The Foodie

Associated Press

The Foodie: Chinese Cuisine

August 07, 2008
by Soojung Chang
From the ubiquitous Kung Pao chicken to regional specialties and exotic-seeming street foods, Chinese cuisine has something to offer for everyone. The evening of August 8, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, is the perfect opportunity for you to cook up a new Chinese dish or get cozy with one of your favorites from the local takeout joint.

The Basics

The basic philosophy behind Chinese cuisine emphasizes balancing yin and yang through “hot” and “cold” ingredients, says Ching-He Huang of the BBC video series “Chinese Food Made Easy,” Keep that in mind while cooking up classic dishes such as egg drop soup, moo goo gai pan, sweet-and-sour chicken and various stir fries. Chinese cuisine is a mélange of flavors utilizing such key components as soy sauce, a versatile ingredient used to flavor stews, meats and sauces; peanut oil, useful for stir-frying; sesame oil, a flavorful accent for several dishes; and five-spice powder, a mix of peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed and star anise.

Regional Foods

Three-fifths of China is historically home to those who are not ethnically Han Chinese, such as the Tibetans, Mongolians, Uighurs, Hui, Dai and others, according to Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, the authors of “Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China.” Slate describe the book as “a Chinese cookbook that ignores what we think of as Chinese food,” and you can use it to expand your horizons and cook up specialty dishes from China's diverse provinces and ethnic minorities.

Street Food

While Beijing's government has banned dog meat from restaurants during the Olympics, those seeking out the weird and wild can still chow down on dog brain soup, goat lungs with red peppers, seahorses on skewers and grilled snake. “There is a Cantonese saying that the Chinese eat everything that flies, except aeroplanes; everything with four legs, except tables; and everything that swims, except submarines—and visitors to Beijing’s fast-food market during the Olympic Games will be left in no doubt of that,” says Britain's Daily Mail.
The Chinese government has also made an effort to clear away unsanitary streetside food stands for the games; however, Ian Marlow of the Toronto Star says that street food can still be found in hidden corners away from the main streets. According to Marlow, some of Beijing's top street foods include nang, a nan bread from the Uighur Muslims of northwest China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region; baozi, a steamed bun stuffed with meat or vegetables; cha jidan, or tea eggs; yabozi, chopped, marinated, boiled and fried duck’s neck; malatang, boiled skewers made of everything from fish balls to vegetables; and yang rou chuan, spiced lamb kebabs from the Mongols.

Concerns About Health

Are all of those meals consisting of fried rice and lo mein taking a toll on your health? The aforementioned dishes are among the worst offenders at Chinese restaurants, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chow fun, crispy orange beef and General Tso’s chicken are among the dishes that are high in sodium, oil and carbs, warns the Center.

Chinese Food Overseas

Americans aren’t the only people outside of China who love Chinese food. Other cultures have embraced the cuisine and adapted it to their own tastes, and the British are particular lovers of Chinese food, which took root in the country more than a century ago. The country’s Restaurant Association reports that Britons eat more than 110 million Chinese meals annually. Three out of five Britons report that their favorite food is Chinese, according to a survey from food company Amoy.

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