Staying in a foreign country with a culture so drastically different from yours can be a fun experience that can help you grow and learn. However, when it comes to one’s diet, it’s important to be open-minded and ready to try new dishes, but that’s often easier said than done, especially if you are unfamiliar with local food and the way it should be consumed.
China is known for its unique cuisine that is beloved all over the world, but it’s essential to point out that Chinese food that we see outside of China has been modified to satisfy people from different cultures. So for that reason, here is a Chinese food mini-guide that will help travelers and expats learn and fall in love with this amazing cuisine.
1. It’s more diverse than you might think
Maybe a lot of people have become used to eating their standard Chinese takeout every Friday or so, but in fact, Chinese cuisine is much more diverse than that. For starters, China is a geographically diverse country that boasts many different dishes, cuisines that all differ from region to region. So if you’re traveling China, be sure to try dishes that are characteristic for the region or province you’re visiting. That way you’ll have a unique chance to experience something authentic made by locals.
2. Respect the food culture and etiquette
No matter if you find yourself eating Dadan noodles from Sichuan or fried pepper pork from Hunan, there’s one thing that’s for certain: Chinese people have a food culture that revolves around respecting the tradition and others who share the table with you. Chopsticks, as you probably know by now are a must, so it’s advised to practice using them if you have no previous experience in eating with them. When it comes to food courses, Chinese etiquette differs a bit from Western ones, so for example, a dessert isn’t served at the end of the meal, but rather in between the meals.
3. Four “great” cuisines of China
Since China has many provinces and regions, and they all have specific dishes, it’s hard to only select the best four, but those that are most commonly known around the world are Sichuan, Mandarin, Shandong, and Cantonese. Therefore, if you’re planning to learn more about Chinese dishes, then feel free to start experimenting with easy Mandarin cuisine recipes, since they’re flexible and suitable for people with varied tastes. So, for example, next time you feel like cooking, try making Chinese Mandarine chicken or a salad with white sweet and sauce.
4. Spices play a big role
Chinese food is all about the exquisite taste and that taste is often achieved by adding numerous spices and herbs. The most commonly used spices are ginger, garlic, star anise, green onion, and chili. Ginger, for example, has been historically used in Chinese cuisine, mainly in the Sichuan area, in dishes such as Hot and Sour soup. Also, since in China, food is often viewed as medicine, adding spices can boost one’s health and improve the taste of the meals.
5. Breakfasts are interesting in China
If you’re someone who likes cereal and toast for breakfast, then Chinese-styled breakfast dishes might seem a bit too much, until you get used to them. So, in China, it’s common to eat meat, dumplings, and noodles for breakfast, so if you prefer something more Western-like butter, jam and croissants, then you’ll have to go to a place that serves such food or ask the hotel kitchen staff to prepare them for you. However, being in China is a great opportunity to get a taste of their food culture, so rather than pining for milk and cereals, it’s better to enjoy fried rice, tofu pudding, or steamed buns stuffed with meat and vegetables.
Living or visiting China can be a life-changing experience, mainly when it comes to trying new food. But, if you’re not the one to experiment with different dishes, then be sure to start slow and eat the food you’re familiar with. Also, in case you don’t know where to start, ask the locals for recommendations and guidance, so you’ll be able to enjoy all the amazing food China has to offer to the world.