Generally, outside China the "Chinese food" isn't authentic. It is much like international hamburger chain food: tailored for the local taste; quite bland and clichéed, and generally not packed with nutrition. But Chinese food in China isn't like this. Real Chinese food might seem very exotic to you when you see it.
"Chinese food" in Western countries will tend to feature the ingredients people popularly eat in their countries.
For example, Americans usually prefer beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, dairy, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, Western big onions, rice and wheat noodles. So the "Chinese" food people usually get there is made from these and served on rice or noodles or in a soup.
What is popular in China is quite different...
Strange and Exotic Chinese Ingredients
Their foodstuffs include many things unusual in the West such as different types of fungi, different kinds of sea vegetables, dogs, turtles, frogs, insects, exotic sea animals, snakes, bok choi, bamboo shoots, bitter melon, giant white radishes, lotus pods, tofu, and mung beans.
Foods for Health and Medicinal Use
Chinese have their own philosophy about food and its effects on the body and about using it as a medicine to improve health. It is hard to explain the Chinese medicinal cooking concepts about qi, hot and cold foods (not the temperature but metaphysical concepts), and how the season of the year and weather dictates what people should eat.
A Balance of Flavors
There is an emphasis on varying flavors from meal to meal and mixing a variety of distinct flavors during a meal. Most Chinese would say Chinese food outside the country "all tastes the same."
Chinese believe that eating seasonal food is generally the best. For example, in winter high yang foods like garlic and onions and red pepper are used more. But in an overseas Chinese takeout, all the food served remains the same basically through the year except maybe they'll serve more hot drinks or hot soups in winter.
Different Cooking/Serving Methods
Everything is cooked or hot: Until recently, refrigeration and "clean" agricultural produce was unknown in China. The traditional ways dictated that people not eat fresh uncooked vegetables such as a Western fresh salad, because farmers used human and animal wastes to fertilize the fields, so cooking food prevented disease.
Boiled hot water: Even a glass of cold fresh water was hard to get in China in almost all restaurants except those few that catered to foreigners until about ten years ago. Now the influence of Western fast food restaurants and the big popularity of cold soda pop, icy bubble tea and fruit slush drinks is making drinking cold water popular among the young.
Few deep fried foods: In some regions, stir frying in woks is common. It is quick and efficient. But unlike in most foreign Chinese restaurants, where almost everything is stir fried, most Chinese food in Chinese mainland is boiled, steamed, braised, or baked. But deep frying in oil such as fried chicken isn't as common. Chinese generally stir fry lightly and quickly in little oil.
Examples of Non-Chinese Food
- Fortune cookies or prawn crackers: The message in cookies idea are not known, and prawn crackers are not eaten with meals. It is a popular snack among kids though.
- Chicken or Beef Broccoli Stir Fry: Broccoli isn't native to China and not generally eaten.
- Crab cheesy wontons or other type of cheese wontons: Anything containing cheese isn't authentic since cheese was eaten in very few regions. Most Chinese are lactose intolerant. When Chinese make wontons, they use different ingredients.
- Chinese salads: If you find fresh salad on the menu in a Chinese restaurant abroad, it definitely isn't Chinese. This was never traditionally eaten, and is still rare except in foreign restaurants in China.
- Iced tea: A lot of Chinese restaurants outside the country serve iced tea. Freshly made black iced tea with ice and no sugar or sugar (Chinese would call it red tea) is basically unknown in the mainland except in a tourist restaurant. However, they do have mass-produced green or red iced tea, bottled like a soft drink.
- Beef Chow Mien: Depending on the region, something like what you've eaten served on fried noodles might be available, but the flavor is probably much different.
Chinese Cuisine Touring
We'll steer you clear of tourist trap restaurants and take you to authentic places you'll enjoy. Our Chinese Food Tours are a good way to ensure you taste a variety of these delicacies and enjoy the top sights in China.
Recommended Chinese Food Tour: 12-Day Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong Cuisine tour — explore the most popular destinations in China and savor local Chinese food in each city
Our tours can be customized . Just tell us your requirements and interests, and our guide can assist in making sure your food is carefully prepared, so you enjoy a wonderful trip without worrying about what might be lurking in your bowl.