Before arriving in China we had a long conversation with a Chinese friend who ran her own Chinese restaurant. She was a sparky little lady who loved chatting about the Mother Country and serving up delectable spring rolls, sweet & sour chicken with a neon pink sauce of undefinable origin and fried rice by the bucket. During said conversation we were shocked to learn that before she arrived in England she had never even heard of prawn toast! Even more incredible, she admitted, under interrogation, to never having tasted hot & sour soup whilst living in the People’s Republic.
This was only the beginning of our epicurean dilemma; upon stepping into our first authentic Chinese eatery we were confronted by pages of unreadable characters (thank heavens for the gaudy photos!). Where were the roads lined with crispy spring rolls? How could we find the ultimate roast duck experience? Would we ever be able to make sense of the menus?
A few years and a handful of very patient friends later we at ProofReadChina have collected a palette of reliably tasty dishes. These tend to be found on every menu in every restaurant up and down the country; always providing a safe option for the times when you don’t feel the adventurous spirit stirring within you.
The dishes below are in no particular order
[hanzi]宫保鸡丁[/hanzi]/Gong Bao Jiding
Hailing from the royal courts of the late Qing Dynasty, Gong Bao Jiding never fails to satisfy. Small cubes of tender, boneless chicken sautéed with a spicy, sweetened chilli sauce and adorned with generous portions of fresh peanuts or, if you’re lucky, cashew nuts. Variations include adding chunks of cucumber, green peppers or carrots. The origins of this classic Chinese favourite are unclear, but one of the most widely accepted theories is that it was created in honour of the esteemed Ding Baozhen. Among his many accomplishments he was endowed with the title [hanzi]宫保[/hanzi] - palatial guardian, add the main ingredient (chicken) and you get [hanzi]宫保鸡丁[/hanzi].
[hanzi]鱼香茄子[/hanzi] / Yuxiang Qiezi
A favourite from the province of Szechuan, this brings new meaning to an already delicious vegetable. Don’t be put off by the name, (fish flavoured aubergine) the end result has little to do with seafood. The explanation lies in the seasonings used; garlic, ginger, spring onion, dry sherry and chilli oil are all traditionally used when cooking fish. So, tuck into the meltingly delicious aubergine flesh and thank the ancient Chengdu residents for this wonderful plate filler. A note of caution: while the vast majority of restaurants use a pleasantly mild chilli when seasoning this dish, if you decide to pursue the original Szechuan flavour beware of eye-poppingly hot chilli pepper.
[hanzi]回锅肉[/hanzi]/ Huiguo Rou
Another Szechuan classic this dish transforms traditionally cheap, easy to find ingredients into something altogether divine. Hot thin slices of crispy belly pork flavoured with a salty, every so slightly sweet black chilli paste. You can also expect a medley of seasonal vegetables thrown in, perfect for when all you want is something savoury to satisfy a Tsingtao beer induced appetite. The name literally means “Return to the wok meat” and the explanation is quite straight forward. Pork meat is first gently simmered in salted water until cooked (think bacon) this is then flash fried with fresh vegetables and seasonings.
By now you’ve probably had enough of [hanzi]宫保鸡丁[/hanzi], [hanzi]鱼香茄子[/hanzi] and can’t bear the thought of another plate of [hanzi]回锅肉[/hanzi], don’t worry hope is at the door with ProofReadChina’s next instalment of must eats.