What do you Know About Authentic Chinese Food?
In America, Chinese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine, with Mexican food coming in second place. However, what passes as "Chinese food" in the States, can be a far cry from the meals that people in the Republic of China enjoy. What does authentic Chinese food entail and how different is the cuisine we eat in the United States?
To begin with, most American Chinese food is heavily battered and fried. Vegetables are more or less condiments, rather than the primary basis for some dishes. And, the American Chinese food that you get when you order take-out, does not embrace the many regional differences found throughout the vast empire of China.
In China, there are 8 distinct Chinese cuisines, which correspond to the regions from which they originate. You can enjoy authentic Chinese food from any one of these areas:
Sichuan is the type of authentic Chinese food with which you may be most familiar. It includes dishes like Kung Pao Chicken and Twice Cooked Pork. Spicy, garlicky flavors are used in the cooking process, which can include frying and braising.
Check out Amy Jane's Hub, Eating out in China, for more information about how dishes in each of these regions are prepared.
Authentic Chinese Food Books
What are the differences between Authentic Chinese Food and "Chinese Food" in other cultures?
When I think of Chinese cuisine, morsels of chicken, beef or pork come to mind. My experience with what I thought was authentic Chinese food is drenched in heavy sauces, dangerously spicy red peppers, and loads of white rice on the side. Oh, and don't forget the soy sauce. A nice fortune cookie at the end completes the meal.
In China, people are much more adventurous with the types of food they will ingest. Roasted Piglet anyone? That might taste pretty good, but I think its safe to say that a bite of Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish will never pass my lips.
A popular snack in the Tibetan region is yak blood cubes. This is made by draining blood from a yak, boiling it until it solidifies, and then pouring hot butter and sugar over cut cubes of the blood. Yummy.
Even with respect to more standard fare, authentic Chinese food is served "complete." Chicken will have the head, beak and feet still attached. Fish heads and tails are not removed.
One question you may have is whether authentic Chinese food includes cats and dogs. The short answer is that, in some regions, yes. But there is ongoing debate as to how widespread the practice is. Exotic foods are not uncommon at all in China. Videos of cat and dog meat markets can be found, originating in the province of Guangdong/Canton, next to Hong Kong. Among reasons offered for this taste for "pets," are the fact that east Asian people did not develop a close companionship relationship with cats, as did Europeans and Americans. Dogs, too, are viewed as livestock, along with the rest of the animals on the farm.
Other famous dishes include live monkey brains. A famous scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies shows the shock on the Americans' faces when presented with this delicacy.
Authentic Chinese food also includes scorpions, rats, fried grasshoppers, grubs, and snake. Chances are, you can't get this stuff in a little white box from the restaurant around the corner in your hometown!
Noodles form a Foundation for Authentic Chinese Food
Despite the focus on the various types of protein that are found in authentic Chinese food, in actuality, meals are largely comprised of noodles or other starches like rice.
Long noodles signify a long life. Soup is included at the beginning of a meal, and also at the end in southern China regions. There are even some slightly sweet soups that are served to complete the meal.
How to Eat With Chopsticks
Enjoy Authentic Chinese Food with Chopsticks
Chopsticks, generally made of bamboo, are used in China, instead of western silverware during meals. This is because a fork and knife are considered violent. It is more peaceful to eat Chinese food with chopsticks.
Eating rice can be more difficult with chopsticks than with larger morsels of food. It is considered appropriate and polite in Chinese culture to pick up the rice bowl next to your mouth so that bites of rice do not fall to the table or floor.
Want a Chinese Fortune Cookie?
Contrary to their name, Chinese fortune cookies did not originate in China and thus, they are not an authentic Chinese food. In fact, Chinese people generally do not eat dessert following a meal. Some believe that Americans created the treat, while others say that it was originally created at a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. The cookies are loosely based on a Chinese mooncake legend in which the date of a planned uprising was folded inside the cakes.
Messages folded inside the hard shell, slightly sweet cookies are generally those of hope, love, fame and fortune. In college, a friend told me that the way to make these "fortunes" more interesting is to add the phrase "in bed," at the end. For example: "The year ahead is promising for you....in bed."
