Last week I made you question everything you thought you knew about Chinese cuisine by revealing 5 Chinese Foods That Are Not Actually Chinese (well, that’s what Confucius told me in my fortune cookie). So now, I would like to introduce you to some authentic Chinese foods and dishes that I have come to love, living in Hong Kong, that haven’t yet made it big in the western hemisphere:
Why, oh why, are their so few dim sum restaurants in the world? Barbecue pork buns, turnip cake, soup dumplings, vermicelli rolls… how did I live without these for so long?
For those that have yet to experience dim sum, the best way I can think to describe it is Chinese tapas. You go to a dim sum restaurant in a big group, sit around a large round table, drink tea (yam cha) and order bamboo baskets full of steamed dumplings and other goodies to share.
In the more traditional dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong, waiters walk around the restaurant with trolleys and you get to nosey at what they’re offering and pick up a dish as they go past.
I’ve heard of dim sum restaurants in London and some other big cities, but they’re crazy expensive, whereas dim sum in Hong Kong is always cheap. In fact, Hong Kong is home to the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan.
I’ve also seen (and never dared try) “dim sum” packs in supermarkets back in the UK, which mostly consist of several microwavable spring rolls and a couple of samosas (note: definitely not traditional Chinese cuisine).
Nope, I’m not talking British-style Lancashire hotpot. Traditional Chinese hot pot is more like fondue. And similar to dim sum and the majority of authentic Chinese meals, it’s all about sharing (translation: you have to eat what everyone else orders).
There’s a boiling pan of soup in the centre of the table (often separated into one spicy and one non-spicy half) and you choose meats, vegetables, fish and anything else you want to throw in to cook in front of you. Perfect for winter and for people who like playing the game of risk I like to call “Is this seafood?”
Some genius was sipping a cappuccino one day when they thought, “Do you know what my coffee is missing? Some chewy bubble-shaped jelly snacks…” and bubble tea was born! Aside from my first experience of drinking bubble tea, which involved sucking a tapioca ball up the straw too fast and getting a chokingly painful hit to the tonsils, I can safely say that the west is missing out on this fun twist on tea.
With bubble tea, you choose your drink (coffee, tea, a mix of both, or other), some “bubbles” (tapioca balls, jelly, bits of fruit, other things I don’t understand) and viola! It comes in a clear cup with an extra-wide straw so you can suck your bubbles up the straw to give your drinking experience a little something special.
So you may think you are fairly familiar with Peking duck already, but that’s what I also thought before I went to a Peking duck restaurant in Beijing. They bring the duck to your table and carve it in front of you, teaching you how to fold the pancakes with chopsticks and how to dip the skin in sugar. It’s goddamn transcendent.
Do you have your curry “fahl” hot? Do you ask for the special extra-spicy tabasco with your Mexican food? Well you haven’t won the spice war until you’ve braved Sichuan food. Chillis, chillis everywhere! My nose is running! I’m crying! Ah, I touched my eye! It burns, but the food tastes so good! Also helpful at clearing your sinuses if you have a bad cold.
And there are so many other Chinese dishes that I want to add here, from pork belly to soup noodles to wontons to iced lemon tea… but I’ve limited myself my five faves and hopefully given you a taste (wink, wink) of how diverse Chinese cuisine can be.
Keeping in mind how large China is, I’m putting out a disclaimer that there are still so many regional cuisines, especially from Mainland China, that I’ve yet to try (this list is equivalent to trying to sum up European food in five dishes). I’ve heard rumours of “three delicious soup” and “squirrel fish” to name but a couple of intriguing dishes I want to try, so watch this space…