One of the things that I like the most about China is the food, so it’s strange that I haven’t touched upon it much. Of course there is a world of difference to the restaurants that are stumbled into late on a Saturday night after the football, or slightly earlier before the X-factor. Let me explain.
There is such an abundance and variety of fresh local produce to choose from (despite issues with being able to store it hygienically), that Chinese cuisine can afford to be amazingly diverse. I’ll have a little look at a few- aside from the day-to-day delights.
The basis of all good Chinese cooking lays in a variety of complex spices and these 3 ingredients: soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine (料酒）and vinegar (醋). Unlike much of the food made in Southeast Asia, China prefers to take its time with lots of dishes, but still manages to churn out food at a heck of a rate. I’m going to look at a few of my favourites, I hope you like the look!
The very best of Chinese cooking is the holy grail in my opinion- 锅包肉（Guobaorou). This lightly battered sweet and sour pork dish may not reach the hefty heights of haute cuisine, but it represents excellent 东北 cooking (northeast China). Fortunately, it is sticky enough to remain firmly within my body for many years to come- sorry arteries.
Nevertheless, each of the main ingredients above feature, and the recipe looks something like this….
Ingredients: (serve 2 – 3 people)
200g pork loin*, cut into thin slivers about 2mm think
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese cooking wine
1/2 cup potato starch or cornflour (cornstarch)
a little over 1/4 cup water
oil for frying about 1 – 1.5 cups
1 red chilli cut into long thin strips (about 1 tbsp)
2 – 3 spring onion (scallion) cut into long thin strips or long slices
1 (thumb size) piece of ginger shredded into very fine thin strips
5 tbsp Chinese red or black rice vinegar
2 – 3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a little fresh cooking oil or meat frying oil
extra spring onion and chilli for garnish
Fry off the marinated battered pork twice, whip up the sauce in a frying pan and stir in the meat. Eat. Simple!!
Next, we come to noodles, which are keenly debated in China- who has the best noodles. As I’m so woefully under qualified to debate this, I’ll concentrate on another speciality, originating from North Korea: cold noodles (冷面). This is fairly acquired taste because it is a bizarre texture and cold noodles seems somehow wrong, however it is incredible. Again using plenty of vinegar, the cold meaty broth is accompanied with vegetables and often a flavoured boiled egg to add substance. Not necessarily something which screams to you from the menu, but a good bet in the north!
It’s impossible to write about Chinese cooking without mentioning Hotpot (火锅), which is so prominent in Chongqing, Sichuan province. The fact that folk songs and dances have been performed about this dish shows how important it is. A popular folk song tells how local men fought for the ladies’ affections by the strength of the Hotpot, with the spiciest and tastiest supposedly wooing the girl. The spicier the better with Hotpot and whilst that causes a few minor issues later in the day, to be able to eat authentically as they do in Sichuan is a feat. Once I went to a Sichuan-style restaurant in Changchun and I was asked on 3 separate occasions if I could handle the spice. Fast-forward with my eyes and nose streaming in equal proportions, I came to the decision that they know best.
Coming in two forms- dry and wet- Hotpot can really be a little of what you fancy, meat and vegetables, all cooked in a spicy sauce. The dry Hotpot uses oil and is cooked quickly, whereas the wet Hotpot is usually cooked at the table to your own taste in flavoured and spiced water. To my knowledge it doesn’t exist in the UK, but I’ll certainly be looking out for it…
肉夹馍 (roujiamo) is affectionately nicknamed the ‘Roger Moore’ due to anglicised similarities in pronunciation. No idea if James Bond has ever had one, but he jolly well should. Although they vary from place to place, the traditional ‘Roger Moore’ comes from 西安 （Xi’an) and is usually a spiced meat in a bun, similar to this one.
The slowly-braised meat can be served with bean sprouts and is eaten as a snack or for breakfast with a peanut juice or milk- shaken not stirred of course
I hope you have enjoyed having a look at some of the specialities here in the North, as well as some classics from all around China.
I’ll leave you with a glimpse into a Hotpot session and a cheeky glance at the ‘Beijing Bikini’…. more to follow on that front!
Have a great week chaps!