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Saturday, 27 December 2014

The 9 Misconceptions about Chinese Food People Get Wrong

*Image Credit: artisiticco 

Chinese food is hugely popular in countries such as the United States and Britain. Here in Britain, many restaurants offering non-Cantonese cuisine, likewise Hunan's and Szechwan's hot and spicy offerings have become more widespread in the past couple of years, as people's taste buds are so much different, but of whom are also willing to try something completely different to what they are usually accustomed to, which is Hong Kong Cantonese food such as Sweet and Sour pork and chicken, hot and sour soup.   

I think the misconceptions a lot of people have regarding Chinese food, is based on the food and the dishes they have been exposed to, as well as restaurants offering dishes on menus they think Westerners would enjoy more.  

Yet this attitude is changing for the better; here, I list the 9 common Chinese food misconceptions (& myths) that native Chinese, as well as Diaspora Chinese, have encountered, in addition to listing some of my favorite traditional Chinese dishes. 

1) Because the Chinese food they serve in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown across the world is predominately Cantonese, it means it is bad - I'm sorry, but I don't buy this argument, one bit. Egg fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, pork, Won Ton Soup may all be Cantonese, but they are not the only Cantonese dishes available. The variety of Cantonese cuisine offered is so vast and varied, when I think of Cantonese food, I think of mild - yet rich & intense flavours fully- cooked with minimal seasoning added. It is simple cooking utilizing fresh ingredients. 

Cantonese food gets such a bad rep that it doesn't deserve, with most proclaiming it is too sweet and westernized to suit people's palettes, whilst mainland Chinese food gets praised. 

Examples of (good) Cantonese food include Dim Sum, Chinese steamed eggs omelette, pork spare ribs with black beans & chili, water spinach with fermented bean curd and Orange cuttlefish that comes with a sweet dark soy sauce gravy. 

2) There is just one type of Chinese food served in restaurants and take outs - in fact, there is traditional Chinese food and then there is Chinese American food. The Chinese American food isn't held to high regard outside the West, but I can't doubt that it is widely eaten by people in the UK, America, Canada to name. If someone offers you a menu that has Chinese American food items, but you'd rather order something like roast duck with noodles, beef brisket or whatever, do it, - and don't let them dissuade you. 

3) Chinese food is unhealthy and greasy and rarely contains vegetables - Not true  

4) All people of Chinese descent eat insects, organs, liver and dog meat - I find them disgusting and wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. Not all of us eat it or would consider doing so 

5) Chinese food contains MSG - maybe some dishes contain MSG, because the cooks add it thinking it would a) enhance the flavour and b) non -Chinese people wouldn't notice. I like my food without MSG and I don't think it is a good thing that chefs put it in their food  

6) It's all rice and noodles and no bread - you want bread? go to a Chinese bakery, but then their pastries, especially ones with ham and cheese have sweet bread. 

7) Spring rolls/egg rolls, Egg Foo Young, Chop Suey and fortune cookies originated in China - no they weren't, they were Chinese - American inventions 

8) All Chinese people add soy sauce to their food - I don't. Well I only add it during cooking 

9) It's mainly sweet and sour. black bean, egg fried rice. That and/or pig's and dog's livers, intestines, heart - But you also have a choice not to eat it, so it's not like it's a requirement. But I find that notion stereotypical and not entirely true, because it doesn't apply to all Chinese, and people who enjoy eating Chinese food.

This is what people's idea of (authentic) Chinese food looks like: 

So what, in my eyes, is real Chinese food? This.....

Dim Sum - bite sized portions of food offered usually during breakfast and lunch, although in recent years, more restaurants have offered Dim Sim in the evening. Chinese tea is served with Dim Sum. Dim Sum items include Pork and prawn dumplings (Siu Mai), steamed meatballs and buns and lotus leaf rice. 

Congee - rice porridge made with water and boiled to a thick consistency

Roast duck 

Steamed fish with scallions, ginger in soy 

Fried Ho-Fun noodles with beef

Fried pot stickers/dumplings

Steamed sticky rice in lotus leaves with chicken or pork, Chinese sausage 

Scallion pancakes 

Chinese roast pork (Char Siu)

*image source: The Hungry Excavator 

Eight Treasures Duck - A stuffed Chinese Duck dish. Duck is marinated in star anise or Chinese Five Spice with soy sauce & Chinese roast duck seasoning and is later stuffed with 8 ingredients. It is then braised or steamed until it is fully cooked. Ingredients for the core stuffing vary, but it mostly tends to be sticky rice, Chinese or Shitake mushrooms, chestnuts, water chestnuts and duck eggs. Additional ingredients include Chinese sausage, dried shrimps and Bamboo Shoots. 

Scrambled eggs with tomatoes 

Cantonese style lobster with noodles 

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