How to Make Shrimp with Vegetables
Where Can you Find Authentic Chinese Food?
The most authentic Chinese restaurants are probably found in the Republic of China. Only there can you truly experience exotic delights that you won't find on a take-out menu.
You may be a bit wary of the authentic Chinese food dishes presented to you while traveling in China, particularly if you go beyond the larger cities.
But remember that a long noodle in your bowl will mean a long life. So, you may as well go for it!
© 2008 Stephanie Marshall
slasher on June 16, 2014:
I own a pizza shop next to a western Chinese restaurant. Became friends and started eating with them on sundays. Very good , just ate never asked what I was actually eating.
Candice Harding on May 06, 2014:
Great hub! I tried authentic Chinese food for the first time a few years ago and, trust me, I am never going back. I'm partial to Cantonese, personally. I have truly enjoyed exploring the regional diversity of Chinese cuisine, though I don't think I'll be trying yak blood cubes anytime soon!
bradley brown from Harrow Middlesex on May 23, 2013:
Cant see me eating scorpions, rats, fried grasshoppers, grubs, and snake. but i do enjoy Chinese food great hub.
dick on May 13, 2013:
eating from a toilet has the same tast of chinese food
omeida on May 07, 2013:
hi on March 29, 2012:
cheese shop on April 24, 2011:
great hub. Chinese food is one of the best food you can find!
Food Cards on April 05, 2011:
Came across your article when re-searching about different Chinese cuisine areas.
Great read and very informative,
also came across this (http://www.trax2.com/food/foodcards/) playing cards designed around Chinese food
Nepali Food on March 03, 2011:
I love Chinese food, this site really has great information about chinese food and culture. i love it .
char4u.com on February 14, 2011:
I thought I may try to make some pork balls during the weekend, I can't refuse yummy food, though I gain weight after eating a lot!
sea55star from Pacific Northwest on February 03, 2011:
Hi Steph, Loved the article. Thought you'd like to know, the tag said "Ancient" Chinese Food instead of "Authentic" Chinese Food.
none of ur buisness on November 15, 2010:
this article helped me with a project in college!!!!!! thank u so much
Mia on October 04, 2010:
Some doesn't sound appetizing, but I'd try it anyway.
Daniel on September 01, 2009:
Thank you for this interesting article. I love Chinesse food, how ever living in America does not allow me to try the "real chinesse food" as often as I would like I think the closest i got to Chinesse food was when i visited New York City , San Fransisco & Alhambra Ca. I had the chance to visit this amazing restaurants and to tell you the truth i was pleasently satisfied!. I whish more people from those places in China would migrate and establish their Chinesse Restaurants near our areas THAT would save us from eating "Americanized Chinesse junk" I tully can identified my self with you, For as a Mexican I deal with the same problem since it is very hard to find Authentic Mexican food "THE REAL STUFF" I:ve traveld from East to West just to find "THE" place with the Real Mexican Food (my freakin KITCHEN! too bad I HAVE TO COOK IT) Good thing its the traditional style. nothing beats Original trust me.
Bo @ Chinese Knot Weddings on August 31, 2009:
The fortune cookies are rarely found in mainland China. They are mostly available in the States.
timothy on August 11, 2009:
hi, i m Tim i had lived in china for the past 3 years +
i find the differences between western style food as the same way as for chinese back in the states
how ever dog?
it is because the Cantonese like all that stuff i live in hefei, that's the capital of anhui
which is Dominantly soupy and spicy food's
such as vegetable's pig intestines,liver,fish head soup,as we have no sea, people eat river fish.
dumplings,crab,prawns,beef,chicken with bones,
most are cooked with bones accept beef
also because of region's
north is garlic flavor, henan province mainly bread/da mo and noodles,
south is sweet from shanghai,nanjing,guangdong hongkong etc.
east and mid like soupy and stewed type of food
but mostly rice vegetables soup,and meats
minority base ( Yunnan ) eat bugs and Yak )
beijing duck is not the same as america
hefei duck is way better
reason: marketing !
on average most chinese food is slightly fried with oil
chinese use more oil than any person around the world
as this is the way to cook and prepare chinese food in china
most western people get confused about japanese,korean,chinese style food which is completely different
infact korea they consider you very very rich if you eat any amount of meats
china even poor country people can afford meats
and for Japanese still quite the same as the states
northern parts and western parts of china do boil or steam abit more often
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 09, 2009:
Thank you so much for commenting! It is so eye-opening how much the American "Chinese food" cuisine varies from the real deal. Looking forward to seeing your project!
