You might not think of Chinese food as a quick and easy homemade meal, but with a few essential pantry ingredients and the right recipes, you'll be buying your own set of chopsticks and tea service before you know it.
The Chinese Pantry
Stock up on a few basic ingredients before you start cooking. Look for these in the Asian food section of your grocery store, or at Asian markets.
- Soy sauce
- Peanut oil
- Fresh ginger
- Chile oil
- Hoisin sauce
- Dark sesame oil
Getting Started: Rice, the Essential Chinese Food Staple
- Short-grain white rice is the most commonly eaten rice in China. Glutinous, or sticky rice, is used for desserts, stuffings and regional dishes.
- In Chinese-American cooking, long-grain rice is favored over short-grain, and brown rice has earned a following because of the health benefits.
- Black Forbidden Rice, which is a whole grain, was once a favorite of Chinese emperors. This deep purple, nutty-flavored rice is grown in China, and is sold on the Internet and in specialty stores.
Chinese Food by Region
China is a huge country with many diverse cultural regions. In the United States, the most common types of Chinese food are Cantonese, Szechuan and Hunan.
Cantonese is the most common type of Chinese food found in the United States, since the majority of Chinese immigrants came from the southern Canton region (Guangdong Province) of China. The food is mild-flavored and emphasizes fresh ingredients, features that appeal to the American palate. And since this region is largely coastal, fresh seafood is often utilized in the cuisine.
Some examples of classic Cantonese dishes include:
- Dhar siu, also known as barbecued or red-cooked meat
- Congee, a thick soup made from boiled rice
- Simple stir-fried vegetables
Szechuan food is famous for its tongue-numbing use of Szechuan peppers and chile bean paste. This western region is hot and humid most of the year, so there is an emphasis on preserving foods: smoking, salting, drying and pickling. Unlike the rest of China, beef is the meat of choice in Szechuan cuisine since the farming region boasts a surplus of oxen. Since oxen meat is tough, it's usually sliced thin and stir-fried.
Some examples of classic Szechuan dishes include:
- Kung Pao chicken
- Dan dan noodles
- Tea-smoked duck
Hunan cuisine is even spicier than Szechuan, but it uses different chiles and lots of them. Hunan dishes often use flavor combinations like sweet-and-sour and hot-and-spicy, as well as dried, smoked and pickled ingredients. Long-cooked stewing, braising and other elaborate dishes are common. This rich agricultural region produces a diverse mixture of fresh ingredients that are utilized in the cuisine year-found.
Some examples of classic Hunan dishes include:
- Mao's braised pork
- Dogan chicken
- Oxtail porridge