Chinese Food: More than Rice & Noodles

Chinese Food: More than Rice & Noodles

In between the Ramen and KFC, which is as authentic as Chinese food gets, we enjoyed some fantastic taste treats on our China tour.  Let me remind you in case you are geographically challenged or have never seen a map in your life, China is enormous.  This means two things, first there is a wide variety of food and two it can be hard to find the good stuff, especially if you don’t speak the language.  I have put together an unofficial China food map of sorts with some of the highlights we enjoyed from Peking Duck in Beijing to dumplings in Shanghai.

Our Chinese culinary exploration started simple enough with beer and meat skewers in Qingdao, the home of Qingdao Brewery.  It was easy food to order, simply point at what looked good on the grill and if it was not what you had hoped for, wash it down with beer.  Our first introduction to Chinese street food provided an excellent foundation for future ordering as we learned the Chinese symbols for beef, pork, duck and chicken.

Moving further North to the capital and eager to try more than just meat on a sticke we enjoyed Beijing’s signature dish, Peking Duck, which has been a delicacy since the Imperial era.  The highlight of a well done Peking Duck is the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving almost entirely skin and little, to no meat.  Not only is it a delicacy, but it’s a visual spectacle as it is sliced in front of you by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with paper-thin pancakes, spring onions, and hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce.  We tried a few different versions, but the best was with friends at Bianyifung, which is a well-established restaurant known specifically for their duck and has become a household name.  I would highly recommend trying the duck at Bianyifung.

Cooks at Bianyifung in Beijing carve up each duck with such speed you don’t have to worry about a long wait for the taste treat of Peking Duck

From Beijing we flew to Lhasa, which offered a completely different style of food reflective of the climes and customs of Tibet.  The dishes were simple and flavorful from curries to noodle soups, but they all had one thing in common, they featured yak meat.  Yak is much like buffalo meat, it’s pretty tough if not left to simmer in a curry or roasted over a long period, which is typically how it is prepared.  Along with yak meat, we also had yak cheese, yogurt and butter and the popular yak butter tea.  The rich tea was not to my liking as it tasted a bit like a butter gone bad and melted in hot water.  Beyond yak meat side dishes were limited, often consisting of rice and a simple vegetable.  Few crops grow at Tibet’s high altitudes and therefore much of the food is salted or  preserved in some way, such as the accompanying vegetables to just about any dish.

A basic but flavorful meal of potato and yak curry in Lhasa, Tibet served with pickled ginger (the pink stuff) and a tasty broth.

From the Himalayas we headed to lower ground in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and the home to fiery Sichuan peppers and spicy food.  Sichuan cuisine, sometimes referred to as Szechuan cuisine is intensely flavorful and mouth tingly-numbing spicy, often containing food preserved through pickling, salting and drying.  The spice comes from liberal use of chili oil and the unique Sichuan peppercorn.  However, strong spices such as ginger, chili, garlic and star anise also play leading roles in creating the flavors of Sichuan cuisine.  We loved the Sichuan food we had from the Buddhist vegetarian style made with tofu to the Chengdu style, which featured lots of beef and offal in the dishes we sampled.

The Chengdu-style Sichuan food seen above features beef, pickled vegetables and intestine.

Our final culinary highlight was found in Shanghai in the Xia Long Bao or soup dumplings.  We had enjoyed dumplings in every stop on our China tour, but these juicy, soup filled dumplings were by far our favorite.  The crisp pan fried outside and the broth filled inside make for a taste sensation.  It is a little bit of a process to eat them without being burned by the hot broth, but the risk is worth the reward.  The dumplings are flavorful and cheap, which have become our basic criteria for anything that goes in to our mouth.  Any street side stall, which are plentiful throughout Shanghai, will fulfill your dumpling needs.

The xia long bao soup filled dumplings in Shanghai were easy to find at street stalls and delicious.

As I mentioned at the start, China is huge, so this short list only encompasses my favorites, but there were many delights in between.  We loved eating at street stalls and mingling with the locals.  Sitting down at these more casual eateries also made ordering a lot easier as pointing could took care of our needs.  We ate many things that we have no idea what they were and might not ever know, but that’s all part of the fun.  Regardless of all the amazing things we ate in China, Hong Kong still remains the Chinese food capital in my mind. Wherever you visit in China, from Hong Kong to Beijing, keep an open mind and make sure you venture outside of the Chinese staples of rice and noodles, you won’t be disappointed.

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Comments

» Mom A :
Nov 14, 2011

I would highly recommend street food in Chona where lots of locals eat, but we had almost no opportunity to do so, since we were on aYangtze river ship with organized stops for the most part. But that is what makes me so sure. Much of the food we ate on shore was not nearly as good as you describe, with many many tourists being served rather than locals.. But we had enough of a taste of China to be tantalized to return someday and hang out in the areas where the street food can be found.

» Bka :
Nov 17, 2011

Incredible food photos…..could almost smell the dishes off the screen…….love you bka

» cindy :
Dec 29, 2011

The graphics in this article are amazing. Great job. I’m really impressed.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Cindy, thanks for the compliments. It was fun to write this post as I really enjoyed the food in China and hope that others can find all the delicious street stalls we did!

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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