What is Authentic Chinese Food?
What do you Know About Authentic Chinese Food?
In America, Chinese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine, with Mexican food coming in second place. However, what passes as "Chinese food" in the States, can be a far cry from the meals that people in the Republic of China enjoy. What does authentic Chinese food entail and how different is the cuisine we eat in the United States?
To begin with, most American Chinese food is heavily battered and fried. Vegetables are more or less condiments, rather than the primary basis for some dishes. And, the American Chinese food that you get when you order take-out, does not embrace the many regional differences found throughout the vast empire of China.
In China, there are 8 distinct Chinese cuisines, which correspond to the regions from which they originate. You can enjoy authentic Chinese food from any one of these areas:
Sichuan is the type of authentic Chinese food with which you may be most familiar. It includes dishes like Kung Pao Chicken and Twice Cooked Pork. Spicy, garlicky flavors are used in the cooking process, which can include frying and braising.
Check out Amy Jane's Hub, Eating out in China, for more information about how dishes in each of these regions are prepared.
Authentic Chinese Food Books
What are the differences between Authentic Chinese Food and "Chinese Food" in other cultures?
When I think of Chinese cuisine, morsels of chicken, beef or pork come to mind. My experience with what I thought was authentic Chinese food is drenched in heavy sauces, dangerously spicy red peppers, and loads of white rice on the side. Oh, and don't forget the soy sauce. A nice fortune cookie at the end completes the meal.
In China, people are much more adventurous with the types of food they will ingest. Roasted Piglet anyone? That might taste pretty good, but I think its safe to say that a bite of Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish will never pass my lips.
A popular snack in the Tibetan region is yak blood cubes. This is made by draining blood from a yak, boiling it until it solidifies, and then pouring hot butter and sugar over cut cubes of the blood. Yummy.
Even with respect to more standard fare, authentic Chinese food is served "complete." Chicken will have the head, beak and feet still attached. Fish heads and tails are not removed.
One question you may have is whether authentic Chinese food includes cats and dogs. The short answer is that, in some regions, yes. But there is ongoing debate as to how widespread the practice is. Exotic foods are not uncommon at all in China. Videos of cat and dog meat markets can be found, originating in the province of Guangdong/Canton, next to Hong Kong. Among reasons offered for this taste for "pets," are the fact that east Asian people did not develop a close companionship relationship with cats, as did Europeans and Americans. Dogs, too, are viewed as livestock, along with the rest of the animals on the farm.
Other famous dishes include live monkey brains. A famous scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies shows the shock on the Americans' faces when presented with this delicacy.
Authentic Chinese food also includes scorpions, rats, fried grasshoppers, grubs, and snake. Chances are, you can't get this stuff in a little white box from the restaurant around the corner in your hometown!
Noodles form a Foundation for Authentic Chinese Food
Despite the focus on the various types of protein that are found in authentic Chinese food, in actuality, meals are largely comprised of noodles or other starches like rice.
Long noodles signify a long life. Soup is included at the beginning of a meal, and also at the end in southern China regions. There are even some slightly sweet soups that are served to complete the meal.
How to Eat With Chopsticks
Enjoy Authentic Chinese Food with Chopsticks
Chopsticks, generally made of bamboo, are used in China, instead of western silverware during meals. This is because a fork and knife are considered violent. It is more peaceful to eat Chinese food with chopsticks.
Eating rice can be more difficult with chopsticks than with larger morsels of food. It is considered appropriate and polite in Chinese culture to pick up the rice bowl next to your mouth so that bites of rice do not fall to the table or floor.
Want a Chinese Fortune Cookie?
Contrary to their name, Chinese fortune cookies did not originate in China and thus, they are not an authentic Chinese food. In fact, Chinese people generally do not eat dessert following a meal. Some believe that Americans created the treat, while others say that it was originally created at a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. The cookies are loosely based on a Chinese mooncake legend in which the date of a planned uprising was folded inside the cakes.
Messages folded inside the hard shell, slightly sweet cookies are generally those of hope, love, fame and fortune. In college, a friend told me that the way to make these "fortunes" more interesting is to add the phrase "in bed," at the end. For example: "The year ahead is promising for you....in bed."
How to Make Shrimp with Vegetables
Where Can you Find Authentic Chinese Food?
The most authentic Chinese restaurants are probably found in the Republic of China. Only there can you truly experience exotic delights that you won't find on a take-out menu.
You may be a bit wary of the authentic Chinese food dishes presented to you while traveling in China, particularly if you go beyond the larger cities.
But remember that a long noodle in your bowl will mean a long life. So, you may as well go for it!
© 2008 Stephanie Hicks
More by this Author
How to make a cake train for your next birthday or holiday celebration. Learn how to use cake train molds or make your own train cake from scratch.
- EDITOR'S CHOICE41
Grilling fruit is an excellent way to bring out the natural sugars and intensify flavors of your food
- EDITOR'S CHOICE16
If you are planning a birthday party for a teenager, consider these suggested activities for groups of teens, from low-key to extravagant, depending on your budget and their interests.