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China - Food and Drink
Rice and wheat are the staple foods of Chinese people. Rice is present in most of the meals served in southern China. However, when you venture north, dishes based on wheat noodles are more common.
Pig meat is common in most Chinese main course meals. However, other meat including beef, fish and even venison are also available. The Chinese also indulge in non-conventional foods such as snake and dog meat. Occasionally, they will hunt and eat meat from endangered animals including sharks and whales. However, such unusual delicacies are only found in specialty hotels and are often just served on request.
Thorough hygiene while preparing food is deeply engraved in the culture of Chinese people. Meals are prepared on request to ensure they are fresh when they are served to you. Therefore, do not be too cautious about sampling delicacies served by street side vendors. Street food is usually fresh and safe to eat.
However, be careful not to eat undercooked meals while enjoying the Chinese street food. Extra care should be taken especially during summer, when seafood and meat become the highlight of street snacks and main course meals. If you want to sample raw food like sushi, you are safer doing so in big cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong or Shanghai. If you are venturing to the outskirts of the cities, be careful not to eat raw or undercooked food.
Reading A Chinese Menu
Before diving head first into Chinese culinary ways, it is important that you learn how to read a menu. Chinese menus are written in the local language, meaning they will contain characters in Kanji. So if you don’t read Kanji and are planning to dine in a restaurant or stop by a street food vendor, it is best have a Chinese friend with you.
However, you can still identify specific types of foods by the characters that represent them on the Chinese menu. Pork is represented by the character 猪, while beef is written as 牛. Fish and chicken are written as 鱼 and 鸡 respectively. 面 means noodles, while rice is symbolized by 饭.
If you are looking for stir-fried meals, the character 炒 will be used beside the main ingredient. Anything grilled or baked is represented by the character 烤, while deep-friend meals are symbolized by the character 炸. Since pork is a common dish in most Chinese menus, you may get used to seeing 肉, the character which represents that meat.
Eventually, you will grow accustomed to the Chinese menu as the symbols become more familiar. Do not worry about accidentally ordering snake or dog meat. As mentioned before, such unusual delicacies tend to be found in special hotels and are ordered separately from the menu.
Delicious Chinese Meals
A great thing about the Chinese cuisine is how it differs with regions. As you move from the south to the north, expect to come across a list of new flavor meals that will leave you with a sense of excitement and adventure. Here are some Chinese dishes you can try.
Snacking is a norm among the Chinese people. Anything with sugar in it most likely falls under the category of snacks. Snacks are sold by street vendors in portable food carts. The Wangfujing District in Beijing is a major hub for snacks and fast foods. In Cantonese language, roadside food vendors are called gai bin dong.
Meat skewers top the list of snacks you should try. They consist of barbecued meat served on sticks. They can be less spiced and sweet like the Yang Rou Chuna delicacy, or hot and spicy like lamb skewers prepared in Xinjiang style.
Another common snack in the streets of China is dumplings or jiaozi, as they are locally known. Dumplings are fried, boiled or steamed and come with tasty fillings. Jiaozi may sometimes be referred to as momos, gyoza, or mandy depending on which part of China you are in.
The best snack you will have in China may be Lanzhou lamian and dim sum. Lanzhou Lamian is hand pulled noodles, freshly made on order. This is a common dish among the Muslim Chinese people known as the Hui. Dim sum is tiny portions of foods served in steam baskets. Dim sum is a great way to sample several dishes at once.
Chinese delicacies vary depending on the region. Expect to taste new ingredients every day, cooked in a style unique to the natives you are visiting. Below are some famous Mandarin delicacies you should try while in China.
In Beijing, indulge yourself on some Jing Cai style noodles with baozi or bread buns. You can also treat yourself to some Peking duck (or Beijing kaoya) served with cabbage and garnished with pickles. These are light meals you can enjoy from street cafes, where menu prices are reasonable.
The local cuisine of Shanghai is known as Hù Cài. This is a fusion of cooking styles borrowed from the north and south of China. People from Shanghai often add sugar to their fried dishes, so expect a sweet flavor in everything you sample. A famous Shanghai meal is xiǎolóngbāo, which can be accompanied with lāmiàn (pulled noodles).
If you love spicy foods, Sichuan delicacies will definitely make your tongue tingle! Chuān Cài is a must-have, which is prepared with the signature hot and spicy Sichuan peppercorn. The best place to try Sichuan food is in street food shacks, where it is often prepared by migrant workers.
If you want seafood, then the Fujian delicacies Fújiàn Cài and Mǐn Cài are good places to start. The Fujian people derive their ingredients from the coast or from estuaries of waterways. The story goes that Fujian food is so flavorful that an ancient monk reneged on his vegetarian vows to sample Fujian meat dishes.
Chinese Eating Etiquette
The Chinese culture places a high value on hospitality. Many local people enjoy treating an expat to lunch or preparing dinner for them. Treating your colleagues, peers, or those who look up to you to a meal is considered standard among Chinese people.
If your host offers to serve you food, oblige or let them know in a polite way that you want them to serve first and you will go next. The Chinese eat their food with chopsticks and they appreciate a visitor who knows how to handle chopsticks well. Never at any time rest your chopsticks vertically on the bowl; this is considered a bad omen.
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