Food from China
What's interesting to note is there are many, many regions within China that each has its own different style and types of food. China herself is a huge, huge country with an extremely long history and has therefore much varied types of cuisine. The main difference between food within China and many other ancient countries such as India is there is no restriction in the type of animals or plants used. There is an old Chinese saying: "Whatever flies the sky and walks the earth, it all may be eaten." (and swims too, seafood is a very important part of Chinese cuisine as well).
My own experience is I am a third generation American brought up in an old fashioned Chinese household. The dishes my mother makes are very traditional and some are not even found in restaurants. The region my family is from is Taishan, a region within Guangdong province (Also spelled Canton in the old form of Chinese/English conversion). The Cantonese are the most visible Chinese culture to the outside world, Chinatown's around the world are filled with the sounds of Cantonese. While most of China was much more isolationist, it was the Cantonese that generally emigrated out of China until recently. This is why a movie such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sounds different than if you went to a North American Chinatown. The dialect spoken in the movie is Mandarin, the official dialect of China. This however is changing; you can har Mandarin, Cantonese, Fukkienese, Hakka, your occasional senior citizen speaking Taishanese, among others all spoken in Chinatowns across the US and Canada these days.
The dish of chop suey and most other dishes in American Chinese takeouts are mostly Cantonese styled dishes made with Western ingredients with scatterings of other influences like Szechuan. This is because the original emigrants that you would read in American history books were generally Taishanese in origin. Many if not most of the railroad workers that worked on the Transcontiental Railroad were from my region.
Some examples of Taishanese or Cantonese cuisines in my house include:
- pig knuckles prepared two different ways, either in doh goi or marinated in num ngoo-ee. (sorry I don't know their names in english)
For any Irish folks out there, a similiar dish is a plate of steaming crubeens.
- various meat pies all made with pork and either Asian mushrooms or Chinese sausage.
- roasted meats. These are the big ol' animals you see hanging in front of Chinese restaurants to show their freshness to customers. They include: roasted pork, bbq crispy pork, soy sauce chicken, among a few others. You can order them by the pound.
- boiled leafy veggies of all different types such as bok choy, taiwanese bok choy, bean sprouts.
These are rice
dishes. That is, they are meant to be put in the middle of the table while you grab your rice bowl in your hand. With chopsticks
, you grab a piece of veggie/meat and bring it to your rice bowl and let the flavor of the food go with a few scoops of rice into your mouth. Most dinner tables will have an assortment of meat and veggie dishes right in the center within reaching distance.
Some non-rice dishes would include:
- soup noodles. We love our soup noodles and they are usually pork-bone or beef-bone based soups boiled for awhile to get all its flavor. Veggies or fish can also be added. Also, Asian noodles in general are made with egg or rice and have many, many different forms and texture. Ramen noodles are the White Castle of soup noodles. They very, very vaguely resemble the real thing and tastes nothing like it.
- jok. In English, I believe this is called congee. This is a rice porridge for brunches or breakfasts. Usually made in many various forms that could include tripe, pork, and other things I can't translate into English. Many times, you eat it with yoo ja gooey which is a fried breadstick.
- sticky rice in lotus leaf wraps. They usually come with chicken, pork, sausages, eggs, and other delights. Comes in two forms. The smaller and more flavorful is doong which has the ingredients put within before steamed so the flavor of the lotus leaves and meats are propagated through the whole bundle. The other is much bigger and the ingredients added later. Both can be purchased in Cantonese restaurants.
- meat buns. Buns either white (steamed) or baked (golden) with roasted pork, beef, even eggs and taylor ham. Also more of a brunch or lunch dish. These are the equivalent of a sandwich; fast and easy to eat.
- dim sum. This is a brunch dish and very close in concept to Spanish Tapas. You can go to a dim sum/tea house and have waitresses push carts around the tables. When you want something, ask for it and she'll add it to your tab. Weekends are an especially popular time for dim sum. There are also many, many dim sum dishes including:
- then jok goon, pork rapped in pressed bamboo sheets
- shu mei, pork and small shrimp dumpling in a wrap, looks sort of like wontons but bigger
- ha gou, shrimp dumplings in a white wrap
This is only the tip of the iceberg with just Cantonese style food. A few (very few, sorry!) non-Cantonese dishes I know include:
- cold jellyfish. An appetizer mostly. It has the consistancy of jello but tastes like nothing else.
- Shanghai style soup dumplings. Small dumplings steamed with various fillings including pork, pork with mushrooms, seafood, and others. You have to put it on a soup spoon before eating it. Once bitten, louds of juices that are sealed come out. The juices and meat are very delicious together.
- pork and salted cabbage soup noodles. A favorite one of mine. Soup noodles are as loved in many regions of China, Vietnam, and Japan as much as the Cantonese love them.
There are literally thousands of Chinese dishes. Each region of China has hundreds of its own regional dishes. Consider the fact that there are roughly 40 or so dialects of Chinese by itself different enough that one can't understand the other. I speak Taishanese and can't understand a word of Mandarin or Fukkienese. I can't even imagine how many thousands of dishes would constitute the huge world of Chinese cuisine.
The chinese recipes section has a huge list of various dishes. This article gives a wee bit of background into some of those dishes you see from my very limited perspective.
(Note: the Chinese in italics is Cantonese or Taishanese for any confused visitors)
(Note 2: yes, we eat enough pork based dishes to put any religious Jewish or Moslim person into a state of convulsions, shock, and then coma)