served mild or too spicy. Shirley, from the Human Resources department at Houhai English, loves hot pot. "I enjoy having hot pot because I can eat a lot of different kinds of food. I love the hot pot dining environment. It's always a pleasure eating hot pot with friends and family. There are many different hotpot styles like Beijing hot pot, Sichuan hot pot, and so on. My favorite is the Beijing hotpot. It's not too spicy, and I like having the lamb meat in it."
If you love variety in your meals, dim sum is a must-try for you. Dim sum is a specialty of Cantonese cuisine from Guangdong Province. When served at brunch, the meal consists of tea and dim sum and is known as "yum cha." Dim sum consists of different ingredients such as meat, pork, dumplings, rice cakes, steamed vegetables, noodles, and a variety of buns with red bean or custard fillings. You can see why people love dim sum. It's the best of every world. Tracy, a Chinese teacher at Houhai English, says Dim Sim is one of her favorites. "I enjoy dim sum because it has plenty of choices. I also like that it's served in tiny portions, so it's not too filling. It's also suitable for a group of friends because you can buy a variety and share them. If you go by yourself, there might be less variety. It's also not too spicy, which I prefer."
Peking duck is a specialty from Beijing. The meat is cut thin, with a crisp, mouthwatering skin. Head over to a traditional Chinese restaurant, and the cook will slice the meat right at your table. It's a delicate mix of sweet and savory. The dish is often eaten with spring onion, cucumber, sweet bean sauce, and pancakes to roll the ingredients. Felicity, who works in product and marketing at Houhai English, insists that you try Peking duck. "Beijing or Peking duck is a must-try. Dadong is my favorite restaurant to have Peking Duck."
MA PO TOFU
Ma Po tofu is a popular dish from Sichuan Province. The soft tofu is immersed in a spicy sauce, which leaves your mouth numb! Traditionally, Ma Po tofu is prepared with minced meat, such as beef, and topped with green onions. The tofu is so smooth and silky it melts in your mouth like custard. The spice's flavor, along with the numbing seasoning (Mala), makes for a unique culinary experience. For vegetarians, it's possible to ask for no meat, but be cautious. Ma Po tofu is often enjoyed with a side of white rice. Ma Po tofu is a delicate and light dish and is always tasty.
Everyone loves dumplings. They always hit the spot when in need of something wholesome. You can find restaurants serving dumplings all over Beijing. The best are restaurants that make the dumplings right before your eyes. There are dumpling varieties for every palate. They can be fried, boiled, or steamed. As for the filling, your imagination can run free. Dumplings can be filled with an array of juicy meats, healthy vegetables, and even sweets! Dumplings are one of the specialty foods to eat during Chinese New Year. "Real northern Chinese dumplings are filled with pork and cabbage or pork with chives or mushrooms. They're always boiled or steamed and enjoyed with vinegar, soy sauce, or some chili oil. Delicious vegetarian steamed dumplings are filled with stir-fried vegetables. Buddhists say that you're supposed to eat vegetarian dishes twice a month in the lunar calendar. My grandma is Buddhist, and we always enjoy vegetarian dumplings during these times. You can find dumplings anywhere", reckons Jess, the administrative assistant with Houhai English's Operations department.
STEAMED VERMICELLI ROLLS
Steamed vermicelli rolls, also knowns as steamed rice rolls or "Cheung fun," are a popular Cantonese delicacy from southern China. It is a specialty included as part of a dim sum meal. The roll is made from rice noodles, and its filling consists of a variety of meat, shrimp, or vegetables, like mushrooms, lettuce, and other ingredients. Soy sauce is poured on top to give the dish a salty touch. These steamed rolls make for a lighter part of a meal. The skin is smooth, and the filling always delivers a delicious, delectable punch. Yum!
BEIJING FRIED SAUCE NOODLES
There are fried noodles, and then there are Beijing Fried Sauce Noddles. You won't want to pass these up. Fried sauce noodles, also known as "Zha Jiang Mian," are a staple of Beijing cuisine. You can find this dish everywhere and at all different price points, the most affordable being only around 20 RMB. The noodles are fresh and chewy, with a delicious bite. Traditionally, they are mixed with meat, different vegetables, and warm soybean sauce. Shirley also loves fried noodles: "I usually eat this at restaurants. It's a must-try. Normally the noodles are fresh and handmade at the restaurant. They are served with cucumbers. Each restaurant makes them differently. The most important aspect of the noodles is the sauce. They aren't spicy and the noodles leave you feeling great."
Doris, a Chinese teacher at Houhai, tells us about shaomai, one of her favorite food. "My hometown is Inner Mongolia. One of the most common foods in inner Mongolia is roasted lamb, which is also the most important shaomai ingredient. We use fire to roast lamb marinated with many different spices. Shaomai is more expensive than traditional dumplings but is even tastier! Real shaomai is steamed. Only professional cooks can make this because the skin is very delicate. Shaomai's outer layer is like flower petals. You can find many places around Beijing serving tasty shaomai."
It's safe to say you won't run out of new, incredible food to try in China. Taking a bite out of history with a side of mouthwatering deliciousness is always a good idea. What dish would you most like to try in China?