Category Archives: Food

Hakka Cuisine

Hakka people are migratory tribes of ethnic Han people originated from central China. Their ancestors exiled themselves from foreign rulers such as the Mongols in Yuan Dynasty. Due to their late migration to the southern areas of China, they found that all of the best land had been settled long before. The Hakkas then were forced to settle in the sparsely settled hill country.

As a result, fresh produce was at a premium, forcing the Hakkas to heavily utilize dried and preserved ingredients, such as various kinds of fermented beancurd and much use of onion. Due to the hill country being far inland seafood is a rarity. Pork is by far the most favored meat of the Hakkas, with belly bacon being the preferred cut as it has alternating layers of fat and lean meat, providing an excellent texture.

Famous dishes in Hakka restaurants in Hong Kong include:

Salt baked chicken (東江鹽焗雞) – supposed to be baked inside a heap of hot salt, but many restaurants simply cook in brine nowadays.
Duck stuffed with rice (糯米鴨) – a whole duck is de-boned while maintaining the shape of the bird, the cavities are filled with seasoned sticky rice.
Tofu soup in pot (東江釀豆腐煲) – the stuffed tofu cubes.
Beef ball soup – very simple clear broth with lettuce and beef balls.

Other traditional Hakka dishes include:

Fried pork with fermented beancurd: this is a popular Chinese New Year offering which involves two stages of cooking. As previously mentioned, fresh food was at a premium in Hakka areas, so the marinated pork was deep fried to remove the moisture in order to preserve it. When a meal of pork was desired, the fried pork was then stewed with water and wood’s ear fungus. Think of it as a Hakka equivalent to canned soup.

Yong Tau Foo (酿豆腐): various oddments including eggplants, chillies and bitter melon stuffed with fish paste, beancurd, beancurd skin, fish and meat balls among other ingredients, served in clear soup.

Kau yuk (扣肉): Alternate pieces of pork and yam served in a dark sauce whose principal component is, of course, fermented beancurd.
Hakka food also includes takes on other traditional Chinese dishes, just as other Chinese dialects do.

Cantonese Cuisine

Cantonese cuisine originates from the region around Canton in southern China’s Guangdong province.

There is a Cantonese saying: “We eat everything on the ground with four legs except tables and chairs. We eat everything in the sky except airplanes.” [1] Cantonese cuisine includes almost all edible food in addition to the staples of pork, beef and chicken — snakes, snails, insects, worms, chicken feet, duck tongues, ox genitals, and entrails. A subject of controversy amongst Westerners, dogs are raised as food in some places in China, though this is not a common food you find in restaurants, and is illegal in Hong Kong and will soon be in Taiwan.

Despite the countless Cantonese cooking methods, steaming, stir frying and deep frying are the most popular cooking methods in restaurants due to the short cooking time, and philosophy of bringing out the flavor of the freshest ingredients.

Elements of Cooking:

Cantonese cuisine can be characterized by the use of very mild and simple spices in combination. Ginger, spring onion, sugar, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, corn starch and oil are sufficient for most Cantonese cooking. Garlic is used heavily in dishes especially with internal organs that have unpleasant odors, such as entrails. Five spices powder, white pepper powder and many other spices are used in Cantonese dishes, but usually very lightly. Cantonese cuisine is sometimes considered bland by Westerners used to thicker, richer and darker sauces of other Chinese cuisines.

Spicy hot dishes are extremely rare in Cantonese cuisine. Spicy hot food is more common in very hot climates, such as those of Szechuan, Thailand, etc. where food spoils easily. Canton has the richest food resources in China in terms of agriculture and aquaculture. The copious amount of fresh food and mild weather allows Cantonese cuisine the bring out, rather than drown out, natural flavors.
As an example of the high standard for freshness in Cantonese meals, cows and pigs used for meat are usually killed earlier the same day. Chickens are often killed just hours beforehand, and fish are displayed in tanks for customers to choose for immediate preparation. It is not unusual for a waiter at a Cantonese restaurant to bring the live flipping fish or the crawling lobster to the table to show the patron as proof of freshness before cooking.

