When I moved to Shanghai in 2010, I thought I have enough knowledge of most Chinese dishes you need to try that food magazines aways write about. But living in China and eating Chinese food is different from living in another country and eating Chinese food. Chinese dishes are not just limited to sweet and sour pork and egg rolls; they cover a wide range of selection depending on the region you are in - Sichuan, Hainan, Canton, and more. I now live in Guangzhou, and it's another gastronomic treat to experience. Let me share my short list of seven Chinese dishes you need to try.
1. Xiǎolóngbāo (Soup Dumplings)
I met these tiny pieces of heaven during my first few days in Shanghai and girl, they are pure delight, earning them the top spot in my list of seven Chinese dishes you need to try. Think of itty-bitty pork buns with a surprise the moment you bite into them. This dish has made its way in the Western world so scout your local Chinese restaurants to try some!
2. Bĕijīng Kăoyā (Peking Duck)
I have heard about this bird but I enjoyed it more in Beijing, where it originated. With cultural lecture from our tour guide, I was informed that the dish was served since the days when Emperors ruled the Middle Kingdom. I love this dish so much especially when the skin is wrapped in steamed pancake with spring onion and red bean sauce (that to me, tastes like peanut butter sauce).
3. Mápó Dòufu (Tofu and Ground Beef in Chili Sauce)
I first tried this dish in my spoken language class in Fudan University. This spicy wonder from Sichuan is best enjoyed with a sweet drink, because you might be crying on your first spoonful. My Chinese teacher - who is from Sichuan - said the best mápó dòufu should be enjoyed in a Sichuan restaurant because there you find the seven adjectives that best describe the authentic dish: aromatic, flaky, fresh, hot (temperature), numbing, spicy hot and tender.
4. Hainanese Chicken Rice
My first China travel in 2006 took me to Haikou in Hainan, where I first tasted the famous Hainanese chicken rice. This is chicken cooked in broth over low simmer with spices such as lemon grass, shallots and ginger. The rice is cooked in chicken broth too, giving it an oily texture.
5. Dàndàn Miàn (Dandan Noodles)
Often referred to as peddler’s noodles, this dish was once sold in the streets with two containers (one with noodles, the other with the sauce) carried on a pole. It’s a dish that you need to stir to fully experience its goodness. It is a close relative of mápó dòufu, as they both originated from Sichuan.
6. Zīrán Páigǔ (Hunan Spareribs)
Basically, these are just pork ribs. But what makes these really special is the slow roasting process, done until the meat practically falls off the bone. A plethora of spices including cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, chili powder and sesame oil adds flavor to this dish.
7. Gānbiān Sìjìdòu (Stir-fried Beans in Ground Pork and Garlic)
I never ate beans until I tried this dish. They’re flavorful and just have that delectable taste you’ve been looking for. It can be made into a vegetarian dish too by excluding the meat component.
China is a country with eclectic food choices. I'm so looking forward to my culinary adventures here! What do you think of Chinese food? Which of these dishes is your favorite?