My post about “foreigner favourite” Chinese food seemed to touch a nerve – it was quickly one of the top ten most viewed posts on the blog. So I asked people which of their favourites I’d missed and should feature next time. Several people mentioned noodle dishes, but there are so many different types of noodles and they’re all so yummy I think I’ll just write another post all about noodles some other time. While I wasn’t able to include all of the rest, here are some of YOUR favourite Chinese dishes.
pāi huáng guā
This is a simple but delicious liangcai (cold dish) that most of us learned to order our first month here (if not first week!) It’s refreshing on humid summer days. The basic recipe calls for cucumber (sometimes peeled), garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar – that simple. Other common variations add coriander (cilantro), dried chili, sesame oil, or soy sauce. I also found several recipes that use honey or lemon juice, but I’ve never had pai huang gua with those flavours – perhaps it’s a regional variation. An interesting thing about making pai huang gua is that most of the time the cucumber isn’t cut/sliced into chunks, but smashed (squashed) with a cleaver the way garlic is crushed. See a Chinese recipe here.
xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn
This is a very simple dish – which is probably one of the reasons a lot of foreigners like it. Two familiar ingredients with simple seasonings. It’s basically scrambled eggs with big chunks of tomato cooked in with it, but it’s usually fairly soupy – not dry like Western style scrambled eggs – and is eaten spooned over rice. The basic recipe is just tomatoes, eggs, salt and sugar. There are lots of variations, especially ones adding garlic, shallots/spring onions, or tomato sauce (ketchup). Others use ginger, soy sauce, vingear, cornflour (cornstarch) or chicken stock powder. See a Chinese recipe here.
má pó dòu fǔ
This famous dish is from Sichuan – which means it’s very spicy. Once cubes of tofu and a small amount of minced meat (and sometimes finely diced fresh mushrooms) are prepared, a bunch of spices are cooked in oil to make the sauce. Spices vary a bit between recipes but generally include some combination of: salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic, ginger, chicken stock, tempeh (fermented black bean paste), chili bean sauce, soy sauce, and cooking wine. Some recipes use garlic shoots as well, and usually spring onion/shallots are sprinkled on top. See a Chinese recipe here.
yú xiāng ròu sī
The name of this dish is literally “fish flavour meat strips”. Thankfully that’s not what it tastes like. The dish is a pile of sliver-cut ingredients – pork, capsicum (bell pepper), carrot, black wood ear fungus, and bamboo shoots – in a sweet, spicy, oily sauce. It’s quite popular among foreigners though I’ve never liked it overly much myself; I don’t really like the sweet-spicy flavour combination common in Beijing food. The sauce uses a lot of common Chinese food flavours – salt, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili bean paste (or chili powder), stock/cooking wine, soy sauce, vinegar – plus one special ingredient: pickled chili. Another popular dish – 鱼香茄子(yú xiāng qié zi) – is stir-fired eggplant in the same sauce. See a Chinese recipe here.
zì rán yáng ròu
Literally “cumin lamb,” this dish is spicy in all the best ways. Spices are mixed in with the pieces of meat before cooking, and more spices during cooking. There’s cumin powder AND whole cumin seeds, and often sesame seeds. The lamb ends up crusted in spices and is then poured on a bed of fresh coriander leaves (cilantro). It’s served in Xinjiang restaurants, but has become common in ordinary Chinese restaurants as well. See a Chinese recipe here.