Due to Guangdong’s proximity to the southern coast of China, fresh live seafood is a specialty in Cantonese cuisine. In the Cantonese viewpoint, strong spices are added only to stale seafood to cover the rotting odor. The freshest seafood is odorless, and is best cooked by steaming. For instance, only a small amounts of soy sauce, ginger, and spring onion is added to a steamed fish. The light seasoning is used only to bring out the natural sweetness of the seafood. However, most restaurants gladly get rid of their stale seafood inventory by offering dishes loaded with garlic and spices. As a rule of thumb in Cantonese dining, the spiciness of a dish is usually inversely proportional to the freshness of the ingredients.

Another unique Cantonese specialty is slow cooked soup. This is almost unheard of in any other Chinese cuisines. The soup is usually a clear broth prepared by simmering meat and other ingredients for several hours. Sometimes, Chinese herbal medicines are added to the pot. The ingredients of a rather expensive Cantonese slow cooked soup are: fresh whole chicken, dried air bladder of cod fish, dried sea cucumber and dried abalone. Another more affordable example includes pork bones, watercress with two types of almonds, etc. The combinations are varied and numerous.
The main attraction is the liquid in the pot, the solids are usually thrown away unless they are expensive ingredients like abalones or shark fins. A whole chicken may simmer in a broth for six hours or longer. The solids are usually unpalatable but the essences are all in the liquid. Traditional Cantonese families have this type of soup at least once a week. Though in this day and age, many families cannot afford this tradition due to the long preparation time required. For the same reason, not many restaurants serve this type of soup either. Even if they do, it can only be served as soupe du jour.

Preserved food
Though Cantonese cooks pay much attention to the freshness of their cooking ingredients, Cantonese cooking also uses a long list of preserved food items. Some items gain very intense flavors during the drying/aging/preservation/oxidation process, similar to Italian style sun-dried tomatoes’ intensified flavor from drying. Some chefs combine both dried and fresh variety of the same items in a dish to create a contrast in the taste and texture. Dried items are usually soaked in water to rehydrate them before cooking, such as mushrooms. Or they are cooked with water over long hours until they are tender and juicy. For example, dried abalone and dried scallop have much stronger flavors than the fresh one without the undesirable strong fishy odor. Not only do preserved foods have a longer shelf life, sometimes the dried foods are preferred over the fresh ones because of their uniquely intense flavor or texture. Some favorite dried/preserved food products include:
Dried Shiitake mushroom
Dried abalone
Dried scallop
Dried sea cucumber
Dried air bladder from various fishes
Dried shrimp
Dried shark fin
Dried bird nest
Dried Bok Choy – a kind of chinese green vegetable
Pickled Bok Choy
Pickled raddish
Fu Yu – Salted and fermented tofu
Salted preserved fish
Salted preserved duck
Salted preserved pork
Salted egg – preserved in brine until the egg white turned watery and the yolk turned solid
Thousand year old egg – preserved in lime until the egg white turned gelatinous and dark brown, the yolk dark green
various dried fruits, herbs and flowers, etc.

Sample Dishes
Some notable Cantonese dishes include:
Dim Sum – (literally touch of heart), small dishes served with tea usually at lunch
Shrimp wonton noodle soup
Char shiu – BBQ pork usually with a red outer coloring
Braised squabs
Thick rice porridge with various toppings and deep-fried breadsticks
Pork rind curry
Dace fish balls
Steamed fish
Steamed fish intestines
Salted preserved fish
Steamed chicken
Slow cooked soups
Shark fin soup
Braised dried abalone
Herbal turtoise gelatin
Various steamed desserts and sweet soups
Steamed shrimp dumplings (har gow)
Lo mein – noodles served a unique way

Other favorites with unique Cantonese style:
Roasted suckling pig
Roasted duck
Braised crispy chicken
Soy sauce chicken
Beef entrails
Beef stew
Hot pot
Pan-fried crispy noodles – two sides brown fried egg noodles
Black tea with condensed milk
Various dessert drinks served with shaved ice

Cuisine of China

China has one of the richest culinary heritages on Earth. Solid Chinese food is eaten with chopsticks and liquid with a wide, flat bottomed spoon (usually ceramic). Chinese consider having a knife at the table as barbaric, so most dishes are prepared in smaller pieces, ready for direct picking and eating.

