If I asked you to list some Chinese foods, would you include potatoes or cheese? You should, because they are some of the many amazing dishes that make up China’s varied regional cuisines.
Before I came to Beijing, I thought I’d eaten Chinese food. But the Chinese food I ate in England is nothing like the Chinese food I eat in China! One explanation could be that most of the restaurants I ate at in the UK were likely run by Cantonese people. I’ve yet to visit the Canton regions so for all I know the food there is exactly like the UK Chinese food. Another explanation is simply that the food is adapted in UK to suit British palates. And lastly, perhaps it’s just that there are so many, many regional foods in China. The ones I’m drawn to may be more unfamiliar than the ones I’ve had back home.
The food in China really is very varied from region to region. From hotpot and dumplings to Yunnan cheese and potatoes there is something yummy for everyone to eat. So, here is a brief list of just a few of my favourite dishes! Fortunately, living in Beijing, I am never too far from a restaurant featuring the regional food of my choice!
Yunnan Cheese and Yunnan Potatoes
Yunnan has some of the most delicious foods and there are plenty of veggie friendly options too! There are various forms of potato to be found in Yunnan restaurants. This potato and tea leaf dish is one of my favourites and is served in a Yunnan restaurant just a few minutes walk from my house. The cheese is made from sheep or goat’s milk and has peppercorns sprinkled on it. I love it!
Hotpot can be hit and miss and I know expats who hate it. I love it but it has to be the right kind. For me, a satisfying hot pot experience includes a vegetarian tomato broth, different kinds of noodles (different thickness and consistency), tons of veg (especially potatoes, sweet potatoes and lotus!), tofu and rice balls/cakes. It’s fun to go to a places where they make the noodles in front of you and where you get to mix up your own dipping sauce.
Jiaozi/dumplings are some of the best things you can eat in Beijing in my opinion! There are so many different fillings so veggies and meat eaters can all enjoy them. We’ve taken several visitors to eat at a dumpling place a few minutes walk from our house and there have been no complaints yet. Fried or boiled they are all delicious!
KungPao Chicken/Mushroom (Gong Pao Ji Ding)
I don’t eat chicken put I’ve had a few vegetarian versions of Gong Pao Chicken and even made one myself at a Hutong School cooking class. The veggie version is usually made with mushrooms (the king oyster mushrooms work well when they are chopped into cubes- don’t forget to squeeze out some of the liquid). Do you know what puts the gong pao in gong pao chicken? It’s the peanuts. You can switch the chicken to mushroom for a veggie version but any other nut and it’s apparently a completely different dish!
There are various versions of aubergine/eggplant dishes in China- both spicy and non-spicy. The best I’ve had was in Sichuan which leads me to believe it’s a Sichuan food. But so many variations seem to crop up in every Chinese restaurant, it’s hard to say!
Bonus Cuisine: Tibetan Food
Tibetan food is of course Tibetan, not Chinese. But Tibetan restaurants are all over China (particularly the Western regions). The food is hearty and delicious so I do recommend you try it if you can. Check out a post I did on Waegook Tom’s blog if you’d like to know more!
So there you go- just a few of my favourite dishes from China. Is there anything that surprised you?