Our Top 10 Go-to Chinese Dishes
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China has an insane food culture, and if you’ve ever heard that the Chinese eat everything that moves, that is completely and utterly true, organs and bugs included (the Chinese name for animal, dong zuo 动物, literally translates to moving thing after all). But lets spare the grossness for today, this post is all about bringing out your inner foodie, and exposing our list of awesome, must have Chinese dishes, because, lets be real, who doesn’t like salivating at pictures of delicious food?
1. Cha Shao 叉烧 (Barbecue) – Finger licking good Chinese barbecue (they serve pork, chicken, duck, and goose), most often found in southern China. It’s sweet, smoky, and savory and it will blow your taste buds away. It’s one of our favorite things to eat, and in China there are entire restaurants dedicated to just serving cha shao, mostly hole-in-the-wall type places, but the jam packed parking lot and crowds of people at lunch and dinner time are a sure fire sign they’re serving some good eats!
2. Yu Xiang Qie Zi 鱼香茄子 (Fish Flavored Eggplant) – The name of this dish is deceiving as it actually has absolutely nothing to do with fish, and is in no way fish flavored. This dish uses a preparation originally used for fish, but is now used for lots of different meats and vegetables, because seriously, something this good cannot be contained to just fish. It’s eggplant in a slightly spicy, savory, chili pepper and bean flavored sauce. Sounds kind of weird, but it is seriously so good!
3. Qie Zi Bao 茄子煲 (Clay Pot Eggplant) – This is a traditional Cantonese dish that we often get when we go out to eat in Zhuhai (are you catching on the fact that eggplant dishes are a must have Chinese food?). It’s made with bits of ground pork and salted fish which gives it this fabulous meaty, salty, nutty, and almost smoky flavor, and then is finished with a soy sauce based sauce, holy yum! They whip this dish up in the wok and then serve it piping hot in a clay pot.
4. La Mian 拉面 (Pulled Noodles) – These noodles, originally from Lan Zhou 兰州 in the north western part of China, can now be found anywhere in the country in noodle shops called Lan Zhou La Mian 兰州拉面. These noodles have become a post bike ride lunch tradition for us in Zhuhai as there is a noodle shop right down the street from our apartment. The noodles are hand pulled using a process that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch as the noodle dough is stretched, twisted and stretched again until it goes from a solid rope of dough to about a hundred perfectly sized noodles ready to be put in soup, or on a plate with sauce and the toppings of your choice (generally beef and some type of vegetable).
5. Street Food (Skewers – both meat and vegetable, wraps, scallion pancake 葱油饼 Cong You Bing) – This one kind of goes without saying, but we are HUGE fans of street food, no matter where in the world we are we are constantly searching for street food vendors as it’s the best way to get a taste for the local cuisine. Some of the best meals we’ve had traveling have been on the street, I mean think about it, most street vendors only sell one thing, so it’s got to be damn good for them to stay in business, and the street stalls in China are just that. The food in China is extremely regional, so the street food varies as you travel around the country, but some of our favorites we’ve tried are: meat skewers (the meat is coated in a dry rub and then brushed with sauce as it’s cooking, and you can choose pretty much any type of meat, from chicken wings to mountain goat), grilled vegetables (the eggplant is amazing, I know, you probably saw that one coming), Taiwanese style wraps with egg and lettuce (fabulous for breakfast), savory crepe like wraps with egg, crispy fried dough, pickled veggies, and a special sauce, and scallion pancakes (basically fried dough with green onions).
6. Bao Zai Fan 煲仔饭 (Clay Pot Rice) – This is another traditional Cantonese dish that is extremely popular in Hong Kong. Basically, it’s rice cooked in a clay bowl so that the rice along the sides of the bowl gets nice a crispy, and then it’s topped with a sauce and the meat and veggies of your choice. Super simple, but oh so yummy and delicious.
7. Gu Lao Rou 古老肉 (Sweet and Sour Pork) – Yes, your favorite American Chinese classic is actually authentic! Kind of. The real version uses fresh pineapple (or sometimes pineapple and green peppers) and the sauce is actually homemade and void of the creepily unnatural color cause by the red food dye used in a lot of U.S. Chinese restaurants, but the taste is pretty much the same. The funny thing is I was never a huge fan of this dish in the U.S. (dyed food just doesn’t do it for me, and it never tasted fresh), but here in southern China where the pineapples are heavenly, super fresh, and local for most of the year, and the sauce is homemade I have definitely fallen in love. I now make this dish all the time at home because it is so simple and yet insanely delicious.
8. Da Suan Zheng Xia 大蒜蒸虾 (Garlic Steamed Shrimp) – This dish is pretty much exactly as the name implies, steamed shrimp, butterflied in the shell, with mounds of minced garlic on top. If you are a garlic lover (and really, who isn’t?) this dish will send your taste buds to heaven. As the majority of the population of China lives right along the ocean, the seafood here is amazing, and this preparation is used for other types of shell fish as well such as scallops and oysters, both of which are also insanely delicious.
9. Jiao Zi 饺子(Dumplings) – Dumplings are basically little pockets of amazingness that leave room for endless creativity (one of the main reasons they made it into our top ten). You can fill a dumpling wrapper with just about anything, however in China the typical fillings are pork with vegetables, and shrimp. At home, however, things tend to get buck wild. I’ve made all sorts of delicious dumpling fillings: green veggies, mushrooms, pumpkin, pork, and even a Mexican filling of chicken, black beans, and salsa, served with sour cream. The Chinese think I’m nuts for committing such atrocity, but really, a dumpling is just a vessel for whatever goodies you can think to stuff it with, and for that I love them. Oh, and not to mention the cooking methods, which are also pretty endless: steam, boil, pan fry, deep fry and cooked in soup. Oh the yummy possibilities!
10. Fan Qie Chao Ji Dan 番茄炒鸡蛋 (Tomato and Egg Stir Fry) – I admit, the tomato and egg combo sounded weird to me too at first, but it’s one of those dishes that is distinctly Chinese, found pretty much anywhere across the country, and is super simple and yet somehow flavor packed with goodness. Tomato and egg has become one of my staple lunches as it’s delicious and super quick and easy to make.
*All photos, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of The Woks of Life, an awesome food blog that’s a great reference for authentic Chinese recipes. They have helped me recreate lots of my favorite Chinese dishes at home, so if you are inspired to make any of this delicious food, check out their website!
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