Because of the large and varied nature of China itself, Chinese cuisine can be broken down into very many different regional styles.

Chinese Buddhist cuisine
Cantonese cuisine
Chiuchow cuisine
Hakka cuisine
Hunan cuisine
Chinese Islamic cuisine
Mandarin cuisine
Shanghai cuisine
Szechuan cuisine
Taiwanese cuisine
American Chinese cuisine

Shopping In China

Click here for a more in-depth look at shopping in China

There are many exotic and unusual things to buy in China which make wonderful souvenirs and gifts for relatives and friends back home. The following is a sample of the amazing range of goods available.

Silk: Chinese silk is famous all over the world for its magnificent quality, color and variety. Silk products from Hangzhou, Sichuan, Suzhou and Dandong are particularly good.

Tea: There are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea. They can be classified into five categories – green tea, black tea, brick tea, scented tea, and oolong tea.

The top ten teas in China are as follows; any of them would make a wonderful gift for your friends.
Longjing produced near West Lake, Hangzhou, Zhejiang

Biluochun from Wu County in Jiangsu

Huangshan Maofeng from Mt. Huangshan in Anhui

Junshan Silver Needle from Qingluo Island on Dongting Lake

Qimen Black Tea from Qimen County in Anhui

Liuan Guapian from Liuan County in Anhui

Xinyang Maojian from Xinyang in Henan

Duyun Maojian from Duyun Mountain in Guizhou

Wuyi Rock Tea from Wuyi Mountain in Fujian

Tieguanyin from Anxi County in Fujian

Please refer to Chinese tea, How to select excellent tea for more information.

Wines and Spirits: Alcoholic drinks, in ancient China, were regarded as sacred and were used only in sacrifices. Today, however, wines and spirits are becoming popular as accompaniments to Chinese food.

The following wines and spirits have won many international awards:
Yanghe Daqu and Shuanggou Daqu from Jiangsu

Gujing Tribute Liquor from Anhui

Maotai and Dong Liquor from Guizhou

Wuliangye, Jiannanchun and Luzhou Laojiao from Sichuan

Fenjiu Liquor from Shanxi
Please refer to Chinese Wines and Spirits for further information.

Antiques: If you’re an antique enthusiast, China is the place for you! Fascinating antique and curio shops and market stalls are to be found in most cities and country towns.Care is needed, however, when buying expensive items to ensure, for example, that the item carries the official red seal of the shop and the sale documents are in order. Chinese law forbids the export of antiques dated earlier than 1795.

Chinese Medicinal Materials: Traditional Chinese Medicine is an integral part of Chinese life and culture. With its unique diagnostic methods, systematic approach, abundant historical literature and materials, Traditional Chinese Medicine has found many adherents in Western countries. The use of traditional herbs and potions lies at the core of Chinese medicine. Mostly made from animal and plant materials, these medicines have proved effective for treating a wide range of illnesses and disorders. Tonics based on herbs are also popular. Examples of the materials used in the preparation of medicines and tonics are ginseng, antler, rhubarb horse-tails, bezoars, angelica, Tianqi, licorice root, apricot kernel and the root of balloon flower.

In recent years, for the sake of protecting endangered animals, the preparation of medicinal materials from rare animals, such as musk, antler, leopard and tiger bone, rhinoceros horn and elephant skin, has been restricted. Such medicines cannot be exported from China; however, tourists can export Chinese herbs with a total value of less than 300 RMB (per person).

Please refer to Traditional Chinese Medicine for further information.

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts products make ideal souvenirs and gifts. These include bronze ware, cloisonne, folk toys, jade, kites, lacquer wares, paper-cutting, porcelain, pottery, seal, prints and scrolls, silk, embroidery and printed and dyed fabrics. Cloisonn

Chiuchow Cuisine

Chiuchow cuisine or Chaozhou cuisine originates from Chiuchow, a city of China in the Guangdong Province, not far from Canton. Hence the cooking style is very similar to Cantonese cuisine. However, Chiuchow cuisine does have some unique dishes that are not in Cantonese cuisine.

