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Your Top Chinese Food Experiences


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1 minute ago, mudbug said:

 

I would say "challenging", but also not reason enough to end a great discussion. People go through phases, society and culture change, individuals come and go, and sometimes come back again (if they haven't passed away). But the discussion about food can, and should — last over lifetimes.

 

*wink*

I appreciate that but continuing a discussion with someone who hasn’t been seen for 15 years feels very much like a séance to me. But do feel free to carry-on. Who knows tomorrow you may conjure this missing poster. 😉

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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    • By liuzhou
      Chinese food must be among the most famous in the world. Yet, at the same time, the most misunderstood.

      I feel sure (hope) that most people here know that American-Chinese cuisine, British-Chinese cuisine, Indian-Chinese cuisine etc are, in huge ways, very different from Chinese-Chinese cuisine and each other. That's not what I want to discuss.

      Yet, every day I still come across utter nonsense on YouTube videos and Facebook about the "real" Chinese cuisine, even from ethnically Chinese people (who have often never been in China). Sorry YouTube "influencers", but sprinkling soy sauce or 5-spice powder on your cornflakes does not make them Chinese!
       
      So what is the "authentic" Chinese food? Well, like any question about China, there are several answers. It is not surprising that a country larger than western Europe should have more than one typical culinary style. Then, we must distinguish between what you may be served in a large hotel dining room, a small local restaurant, a street market stall or in a Chinese family's home.

      That said, in this topic, I want to attempt to debunk some of the more prevalent myths. Not trying to start World War III.

      When I moved to China from the UK 25 years ago, I had my preconceptions. They were all wrong. Sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice was reported to be the second favourite dish in Britain, and had, of course, to be preceded by a plate of prawn/shrimp crackers. All washed down with a lager or three.

      Yet, in that quarter of a century, I've seldom seen a prawn cracker. And egg fried rice is usually eaten as a quick dish on its own, not usually as an accompaniment to main courses. Every menu featured a starter of prawn/shrimp toast which I have never seen in mainland China - just once in Hong Kong.

      But first, one myth needs to be dispelled. The starving Chinese! When I was a child I was encouraged to eat the particularly nasty bits on the plate by being told that the starving Chinese would lap them up. My suggestion that we could post it to them never went down too well. At that time (the late fifties) there was indeed a terrible famine in China (almost entirely manmade (Maomade)).

      When I first arrived in China, it was after having lived in Soviet Russia and I expected to see the same long lines of people queuing up to buy nothing very much in particular. Instead, on my first visit to a market (in Hunan Province), I was confronted with a wider range of vegetables, seafood, meat and assorted unidentified frying objects than I have ever seen anywhere else. And it was so cheap I couldn't convert to UK pounds or any other useful currency.
       
      I'm going to start with some of the simpler issues - later it may get ugly!

      1. Chinese people eat everything with chopsticks.
       

       
      No, they don't! Most things, yes, but spoons are also commonly used in informal situations. I recently had lunch in a university canteen. It has various stations selling different items. I found myself by the fried rice stall and ordered some Yangzhou fried rice. Nearly all the students and faculty sitting near me were having the same.

      I was using my chopsticks to shovel the food in, when I noticed that I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was using spoons. On investigating, I was told that the lunch break is so short at only two-and-a-half hours that everyone wants to eat quickly and rush off for their compulsory siesta.
       
      I've also seen claims that people eat soup with chopsticks. Nonsense. While people use chopsticks to pick out choice morsels from the broth, they will drink the soup by lifting their bowl to their mouths like cups. They ain't dumb!

      Anyway, with that very mild beginning, I'll head off and think which on my long list will be next.

      Thanks to @KennethT for advice re American-Chinese food.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Wowotou buns ( 窝窝头 wō wō tóu), also known more simply as wō tóu are originally from northern China. The name means "nest" and they come in many forms. These are the ones I use. As you can see, they are usually stuffed with whatever the cook decides. These are stuffed with spicy pork and pickled greens, but I've also served them with a seafood stuffing.
       

       
      This is the recipe I usually use.
       
       窝窝头
       
      350 grams all-purpose/plain flour
      150 grams black soya bean flour
      3 grams instant yeast
      260 grams  milk
       
      Mix the flours well, dissolve the yeast in the milk and stir into the flour until a dough forms. Knead the dough until smooth. Cover with plastic
      wrap and leave in a warm place until double in size.
       