ChineseFoodMap on May 09, 2009:
Nice hub. This is the message I try to deliver to my friends all the time about Chinese food. Well said!
Sometimes it is just hard to convince them their favorite Chinese restaurants are not even authentic Chinese food. As a Chinese immigrant , I started collecting authentic chinese restaurant information years ago, now I will put everything on a web site with google map and user review. It will be up soon. If you are interested, you can have a look at the ongoing project(in alpha phase now) here:
Restaurant supplies on April 19, 2009:
Nice Hub Page very informational. Found nice web site for all restaurant equipment at www.tigerchef.com
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on March 05, 2009:
Interesting hub. I can say, I doubt if I've ever had authentic Chinese food. Your description of "whole" Chinese food reminds me of the movie, A Christmas Story, when they had to go have dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
Mr Nice from North America on March 01, 2009:
Interesting and very well researched. Have you ever tried Thai food if not I published a hub about Thai recipes have a look.
49er from USA on February 02, 2009:
You are right about our version of Chinese food typically being a good deal different from traditional Chinese food. Luckily, I have a friend who spent a good deal of time in Asia and he has a knack for finding really good Chinese and Japanese restaurants. However, the flip side to that is he is very very picky about his food...
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 11, 2008:
Hi RGraf, that would be the best way to enjoy authentic Chinese food - with a trusted friend! I haven't had my kids try to use chopsticks yet, but I'm game to try. Maybe we'll get some Chinese food this week! :)
Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on November 11, 2008:
Great article. I had a college friend who was from China make a geniune Chinese meal. It was Great!!!! Though we didn't have some of the more "unusual" fare. I love the food and using chopsticks. My kids and I make it game to see what all we can pick up with them.
33341424 on October 06, 2008:
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 22, 2008:
Thank you Bernie! I am sure you will have some exotic cuisine indeed! Filipino cuisine? I will hand the baton to you to write a hub about that one! Steph
BernieQuimpo from Philippines on June 22, 2008:
Steoh -- you've gotten me excited about my projected trip to Xian in October. Looks like it will be a real food adventure especially as I will be visiting my hotelier friend who is a real foodie. Btw, have you ever tried Filipino cuisine. You should try our "balut" sometime.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 24, 2008:
Wow, Jason! I'm sure you're correct about Vietnamese cuisine. Frog stomach soup. That would be exciting, indeed!
Jason Stanley on March 24, 2008:
We lived in Vietnam and found the same thing - REAL Vietnamese food is amazingly better than anything we can find here in the States. It's a whole new world of delicious delight! With China right next door, and a lot of Chinese in Vietnam, we also found what you said here to be very accurate - the real deal is much better and often quite exciting - frog stomach soup for starters....
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 24, 2008:
Thank you vreccc. I'm glad to have done the subject justice! I appreciate your comments, and adding your personal perspective from living in China and trying to make authentic food here in the States. Cheers!
vreccc from Concord, NH on February 23, 2008:
Very well done. I can tell you researched this. I live in China for eight years and was able to get quite used to 'real' Chinese food. Everything you said is true and correct. My wife is Chinese and will often cook something authentic for us. We make monthly trips down to Boston to Chinatown and buy Jiaozi (dumplings). We don't have good luck making Chinese dumplings here. My wife says it has something to do with the flour here.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 23, 2008:
Thanks Amy Jane! I'm glad you discussed the different region cuisines in more detail. My hub was too broad for that.
amy jane from Connecticut on February 23, 2008:
Steph, this is a great hub, thank you for including a link to mine :)