So I think that Costa Rican food is pretty unique for a lot of people, but admittedly Irazu is a pretty well-known restaurant in Chicago. I wanted my second cuisine to be something relatively out there, something that hopefully most folks didn’t know too much about. What did I choose for my second cuisine?
Um... er... Chinese. BUT THE REAL STUFF! I PROMISE!
I was talking to my buddy Kevin about grabbing dinner with me at some place for the blog, and he told me to pick wherever I wanted to go. At the last second I also thoughtlessly threw the idea out there that we could also go to Chinatown instead, and he pounced on it. And so it was. It worked out, though -- Kevin is originally from China, hailing from an area between Beijing and Xian, so I got him to tell me about real Chinese food, not the stuff you find at your local take-out place that calls itself some two-word combo of China, Dragon, Palace, Hunan, Orange, House, Garden, and Happy.
China is obviously a huge country with a ton of history to it -- the primary, most popular Chinese dishes are 5,000 years old. Given China’s size and history, it’s no surprise that you will find some regional differences in the cuisines. More on this later, though -- there are some common traits that you’ll find throughout the Chinese culture and cuisine that are worth mentioning.
Kevin tells me that there are three culinary values when it comes to a good quality Chinese meal. First, “color” -- how does the meal look? Second, aroma, or “fragrant” -- how does it smell? Last (but not least), how does it taste? This may not sound very different than many foods we regularly come across, but Kevin mentions that all three of these values are equally critical. If you have a great tasting, great smelling meal that wasn’t nicely and visually put together, your dish isn’t regarded as well done. It looks nice and is delicious but you don’t get that wonderful smell coming from the kitchen or from your plate? The dish is nothing special.
Chinese food uses many of the same meats and ingredients that you’d expect, but pork is more common in a meal and beef is less common. In China cattle are considered more as beasts of burden rather than as a food source. “The cattle in China are workers”, Kevin says. “Pigs are food.” I asked Kevin for the three ingredients that best exemplify authentic Chinese cooking. He said ginger, garlic, and scallions. Though I’ve had scallions in Chinese food before, I was surprised to hear him put that so high on the list.
Next I’ll go further into some of the differences between regional Chinese cuisines.
Filed under: Cuisine and Culture