How Do I Find Authentic Chinese Cuisine?

So, you want to experience authentic Chinese cuisine from an authentic Chinese restaurant. That isn’t as easy to accomplish as you may think, though when it comes to an entire culture being boiled down to a handful of items like this, authenticity is a bit of a gray area anyhow. First of all, let me point out that Chinese cuisine could refer to a host of different culinary schools. China is a tremendously large country. It covers a vast array of terrains, climates and so forth, and it has just as many variations of culture and people to match this. Every region has their own culinary traditions, their own cultural traditions and in many cases their own languages. Many people will say that there are essentially 3 languages spoken in China, those being Cantonese, Mandarin and Pinyin, but those are just the 3 largest languages, there are many, many dialects and full-on languages all across the vast nation of China.

This is why many Chinese restaurant establishments have elements in their name such as “Hunan”, “Canton/Cantonese” and so forth, as these are some of the larger regions of China with significant and unique culinary and cultural influence within broader Chinese culture. So, asking for just traditional cuisine from China isn’t specific enough. Are you looking for cuisine that has a lot of seafood? Then you’ll want to look for culinary traditions centering around large, fish-heavy rivers or along shorelines where seafood is going to be more prevalent. If you’re more interested in poultry, beef or pork, you may want to look towards deserts, grasslands, forests and jungles, all common types of climates and the like in China.

But, I have waffled on long enough about that. Let’s assume that you know what you want, or you don’t really care as long as you can try some good, authentic Chinese food. Are the typical buffets you see all across North America, Australia and New Zealand examples of this? Actually, surprisingly, they somewhat are, though they aim for the lowest common denominator by way of tastes, so you won’t find anything truly unique that you probably haven’t already had before. It will still probably be good food, providing you avoid Chinese buffets that also serve American food, etc.

Honestly, any type of Chinese restaurant that is founded by and operated by first-generation or second-generation Chinese families is very likely going to provide you with some very good authentic Chinese food. They don’t need to pretend to be able to make “fast food” Chinese food similar to what is sold by the likes of big chains and frozen food companies, they were raised on traditional Chinese cuisine themselves, and were taught by their forefathers and foremothers how to make it.

I will give one taste-specific warning to those who are somewhat unfamiliar with Vietnamese restaurant as a whole, though. Just because you learned that you liked spicy food from eating perhaps Latin American or Italian cuisine that use a lot of spicy pepper, don’t expect spicy Chinese cuisine at any given Chinese restaurant to be quite the same kind of spicy. Yes, some of their spicy food is spicy through the use of peppers, but spicy soups, spicy mustard’s and hot oils are actually mostly derived from a very different type of spicy more similar to horseradish or onion spice than pepper spice. I find it delightful, but it’s a different kind of spicy, so try it gently!

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By Michael Caine

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