      Sprinkle flour on the chopping board, knead the dough, adding more flour if too wet. until all air is expelled and the dough has a smooth surface.
       
      Form the dough into six even-sized balls and rub between the palms until smooth and round. Flatten slightly, then use your thumb to press the dough into a nest shape.
       
      Steam covered for 30-35 minutes.
       
      Note: The flours used vary a lot. Corn or sorghum flours are very popular, but I don't like corn and sorghum isn't the easiest to find here in southern China. Use what you like, but the overall quantity for this recipe should be 500 grams. It has been suggested that pure corn flour is too sticky, so probably best to mix it with regular wheat flour.
       
      They freeze well.
       
      Recipe adapted from 念念不忘的面食  by 刘哲菲 (Unforgettable Wheat Foods by Liu Zhefei). This isn't a direct translation, but retelling of the gist. Any errors are mine. Not Ms. Liu's.
    • By liuzhou
      Clam Soup with Mustard Greens - 车螺芥菜汤
       

       
      This is a popular, light but peppery soup available in most restaurants here (even if its not listed on the menu). Also, very easy to make at home.

      Ingredients

      Clams. (around 8 to 10 per person. Some restaurants are stingy with the clams, but I like to be more generous). Fresh live clams are always used in China, but if, not available, I suppose frozen clams could be used. Not canned. The most common clams here are relatively small. Littleneck clams may be a good substitute in terms of size.
       
      Stock. Chicken, fish or clam stock are preferable. Stock made from cubes or bouillon powder is acceptable, although fresh is always best.

      Mustard Greens. (There are various types of mustard green. Those used here are  芥菜 , Mandarin: jiè cài; Cantonese: gai choy). Use a good handful per person. Remove the thick stems, to be used in another dish.)

      Garlic. (to taste)

      Chile. (One or two fresh hot red chiles are optional).

      Salt.

      MSG (optional). If you have used a stock cube or bouillon powder for the stock, omit the MSG. The cubes and power already have enough.

      White pepper (freshly ground. I recommend adding what you consider to be slightly too much pepper, then adding half that again. The soup should be peppery, although of course everything is variable to taste.)

      Method

      Bring your stock to a boil. Add salt to taste along with MSG if using.

      Finely chop the garlic and chile if using. Add to stock and simmer for about five minutes.

      Make sure all the clams are tightly closed, discarding any which are open - they are dead and should not be eaten.

      The clams will begin to pop open fairly quickly. Remove the open ones as quickly as possible and keep to one side while the others catch up. One or two clams may never open. These should also be discarded. When you have all the clams fished out of the boiling stock, roughly the tear the mustard leaves in two and drop them into the stock. Simmer for one minute. Put all the clams back into the stock and when it comes back to the boil, take off the heat and serve.
    • By liuzhou
      Beef with Bitter Melon - 牛肉苦瓜
       

       
      The name may be off-putting to many people, but Chinese people do have an appreciation for bitter tastes and anyway, modern cultivars of this gourd are less bitter than in the past. Also, depending on how it's cooked, the bitterness can be mitigated.
       
      I'll admit that I wasn't sure at first, but have grown to love it.

      Note: "Beef with Bitter Melon (牛肉苦瓜 )" or "Bitter Melon with Beef (苦瓜牛肉)"? One Liuzhou restaurant I know has both on its menu! In Chinese, the ingredient listed first is the one there is most of, so, "beef with bitter melon" is mainly beef, whereas "bitter melon with beef" is much more a vegetable dish with just a little beef. This recipe is for the beefier version. To make the other version, just half the amount of beef and double the amount of melon.

      Ingredients

      Beef. One pound. Flank steak works best. Slice thinly against the grain.

      Bitter Melon. Half a melon. You can use the other half in a soup or other dish. Often available in Indian markets or supermarkets.
       

       
      Salted Black Beans. One tablespoon. Available in packets from Asian markets and supermarkets, these are salted, fermented black soy beans. They are used as the basis for 'black bean sauce', but we are going to be making our own sauce!

