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Beginner’s Guide to Chinese Food

When traveling to new places, one of the important elements, or shall we say parts of your traveling experience is to get to know the people and their culture, wherever your destination may be. A simple area to see a small part of the culture and the way of life in a new place is trying their cuisine. Trying the local cuisine of a people will help you see the surface of their culture, traditions, and perhaps even theology and mythology. China, as a popular tourism destination, has a wide range of fantastic cuisines and foods. Here, TripWays is going to represent a full guide to Chinese food for beginners and first-time travelers.

 

An overall look at Chinese Food

When you decide to go to China, you need to know what to eat and how the locals eat that specific food. Of course, it is also important to know where to eat since Chinese food is regional. This feature is due to the diversity of climates and weather, different geographical elements, and even the traditions of the people. In several areas, travelers of distant worlds have also brought something to offer from time to time.

In some of these regions, you can feel the effect of Buddhism or a small touch of Islam even in their food. Aside from beliefs and other things, a major role here is played by the animals and vegetation in each area. Near the coasts, you can mostly find seafood; while in other areas you can also find pork, chicken, spicy foods, or even completely vegetarian cuisines. Other than what is found in each geographical area, trade with foreigners and traditions, there is also the method and style of making the food.

In the past, there were four major regions concerning the Chinese dishes; north, south, east, and west; whereas today, we know them more specifically and can divide them into eight major areas. Knowing these regions is important before you travel to China, therefore, here is a list and short description of each cuisine:

  • Beginner's Guide to Chinese Food 2
  • Beginner's Guide to Chinese Food 3
  • Beginner's Guide to Chinese Food 4
  • Beginner's Guide to Chinese Food 5
  • Beginner's Guide to Chinese Food 6

 

Top 8 Chinese Food and Regional Cuisines

1. Cantonese (Yuècài)

Cantonese, also known as the Yue Cuisine or Guangdong Cuisine, belongs to the Guangdong region (The most famous cuisine region of China). They are known because of their healthiness, rich flavors, and delicate aromas. To keep the food healthy, people in this area try to avoid cooking with oils and try steaming as well as other methods instead. There is also little spice in these foods to avoid changing the flavor of the main ingredients. This is also to maintain a balance in the taste. The ingredients are in a wide range including almost everything in between meats and vegetables.

Where to find?

  • Guangdong area
  • Hong Kong
  • Shenzhen
  • Macau
  • Other places on the southern coast of China

Famous dishes

  • White cut chicken
  • Char Siu (barbecue pork)
  • Zha Liang
  • Steamed eggs
  • Cantonese seafood soup
  • Dim Sum
  • You Tiao (a long strip of fried dough)
  • Shark fin soup
Cantonese Chinese Cuisine

Cantonese Cuisine, Dimsum

 

2. Anhui (Huī cài)

Anhui or Hui Cuisine is mostly famous for using local herbs from the forests or the sea as well as cooking techniques. The Anhui Cuisine can be found in the Huangshan region and is famous for its tofu. Besides the special herbs, there are different kinds of meat and vegetables used for this Chinese cuisine. There are also tales about how tofu has become so special in this area for those who are fans of their folk-lore.

Where to find?

  • Anywhere near the Anhui province
  • Huangshan (The Yellow Mountains)
  • and Hefei.

Famous dishes

  • Stinky tofu
  • Mandarin fish
  • Egg dumplings
  • Li Hongzhang Chop Suey

 

3. Fujian (Mǐncài)

Also known as Min Cai Cuisine, these dishes are famous for their different kinds of seafood. The thing that makes them very unique is that they do not use many spices and try to use different styles of cooking to keep the taste and flavors as original as possible. They are very famous for their soups, broths, and most of all, very fresh ingredients from the sea and mountains of the Fujian province.

Where to find?

  • Xiamen
  • Fuzhou
  • areas near the sea of Fujian province
  • the southeastern coast of China

Famous dishes

  • Boiled sea clam with chicken soup
  • Oyster omelet
  • Boiled shrimps with salt
  • Drunken ribs
  • Local soups
Fujian Cuisine

Fujian Cuisine

 

4. Jiangsu (Sūcài)

The most prominent ingredient in this region is fish because it is near the east coast of China; however, it is very special because of the cooking techniques which is also known as Su Cuisine. The dishes of this cuisine were considered as royal dishes because of being healthy and having a unique taste. Among the main ingredients, you can find many new sea creatures that are exotic to newcomers, especially if you have never tasted Chinese food before. This method of preparing food leaves the meat very soft with mild sweet or salty tastes, making them very unique.

Where to find?

  • Anywhere on the east coast of China
  • Anywhere in the Jiangsu province.

