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Authentic Chinese Cuisine: A Reader's View

by Claire Moffat

Personal Perspectives

Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 27 to 28

Chinese food has become the world’s favorite takeout. It ranks in the top ten of most US polls, the number one in the United Kingdom. The food that stereotypically consists of noodles, battered seafood and thick, aromatic sauces is popular there and among foodies the world over. However, due to deep frying such as when making aromatic crispy duck, oil used for stir fry dishes, and heavy seasoning, the western versions of Chinese food, tend to be laden with high levels of salt, saturated fats, and trans fats.

Chinese cuisine, that from China itself is, on the contrary, traditionally full of vegetables, boiled rice, a larger array of protein sources but not always animal protein, and seasonings for flavor. The dishes at the end of many of their meals often contain fruit and tofu, an edible sponge to soak up the tasty broths.

Thus, Chinese food in China is significantly different from our Western, stodgy versions of their dishes. Theirs often combines and concocts unusual flavors; it results in a mixture of different tastes and textures, and is far removed from the greasy Chinese takeout we often overindulge in after a night out.

Theirs is a healthier option; yes, real Chinese food is much healthier than Westernized Chinese food. Theirs starts with the use of vegetables at almost all their meals. Many countries do advise one should eat multiple portions of fruits and vegetables every day. Some countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom recommend at least five portions of vegetables every day. Japan, for example, suggests more than double that number. The consumption of many vegetables are essential to a healthy, balanced diet, thanks to the nutrients found in them, and the fact that they are low in fat, saturated fats almost non-existent. The fiber, Vitamin C and calcium in many vegetables are immensely beneficial to the development of bones, teeth, skin, and the immune system; and they prevent heart disease.

The above mentioned key nutrients are not only amazing for your health, but are easily accessible in traditional Chinese cooking. Vegetables, such as bok cai, Chinese broccoli, and bean sprouts are all excellent sources of Vitamin A. They are great for your immune system; their potassium ideal for your blood pressure. All of them are often included in stir-fries, and in mixed rice and noodle dishes. Chinese cuisine respects vegetables more than most Western countries do. It uses them as main components in a many meals, rather than an accompaniment.

Chinese sweet teas tend to be served as cleansing teas after a large meal. Not only does this add to your essential portions of fruit a day, but they are a low fat, a low calorie way to satisfy your sweet tooth and prevent sugar cravings later on. These also aid digestion after a heavy meal and help you feel less sluggish, overall.

In China, food tends to be steamed, braised, poached, or boiled compared to Western Chinese food, which is more often fried. Batters in dishes, such as Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls, are a Western creation and not included in Chinese cooking at all.

Food in China mixes taste and texture combinations the Western world may find unusual. It is all about using ones resources and adding flavors to create a masterpiece. Carb-heavy meals and dishes such as Thousand-year eggs which are preserved eggs, may seem overwhelming to the Western palette. These eggs are stored for a hundred days, buried with lime, salt, and tea until the yolk turns green and the white turns dark. They may seem daunting to a Westerner who is used to eggs white and bright yellow in the morning. These foul-sounding eggs are often served with tofu or meat, and are said to taste similar to regular eggs but with a much smoother, creamy texture.

Other renowned Chinese dishes include Juizjuan Dachang, braised intestine flavored with various herbs and spices; chicken feet served at Dim Sum meals, sea cucumbers which are incredibly low in cholesterol, and shrimp dumplings served with noodles. These are a few of the traditional dishes one can find when walking the bustling streets of Beijing or popping in for some dim sum, Chinese snack food.

Flavor is a huge part of Chinese cuisine and its delicate-tasting ingredients, such as squid, often turned into taste explosions simply using a blend of spices and seasonings. In China, your food will be tastier, some even spicier or hotter than you ever experienced when eating Western Chinese food often cooled down for their western customers. Dishes, such as Egg Fu Yung can be heavily Westernized while a simple Chinese omelette is an agreeable option.

The undisputed best place for traditional Chinese cuisine is in China, or in other countries where Chinese people find the best Chinese food. In a country containing more than one and a third billion Chinese people, one with about the same number of square miles as in America, many think that finding where to sample the best authentic Chinese cooking sounds easier said than done.

However, if traveling to China on vacation, the best place to get Chinese food is actually where Chinese people find them; they are cheaper and surprisingly safe. When buying foods look for those you can see, examine, and judge. That is something you may not have the luxury of doing when eating in a restaurant that aims at your tourist dollar. Their foods can be Westernized, too, and they may be more expensive versions of the takeout you get at home. Sampling the delights where you see Chinese people eating on the streets of Beijing or Shanghai can be your best way to experience authentic Chinese food when traveling to these cities. Do try some of them, and do enjoy them!

Chinese food can be metaphorically watered down when crossing the ocean from Western countries. Flavor some noodle and rice dishes, like Chow Mein and Egg Fried-rice. They could be saturated in cooking oil and smothered in salt to preserve their ingredients longer. While vegetables containing crucial nutrients for a healthy body and mind are often an afterthought in Western cooking, unless cooking a vegetarian dish; in Chinese cooking they are recognized for their unique, subtle tastes, and their ability to take on herbs and spices and become a delicious dish.

Fruits used as dessert for those with a sweet tooth, in China are not boiled in sugar or hidden under butter in a crust.

In China, protein comes in all shapes and forms as needed. The Chinese diet makes clear that healthy meals are also tasty as part of life and culture. Vegetables do not have to be a bit of roughage pushed to the side at main meals; they can be the main meal. The only way to experience good authentic Chinese food is quite simple, do go and visit China!

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