      Garlic. 6 cloves

      Cooking oil. Any vegetable oil except olive oil

      Shaoxing wine. See method

      Light soy sauce. One tablespoon

      Dark soy sauce. One teaspoon

      White pepper. See method

      Sesame oil. See method

      Method

      Marinate the beef in a 1/2 tablespoon of light soy sauce with a splash of Shaoxing wine along with a teaspoon or so of cornstarch or similar (I use potato starch). Stir well and leave for 15-30 minutes.

      Cut the melon(s) in half lengthwise and, using a teaspoon, scrape out all the seeds and pith. The more pith you remove, the less bitter the dish will be. Cut the melon into crescents about 1/8th inch wide.

      Rinse the black beans and drain. Crush them with the blade of your knife, then chop finely. Finely chop the garlic.

      Stir fry the meat in a tablespoon of oil over a high heat until done. This should take less than a minute. Remove and set aside.

      Add another tablespoon of oil and reduce heat to medium. fry the garlic and black beans until fragrant then add the bitter melon. Continue frying until the melon softens. then add a tablespoon of Shaoxing wine and soy sauces. Finally sprinkle on white pepper to taste along with a splash of sesame oil. Return the meat to the pan and mix everything well.

      Note: If you prefer the dish more saucy, you can add a tablespoon or so of water with the soy sauces.

      Serve with plained rice and a stir-fried green vegetable of choice.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Stir-fried Squid with Snow Peas - 荷兰豆鱿鱼
       

       
      Another popular restaurant dish that can easily be made at home. The only difficult part (and it's really not that difficult) is preparing the squid. However, your seafood purveyor should be able to do that for you. I have given details below.

      Ingredients

      Fresh squid. I tend to prefer the smaller squid in which case I allow one or two squid per person, depending on what other dishes I'm serving. You could use whole frozen squid if fresh is unavailable. Certainly not dried squid.

      Snow peas aka Mange Tout. Sugar snap peas can also be used. The final dish should be around 50% squid and 50% peas, so an amount roughly equivalent to the squid in bulk is what you are looking for. De-string if necessary and cut in half width-wise.

      Cooking oil. I use rice bran oil, but any vegetable cooking oil is fine. Not olive oil, though.

      Garlic.  I prefer this dish to be rather garlicky so I use one clove or more per squid. Adjust to your preference.

      Ginger. An amount equivalent to that of garlic.

      Red Chile. One or two small hot red chiles.

      Shaoxing wine. See method. Note: Unlike elsewhere, Shaoxing wine sold in N. America is salted. So, cut back on adding salt if using American sourced Shaoxing.

      Oyster sauce

      Sesame oil (optional)

      Salt

      Preparing the squid

      The squid should be cleaned and the tentacles and innards pulled out and set aside while you deal with the tubular body. Remove the internal cartilage / bone along with any remaining innards. With a sharp knife remove the "wings" then slit open the tube by sliding your knife inside and cutting down one side. Open out the now butterflied body. Remove the reddish skin (It is edible, but removing it makes for a nicer presentation. It peels off easily.) Again, using the sharp knife cut score marks on the inside at 1/8th of an inch intervals being careful not to cut all the way through. Then repeat at right angles to the original scoring, to give a cross-hatch effect. Do the same to the squid wings. Cut the body into rectangles roughly the size of a large postage stamp.
       

       
      Separate the tentacles from the innards by feeling for the beak, a hard growth just above the tentacles and at the start of the animal's digestive tract. Dispose of all but the tentacles. If they are long, half them.

      Wash all the squid meat again.

      Method

      There are only two ways to cook squid and have it remain edible. Long slow cooking (an hour or more) or very rapid (a few seconds) then served immediately. Anything else and you'll be chewing on rubber. So that is why I am stir frying it. Few restaurants get this right, so I mainly eat it at home.

      Heat your wok and add oil. Have a cup of water to the side. Add the garlic, ginger and chile. Should you think it's about to burn, throw in a little of that water. It will evaporate almost immediately but slow down some of the heat.
       
      As soon as you can smell the fragrance of the garlic and ginger, add the peas and salt and toss until the peas are nearly cooked (Try a piece to see!). Almost finally, add the squid with a tablespoon of the Shaoxing and about the same of oyster sauce. Do not attempt to add the oyster sauce straight from the bottle. The chances of the whole bottle emptying into your dinner is high! Believe me. I've been there!

      The squid will curl up and turn opaque in seconds. It's cooked. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of so of sesame oil (if used) and serve immediately!
       
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