I originally wrote this post for Chineasy - an excellent resource for learners of the Mandarin language.
There are many reasons to spend time in China. A culturally rich and vibrant country with landscapes spanning from fairy-tale karsts to futuristic cities. The culinary landscape is just as diverse and interesting, any self-confessed foodie can never tire of the options on offer. After spending three years living in Hong Kong with multiple trips to China, I still feel like I have only just scratched the surface of Chinese cuisine. Nonetheless, here are a couple of my favourite dishes from the orient.
Dim Sum 點心 / 点心 (diǎn xīn)
A classic Cantonese dish and a great way to eat in a group. If you are familiar with tapas, Dim Sum is just like a Chinese version. Dim sum menus generally offer a rather overwhelming array of options, so there is sure to be something to suit every taste. A few of my favorite dim sum dishes include:
叉燒包 / 叉烧包 (Char sui bao) – fluffy buns with a sumptuous barbecue pork filling
燒賣 / 烧卖 (Sui mai) a Hong Kong delicacy of dumplings filled with shrimp and pork
小籠包 / 小笼包 (Xiao long bao), delicious soup dumplings which originated in Shanghai. Perhaps the most famous dim sum dish, these dumplings found international fame through Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung.
Hot Pot 火鍋 / 火锅 (huǒ guō)
I love how social Asian dining is. Hot pot is one of my favourite ways of eating in a group and is a great winter warmer. As a bit of a spice fanatic, I love the hot chilli broth. Once you have chosen your broth (usually chilli or garlic), you select what food will go in the pot where it soaks up all the flavour. I’m always the first to order dried bean curd sticks, I love the texture and they soak up the flavours of the broth wonderfully. Anything goes (literally) when it comes to hot pot, I had one particularly memorable experience in Chengdu, which involved a pig brain… I will say no more on that.
Dan Dan Noodles 擔擔麵 / 担担面 (dàn dàn miàn)
I am a major spice enthusiast, so food from the Sichuan province really gets my preference, as you may notice from this rather biased list. One of my favourite things to come out of the Sichuan province is dan dan noodles. A warming dish which compromises of a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables, mustard stems, chilli oil, numbing Sichuan pepper, minced pork and scallions, all served over noodles. A winning combination of spice and simplicity.
Fish Fragrant Eggplant 魚香茄子 / 鱼香茄子 (yú xiāng qié zi)
Another Sichuanese specialty with a bit of an unfortunate name. I had come across this dish a number of times and always avoided it (let’s be honest, fish fragranced anything doesn’t sound great does it?) It was only during a cooking class I attended while in Dali, Yunnan, that I discovered that this dish doesn't contain anything fish related whatsoever. It gets its name because the eggplant (or aubergine, to any fellow Brits reading this) is prepared in the same way that fish was traditionally prepared in the Sichuan province, using the same mixture of oils and sauces. I discovered that fish fragrant eggplant is, in fact, a wonderful, tasty dish which I was sorry to have avoided for so long. I had my most memorable fish fragrance eggplant dish in Yuen Long, Hong Kong - it came served with beef in a sizzling clay pot.
Egg Waffle 雞蛋仔 / 鸡蛋仔 (jī dàn zǐ)
I thought it was suitable to finish this list with a dessert. In my opinion, Gai daan jai (Cantonese for egg waffle) is one of the finest street food snacks Hong Kong has to offer. The snack is a spherical waffle cooked between two metal plates and is usually eaten plain, but is also delicious with toppings such as chocolate and peanut butter. Hao-hao Chi! (very yummy/delicious) 好好吃！
Which cuisine is your favourite?