Chiuchow cuisine is known for serving rice soup, in addition to steamed rice with meals, which is quite different from Cantonese porridge or congee which is very thick and gluey. The Chiuchow rice soup is very watery with the rice sitting loosely at the bottom of the bowl. Authentic Chiuchow restaurants serve very strong oolong tea in very tiny cups before and after the meal.

There is a famous feast in Chiuchow cuisine called “Gau Dai Gui” (九大簋) which roughly means “nine big courses” in the dinner. Chiuchow chefs pride themselves on their skill in vegetable carving. Carved vegetables are used as garnishes on cold dishes and on the banquet table.

Chiuchow is also known for a late night dinner called “Da Loun” (打冷). Chiuchow people like to eat out in restaurants or at roadside food stalls close to midnight before they go to bed. Some restaurants stay open till dawn.

Some famous Chiuchow dishes include, among others:

Steamed goose
Cold crab
Fun Goh (a steamed dumpling filled with dried raddish, peanuts and ground meat)
Shrimp balls
Oyster pancake
Tiet Kwun Yum (a premium grade Oolong Tea)

Chinese Islamic Cuisine

Due to a large Muslim population in western China, many Chinese restaurants cater to Muslims or cater to the general public but are run by Muslims.

A Chinese Islamic restaurant (清真菜館) can sometimes be similar to a Mandarin restaurant with the exception that there is no pork in the menu.

In most major cities in China, there are small Islamic restaurants typicially run by migrants from Western China (i.e. Uighurs), which offer inexpensive noodle soup. These restaurants are typically decorated with Islamic motifs such as pictures of Islamic rugs and Arabic writing.

Another difference is that lamb and mutton dishes are more commonly available than in other Chinese restaurants.

In the US, Chinese Islamic restaurants are frequented by non-Chinese as well. Pakistanis, Arabs and Iranians are among the regular clientele.

Mandarin Cuisine

Mandarin cuisine refers to cooking style in Beijing, China. It is known as jing1 cai4 (京菜) among Chinese.

Since Beijing has been the Chinese capital city for centuries, its cuisine was influenced by people from all over China. The Emperor’s Kitchen was a term referring to the cooking places inside of the Forbidden City of Beijing where thousands of cooks from the different parts of China showed their best cooking skills to please royal families and officials. Therefore, it is at times rather difficult to tell determine the actual origin of a dish as the term “Mandarin” is generalized and refers not only to Beijing, but other provinces as well.

Some famous Mandarin dishes:

Peking Duck (北京烤鸭)
Hot and Sour Soup (酸辣汤)
Four Seasons Stringbean (烤肉/北京烤肉)
Mutton Hotpot (涮羊肉)
Sweetened Vinegar Spareribs (糖醋排骨)
Glazed/Candied Chinese Yam (金丝糕)
Chinese fajitas

Taking Care of Your Health

China is a country with a remarkably healthy population despite its climatic variations. However, with such a vast territory, standards of hygiene can and do vary from place to place. With this in mind, visitors should be aware of potential hazards and exercise due caution.

Before Traveling

Long trips, especially those that involve walking fair distances, hilly country, or mountainous terrain, can prove to be very tiring. Before leaving for China follow these three important recommendations to enjoy a trouble-free tour:

Contact your doctor for health advice or a thorough check up if you have not had one recently. This is very important for all but particularly for those with a history of coronary or pulmonary problems.

Check your health insurance policy. If it does not provide for overseas visits, consider requesting your insurer to extend the policy. It is also advisable to take out travel insurance to cover you in the event of accidental injury as well as cover for medical expenses. Travel policies also cover you for a variety of other risks, such as cancellation charges, loss of money, loss of baggage, and liability to third parties to name but a few. Remember an annual travel policy will save you money if you propose to go abroad more than once in any twelve-month period.

Take along a copy of your medical record. A good medical record should mention all medicines you are taking, the medical treatments you have received or are receiving, your chronic ailments, allergies or hypersensitivities, immunization history, blood type, eyeglass prescription, health insurance (the company’s name, address and phone number) and so on. You should also have your doctor’s name, address, and phone number in case it is needed. Carry these documents in a place that is both secure and accessible by you at all times while traveling.

For those who take special medicine on a regular basis, make sure that you carry an adequate supply. Bring enough to last throughout your trip. Carry them in the original containers to identify them as legally obtained drugs and pack them in your carry-on bag.

