Now that I’ve eaten out numerous times here in China I have come to be a little familiar with the menus for certain types of Chinese cuisine. Sichuan cuisine has to be the best in China, closely followed by Xinjiang and Lanzhou, they pretty much never disappoint flavor wise. The Chinese dishes I used to favor back home are now the last thing I would order only because there is so much more variety here. Fried rice, sweet and sour pork, spring rolls, kungpao chicken etc all seem so simple now.
Here are a few of my favorite dishes to eat in the middle kingdom….
No matter where you go in China you will find a Sichuan restaurant. A Sichuan dish is not a Sichuan dish if it doesn’t have dried red chillies, Sichuan peppers, garlic, vinegar, and peanuts. I love but hate the Sichuan peppercorns because if you bite into them (usually by accident) they numb your mouth while at the same time burning it and it’s not a very pleasant sensation. However, they do give the dish a really nice flavour so I’m always willing to take the risk.
My favorite Sichuan dish hands down is dry fried green beans. It’s simple compared to other Sichuan dishes but if it’s on the menu I’m ordering it! It’s also usually one of the cheaper ones on the menu, not costing more than 15-10rmb. The beans are firm without being raw on the inside but nice an crispy on the outside, how do they do that?! And when they add a little crispy fried pork it’s just perfect. Shout out to all the swine lovers!
Next up is hot pot, a winter favorite though some people still enjoy it in summer which I don’t quite understand because as the name suggests this is a hot dish. It originated in Mongolia but has since spread to most parts of China, every area has their own version now. Hotpot is just perfect for winter days because it really warms you up not only because it’s hot but because the chilli in it also packs a punch.
Having this dish without chilli is pretty bland, that’s where the magic is. It is also a great dish for large groups of people. In the pictures above some Chinese friends of mine came over to my hostel and treated me to a homemade hotpot. We added everything from mushrooms, duck blood, tofu, noodles, dried tofu sheets, cabbage, pork slices, shrimp etc. into the hotpot soup. It’s also a dish that requires time so we were at it for at least 2 hours.
Lanzhou cuisines claim to fame is their hand pulled noodles. Sizes vary depending on who is making them but I tend to prefer the thicker type. For me, nothing hits the spot quite like a hot dish of stir fried mutton and noodles, however they are most famous for their beef or mutton noodle soup. Lanzhou people are predominantly Muslim so their food is halal. Some of the students at my university and I actually have a group on Wechat which our favourite restaurant owner is part of and we often order his delicious Lanzhou meals through the group. We keep him quite busy, he makes a trip to the hostels at least twice a day!
This is a group dish that is originally from the Xinjiang region in China. Signature ingredients of Xinjiang cuisine include roasted mutton, kebabs, roasted fish, and rice. The food is predominantly halal because, like the Lanzhou region, the majority of the Xinjiang population is Muslim. Da pan ji has everything I love; mushrooms, chicken, potatoes and thick noodles. The sauce is what holds everything together, if the sauce is not cooked well you won’t enjoy the dish.
My martial arts club holds a club dinner once every school year and because we’re so many (approx. 100 students) we always go for a 自助餐/buffet. The food quality at most buffet restaurants is not always great because the food is made as needed, so the least popular dishes are not so fresh. But my favorite thing about 自助餐 is that every table has a hot plate where you can grill meat and some have 2 hot plates so you can make your own hot pot too! They have any and everything in these restaurants including seafood, meat,traditional Chinese dishes, western food (fries, pizza etc), salads, cakes, puddings, fruits, beer, coffee, tea, milk, cocktails,white spirit etc, it’s a hungry persons paradise. Most places limit guests to 2 hours then you have to leave.
To be honest I’m not sure where this dish is from but given it’s ingredients most likely is a Sichuan dish. Another great dish for groups and also great for winter. The sauce is very spicy while the fish is kept quite plain so when the two are combined it’s for the lack of a better word, awesome! I like it when they first grill the fish just enough to give it crispy skin before adding it to the chilli oil sauce.
The idea of eating donkey meat was peculiar to me before I tried them but now I’m really glad I did, it’s almost as good as pork. The meat is boiled for a day which makes the meat extremely tender. The meat is chopped finely, mixed with green peppers and just the right amount of fat, stuffed into a 火烧/baked wheat bun and voila, donkey burger! It’s usually eaten with a selection of cold salad dishes. Donkey burgers are a Baoding delicacy, not only delicious but also very cheap at 6-8RMB each.
This dish is usually made with a different type of white sweet potato (called 山芋in chinese) and not the more common type (called 地瓜 in Chinese). However, recently went for a Chinese friends wedding and her mum made the dish with the more common type and it tasted so much better than the white sweet potato version. I pretty much ate it all by myself, with no shame. The glaze is really sticky so you have to dip each piece in some cold water before eating it to help it separate.
I could go on and on but I think I’ll stop here for this post. More posts on Chinese food to come soon! In the mean time I have to go do some research, i.e. eat! 🙂