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Like most authentic cuisines - whether it be Italian, French or Vietnamese - it has been manipulated to accommodate the taste buds of the foreign country where it resides. And Chinese cuisine is no different. In China you won’t find eggs roll and crab wontons, but rather find simple food. Authentic Chinese food includes plenty of vegetables with a bit of meat served family style so everyone has to sit around the table.
If you’re heading to China, avoid the embarrassment of trying to order something you’ll find on your local Chinese takeaway menu, and know what is authentic and what is not. Here are a few "Chinese" dishes that you will not find in China:
One of the most popular American Chinese dishes is General Tso’s Chicken. This sweet and spicy fried chicken dish goes back to New York in 1970 and reminds Chinese people of the cooking of Hunan province. When in China, a great substitute for this rich poultry dish is Peking duck - a roasted duck dish knows for its succulent meat and crispy skin. The best way to eat this dish is to wrap it up in a pancake with scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.
Crab wontons or Rangoon are fried dumplings stuffed with cream cheese and crab. Even though they might be delicious, they are not served in China. One of the reasons why this is definitely not authentic is because Chinese people are lactose intolerant. When in China, instead of crab wontons try Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). These Shanghai dumplings are filled with pork or crab and served in a rich savory broth. The way to eat this soup is to bite the corner of the dumpling and allowing the broth to seep into it.
Believe it or not, fortune cookies are not Chinese at all. Fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco, America. The crisp cookie usually made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and sesame seed oil with a piece of paper inside that tells you your “fortune”. In Chinese culture, instead of fortune cookies, oranges are considered fortuitous. Most Chinese people end their meals with a slice of orange.
American-style egg rolls are thick, bloated, deep-fried rolls of dough filled with meat and vegetables. Often greasy and messy, it is a great appetizer. For a similar crunch, try cong you bing (scallion pancakes) which is a delicious fried flatbread loaded with chopped scallions.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Unlike Chinese wonton soup, American-style wonton soup usually consists of a thick noodle wrapped around a clump of pork in a broth. If you’re visiting the city of Hong Kong, a superior substitute for wonton soup is its famous noodle soups, and shrimp dumpling soup. The shrimp dumpling is delicious with its fragrant broth, and the soup is filled with fresh noodles.
Even though the Chinese beef and broccoli dishes are delicious, broccoli does not grow in China (at least not the western version) and Chinese people generally don't eat much beef. You probably won’t find this dish in China, but an excellent substitute is Yu Xiang Rou Si. This dish is made up of shredded pork in hot garlic sauce. The pork is usually sauteed with vegetables such as mushrooms and peppers.
A popular dish, especially in America, is sesame chicken which is fried chunks of chicken coated in a sweet sauce and sesame seeds. Instead of sesame chicken, try la zi ji which is a very spicy fried chunks of chicken breast with peppercorn, toasted sesame and chili. Both sesame chicken and la zi ji have the same crunch, but the latter is definitely more flavourful.
Another America dish with Chinese roots are lo mein noodles are thick wheat flour noodles that are stir-fried with vegetables or meat. Unfortunately, this dish is a heavy, greasy, and flavorless dish. When in China try zha jiang mian which is a much more flavorful, authentic Chinese noodle dish that is topped with delicious stir-fried pork and zhajiang (fermented soybean paste).
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Ji Guo is a former professional travel writer. He's started several businesses in China and was born in Tianjin. Graduated from Yale University.
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