Also needed are some useful medicines, such as those for colds, diarrhea and constipation.

Plan your tour schedule carefully allowing for rest breaks so as to avoid becoming exhausted.

Generally, those who are in poor health, pregnant, or are of advanced age should not travel, unless special arrangements have been made. Visa applicants over 60 are sometimes required to complete a health questionnaire. When medical problems do exist carry a letter from your physician explaining what treatment you are receiving. If relevant, copies of your most recent electrocardiograms would be helpful should an emergency occur during your tour.

When Traveling

The obvious way to avoid illness is to follow the basic rules of hygiene throughout your journey. In particular, this applies to restaurants and roadside snack bars. Never eat raw or undercooked food. This includes salads. Carry your own chopsticks and a metal bowl with a lid for train journeys and meals in small roadside restaurants. Fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly in purified water, then peeled or boiled.

Drink only boiled or bottled water, even though the tap water is said to be drinkable, irrespective of where you are. Hotels usually supply boiled water that is safe for drinking and for cleaning your teeth. It is also the custom in China for tea to be available in hotel bedrooms. Supplies of both boiled water and tea are regularly replenished. Bottled water and carbonated drinks are readily available. In some remote areas, water purification tablets are recommended for travelers to carry and use when neither boiled water nor bottled drinks are available.

The adjustment to climatic variations and different foods may result in colds or digestive disorders that, although rarely serious, may impede one’s enjoyment. Diarrhea can frequently affect travelers and is generally caused by a change of diet, or sometimes by contaminated food or water. It is wise to carry some anti-diarrhea capsules, such as Imodium. Should your symptoms persist, seek professional advice to stop the problem from becoming serious.

Toilets off the beaten tourist track tend to be primitive so it is useful to bring along your own sanitary necessities and moist towels when venturing outside your hotel. Air pollution in the large cities is severe, particularly in winter. Respiratory ailments are common.

Some regions of China, including Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan and Yunnan have very high altitudes. These can put strain on your health. People with heart disease or high blood pressure are advised not to travel in these areas in view of the serious physical problems that can occur. All travelers should avoid strenuous activity until they are fully acclimatized.

To sum up, careful preparation will ensure the success of your trip. What may seem to be a bit of a nuisance will go a long way to help you avoid mishaps.

Shanghai Cuisine

Shanghai cuisine, known as Hu cai (滬菜 in pinyin: hu4 cai4) among the Chinese, is one of the most popular and celebrated cuisines in China.

Shanghai does not have a definitive cuisine of its own, but refines those of the surrounding provinces (mostly from adjacent Jiangsu and Zhejiang coastal provinces). What can be called Shanghai cuisine is epitomized by the use of alcohol. Fish, eel, crab, chicken are “drunken” with spirits and usually served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are also commonly used to spice up the dish.

The use of sugar is very unique to Shanghainese cuisine and, especially when used in combination with soy sauce, effuses foods and sauces with a taste that is not so much sweet but rather savory. A typical Shanghai household will consume sugar at the same rate as soy sauce, even excluding pastry baking. Non-natives tend to have difficulty identifying this usage of sugar and are often surprised when told of the “secret ingredient.”

Beggar’s Chicken is a legendary dish wrapped in lotus leaves, covered in clay and oven baked to steamy, tasty perfection – in olden times, it was baked in the ground. Lime-and-ginger-flavoured “1,000-year-old” eggs is another popular Shanghainese creation. The braised meat ball and the Smelly Tofu are also uniquely Shanghainese.

Facing the East China Sea, seafood in Shanghai is very popular. Locals though favor freshwater fish just as much as saltwater products like crabs, oysters, and seaweed.

Shanghainese people are known to eat very little (an often target of mockery from other Chinese), and hence the servings are usually quite small. The Xiao Long Bao (Shanghainese: shoh lonpotzi, or sanji) in a miniature bamboo steamer is now popularized throughout China as a Dim Sum. It is a smaller version of the meat-filled steamed bun and more delicately made.

Due to the rapid growth of Shanghai and its development into one of the foremost East Asian cities as a center of both finance and contemporary culture, the future of Shanghai cuisine looks very promising.