Is Chinese Food Really Chinese?
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
We all love a Chinese takeaway - fried rice, spring rolls, chow mein, sweet and sour sauce, maybe a fortune cookie afterwards. But is it authentic - that is, do people living in China eat the same sorts of dishes?
Well, yes and no.
The 'Chinese' food as we know it tends to be a take on Cantonese cuisine (from the Canton province, now Guangzhou). But Chinese food is much more diverse - there are many provinces in China, each with their own regional dishes and cooking methods. As well as this, Chinese food in the Western world is made only from the locally available ingredients. After they migrated, the chefs simply adapted their recipes to cook using what the locals ate.
So, in reality, most of the Chinese food available in the West is only a tiny snapshot of authentic Chinese cuisine, which has an enormous variety of dishes and flavours.
Here are a few key differences between the food you'd get in China, and your local Chinese:
Fortune Cookies: It's a common misconception that fortune cookies are Chinese. They're actually based on a Japanese biscuit, but were introduced to Chinese restaurants in America in the 1920s to 30s. However, they became so popular that restaurants around the world sell them. Except in China, where they don't like it.
Excess salt and sugar: When vendors first started selling Chinese food in the West, they added more salt and sugar as preservatives - to keep the food fresher for longer. The locals loved the food, and the recipes stuck.
Sweet and Sour Sauce: Yes, sweet and sour is Chinese, but the sauce you'll find in your local takeaway is much sweeter, and contains less vinegar than traditional recipes.
Broccoli: It's surprising (especially since it goes so well with noodles), but broccoli doesn't grow naturally in China, so it didn't feature in historic dishes at all.
Exotic meats and seafoods: Many Chinese dishes contain ingredients that the average Westerner would find unpleasant - including insects, wild meat, and parts of animals not commonly eaten outside Asia.
Asian vegetables: Ingredients such as onion, carrot, and celery do not appear in traditional Chinese dishes because they're not native to Asia. Instead, many vegetables such as lotus root, pak choi, exotic mushrooms, and Chinese spinach take centre stage.
So does this mean your local Chinese restaurant is lying to you? Of course not. Most of the dishes are based on ones you'd find in China. It's only natural (and a sign of a good business!) that some recipes have been adapted to appeal to the local customers. Just because it's not the same as food in China, that doesn't mean it's not Chinese. It's a similar story with every cuisine: Italian pizza never had pineapple on it, but there are die-hard fans of Hawaiian pizza worldwide!
In essence, Chinese dining is a very social experience - many dishes are ordered and shared amongst everyone. It's an opportunity to spend time with family or friends and enjoy food together. So why not give it a go and share some baos or noodles with your loved ones?
Here at Hotpot Spot, we're focused on making authentic Chinese cuisine and true Asian flavours. We source traditional ingredients to bring you delicious food that people in China enjoy for themselves.