Owing to its vast territory, China has had a rich and colorful culinary history and one that has significantly influenced the palate of the rest of the world. There is virtually no country in the world where you can’t find good Chinese restaurants. And even the dishes many believed to be “western” in origin can trace its roots back to China.
What makes Chinese dishes so popular and palatable across different cultures is its adaptability. Almost all the ingredients involved are ones that are easily obtained. Dished don’t require special cooking equipment or preparation which makes it a perfect way for people to get into cooking. It doesn’t help that the Chinese diaspora is vast and with every culture venturing out of their country, they bring with them their own brand of cuisine that gets mixed and integrated into their host country.
Restaurants all over the world have been influenced by Chinese cuisine in some form or another. With that said, let’s explore some of the top Chinese dishes that have made its way all over the world.
It comes by different names depending on the country – ravioli in Italy, piroshki in Poland, potstickers in China – but we know it by one…dumplings. The humble dumpling has a long history as evidence by how present it is across different cultures. Recipes for dumplings have appeared in Roman texts, and the Chinese versions are believed to be even older.
Dumplings were first created by Zhang Zhongking to cure frostbitten ears. Today, dumplings are made using minced pork, mutton, chicken, or beef mixed with chopped vegetables for the filling. It is wrapped in a thin piece of dumpling skin and then pinched into the shape of an ear.
2. Kung Pao Chicken
Another staple and a world-renowned dish of Chinese origin are the Kung Pao Chicken. Although it has been westernized to some degree, the origins of kung pao chicken can be traced back to Guizhou province in southern China. Although popular worldwide, the dish is still served in restaurants all over China, as well as places to eat seafood.
The story goes that as a boy Ding Baozhen fell into the water and was saved by a local man. He grew up to be an important political figure in the province but never forgot his savior. He visited the man in his home and was served a dish of a marinated chicken with peanuts and spicy Sichuan peppercorns. He loved it so much he asked for the recipe and started serving it to guests in his own home.
The dish slowly made its way to restaurants all over the country and crossed the oceans into the western lands.
3. Chow Mein
In Mandarin, chow mein means stir-fried noodles and originated in the northern regions of China. It is based on a Chinese dish of boiled noodles and stir-fried vegetables. The dish also has a lot of similarities with chop suey, although chow mein is considered to be the more authentic of the two. Chop suey is believed to be the western version of chow mein created by Chinese Americans in America.
Both ingredients share many similar ingredients. Chow mein is done with noodles first boiled before being added to stir-fry vegetables at the end to keep the noodles soft. On the other hand, chop suey makes use of different ingredients with meat and vegetables often stir-fried together, and sometimes no noodles included. Both ingredients are easy to make and quite adaptable.
4. Yangzhou Fried Rice
This popular Chinese-style wok-fried rice first made its appearance in the city of Yangzhou in the Jiangsu province of China. The recipes were first invented by the magistrate of the region, Yi Bingshou in the 1700s and named it after the city. The dish is served with a thousand fish soup.
There are two popular ways of cooking the dish. The first version is called “silver covered gold” where the egg is scrambled separately before it is mixed with the rice. The other version is called “gold-covered silver” where the scrambled egg is poured over the vegetable and rice mix and frying it all together.
5. Sweet and Sour Pork Fillet
Another popular Chinese enjoyed all over the world, Sweet and sour pork fillet traces its origin in Cantonese China. The original recipe involves pork prepared with vinegar and sugar. The dish was first crafted by a family chef of the Long Family during the 18th century. The recipe quickly made its way to the United States brought by Chinese migrants who became gold miners.
The typical sweet and sour pork fillet is made by deep-frying pork pieces before stir-frying in a sweet and sour sauce made with ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce. Other ingredients can be added to it such as onions, peppers, tomatoes, and pineapples. Sweetening substitutes like caramel, hawthorn candy, and preserved plums are also great alternatives. The dish gets its unique reddish hue from the ketchup, tomatoes, or artificial food coloring.
6. Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes
Known for its simplicity and popularity, stir-fried tomato and scrambled eggs is a staple in student canteens or the dinner table. It has some similarities with the popular Middle Eastern dish, Shakshouka. A version of the dish is also popular in the Philippines, served with rice, and consumed as a breakfast meal.
For thousands of years, scrambled eggs have been a staple in China. Cooking them with tomatoes is believed to be a modern iteration of the dish. The appearance of Western restaurants in China in the late Qing Dynasty saw traditional Chinese cooks experimenting with adding other ingredients in time-honored recipes. This dish in particular became popular in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s which was the most cosmopolitan city at that time.
Many believe that the popularity of Chinese cuisine is due to it being the most delicious in the world. And with their dishes being consumed across different countries, there might be some credence to that claim. Either way, it seems unlikely to that people will stop eating Chinese food. Let this list be a guide in knowing what to order next.
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