When I speak about travel to China, one of the questions that frequently comes up is, “What was the food like? Does the food in China taste anything like the stuff we call Chinese food?” If I’m being honest, I would have to say, yes, why yes actually it does taste a lot like what we call Chinese food. There is, however, one important caveat. Where I stayed in China (central China, near the city of
Guilin) they cook and eat very little sugar. The one exception I seemed
to find was that everyone eats a piece of sweet fruit after a big meal
(passion fruit, melon, etc. is very commonly used as a dessert.) So,
the stuff we call “Sweet and Sour Sauce?” Yeah, that’s not Chinese from
what I could tell (at least, it did not come from Guilin. China is a big country and it’s entirely possibly they eat it in another part.)
Most of the other types of Chinese food are pretty much the same. Yes, there really is a lot of stir fry and, yes, they really do eat rice with every meal (or almost every meal.) Again, there’s a caveat here. In China, they eat family style so everybody shares all of the food. They usually put a bowl of rice on the table (you can see one here, if you scroll up, the blue bowl of rice was a rice bowl from one of my tables) and it’s shared by everyone over the course of the meal. In the ‘States, Chinese food is often served with a larger portion of rice and the resulting meal is about half rice, half “meal” (if that makes sense.) In China, the rice is more akin to a side dish (of sorts.) You eat a little rice with most meals but it’s just that: a little rice, not a lot and not half the way we do here.
The place I stayed in China is somewhat near Vietnam actually and, maybe as a result (maybe not?) the food was somewhat similar from what I could gather. In Guilin, they make noodle bowls, almost like Ramen (but not Ramen.) These are spicy dishes with a lot of mix-ins and great broth (like a soup base really.) Of course, Guilin is also along a river and so they serve a lot of freshwater fish too.
Another interesting fact about the food in China. China now has fast food, much like American style fast food. Of course, there are also some American fast food chains in China now. Yes, it’s true. There is Kentucky Friend Chicken in China, and it’s just just KFC in the ‘States. There is a caveat to this rule as well: Pizza Hut. When Pizza Hut was going to open in China, they did some big survey and found that there were already a lot of fast food places opening up. They thought the competition might be too difficult. They did, however, find that there was a complete lack of what you might call “Date Night” restaurants. These are the kind of places you might take a date, complete with candlelight, nice tablecloths, attentive well-dressed waitstaff and the like. Because of this study, the Pizza Huts in China are now fancy, “Date Night” style restaurants. They have tablecloths and candlelight, along with waiters in fancy dress. (Can you believe that?)
Of course, not to be outdone, China started opening up their own fast food style restaurants, so now there are American fast food and Chinese fast food restaurants in China. (And, Pizza Hut for those date nights too.)
All of that and still no sweet and sour sauce. Kind of crazy, right? That’s China for you though. (I do have to confess, the food was really rather tasty. Better than most Chinese food places in the ‘States if you want to boil it down to a yes or no answer.)
Until next time…