Famous dishes

  • Sweet and sour mandarin fish
  • Xie Huang Tang Bao (crab meat soup dumplings)
  • Nanjing salted duck
  • Hóngshāo páigǔ
  • Beggar’s chicken
  • Sweet and sour mandarin fish
  • Jinling salted dried duck
  • Braised pork belly
  • Yangzhou fried rice
  •  Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)

 

 

5. Sichuan (Chuāncài)

If you love hot and spicy food, you should try Sichuan Cuisine; especially in the south of China. Their dishes are famous for the use of spices, garlic, and most of all, the Sichuan Pepper that gives a numbing hot taste to the food. Since this special ingredient is local and well known in China, the best place to find it is in Sichuan itself.

Where to find?

It might be a good idea to try such hot dishes in Chengdu and regions around it.

Famous dishes

  • Mapo tofu
  • Sichuan hot pot
  • Spicy diced chicken
  • Dandan noodles
  • Kung Pao chicken

 

Sichuan Chinese Cuisine

Mapo tofu, Sichuan Cuisine

 

6. Shandong (Lucài)

Also known as one of the most traditional regions located on the northern coast, Shandong is famous for its seafood with rich and also various flavors. They use their cooking methods as well as a great number of vegetables to make some of the finest traditional seafood. This is why the region was also traditionally famous for making food for the royalties.

Where to find?

  • Qingdao
  • Jinan
  • Qufu

Famous dishes

  • Sea cucumber
  • Dezhou braised chicken
  • Braised prawns
  • Four-Joy Meatballs

 

Sea Cucumber

Sea Cucumber, Shandong Cuisine

 

7. Hunan (Xiāngcài)

If you think Sichuan Cuisine is too hot, think again! Hunan or Xiang Cuisine has even more hot dishes to offer for pepper and spice lovers! They are known for their use of pepper, smoked and sour ingredients, to make you fall in love if you have tolerance for spicy foods. Since the area is located in the mountains, it is very rich in terms of various ingredients and numerous dishes.

Where to find?

  • Changsha
  • other areas of Hunan Province

While in the region, be sure to try the local and traditional food so you do not miss out on this exceptional experience.

Famous dishes

  • Shredded pork with fresh pepper
  • Dong’an Zi Ji (parboiled chicken with chili peppers)
  • Fried pepper pork
  • Chopped chili
  • Dong’an chicken

 

8. Zhejiang (Zhècài)

This cuisine can be found in the south of Shanghai in the historic capital of China. Zhejiang Cuisine is also rich with seafood; both raw and cooked. The seafood of this part of China has lots of seasoning and salt; which makes the taste exotic for foreigners. The emphasis in this ‘capital of the Song Dynasty’ was on the freshness of the ingredients because of the use of the raw meat. Bamboo shoots and fresh vegetables are also used to add to the flavor and give a mild aroma.

Where to find?

  • Hangzhou
  • Ningbo
  • Shaoxing

Famous dishes

  • West lake fish in vinegar gravy
  • fried fish with Longjing tea
  • beggar’s chicken
  • Dongpo pork
  • Longjing shrimp
  • Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

 

Dongpo Pork

Dongpo Pork, Zhejiang Chinese Cuisine

The Most Important Part of Chinese Cuisine

The most important part of Chinese cuisines is rice and wheat? During the hard times in their ancient history, when meat or other ingredients became hard to find for the majority of people, rice, noodles, and wheat, were very important for the Chinese. Their importance is still apparent today!

 

Chinese Eating Etiquettes

Chopsticks as the main utensil

Did you know that chopsticks are the main utensils for eating? Unless you are having a bowl of soup, you must use chopsticks. Using anything else does not look good in a traditional setting. Also, keep in mind not to play with your chopsticks, point at others with them, or place them vertically in the food, because they are considered as disrespectful. One other thing regarding chopsticks is that each plate or bowl has its own, and you should use them to place what you want into your plate or bowl.

Elders first!

Did you know that there is a certain eating etiquette that you should be aware of in China? By tradition, when eating with others, the elders take their seats first. The youth sit last, and as a show of respect, they let the elders and other important guests sit further away from the door. The youth should also wait for the elders to start eating first.

Disrespectful Behaviors

Did you know that turning certain things down is considered disrespectful in China? You may be invited to a friend’s house during your stay, which is normal for friends and colleges anywhere. If you do accept such invitations, first of all, greet your host and anyone else at the table. Then, either ask where to sit or wait to be told, just to be safe. Also, if an elder puts some food in your bowel, do not reject it! Just thank them.

There are of course other things to consider when eating with your Chinese friends or traditional restaurants, which will let you know their culture and earn the locals’ respect; however, the mentioned rules were the simplest of them.
We hope you enjoy your food and of course the local Chinese cuisines. Let us know if what you read here was useful and perhaps even share some of your stories about your traveling experience in China.

Chinese food

Chinese Street Food

 

As you can see, Chinese cuisine has a broad range and can meet all tastes. Have you ever tried Chinese Cuisine? How was your experience? Feel free to leave your comments and experiences with us!

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