Despite what the Master Wok in the food court may tell you, authentic Chinese food does not consist of ten different types of orange-tinted, deep-fried chicken. In fact, what is commonly considered "Chinese food" in the West actually originated in 1950s San Francisco, when Chinese cuisine was adapted to suit the American palate. This meant the use of white meat instead of dark meat and small bones, vegetables as sides or garnish rather than the emphasis of the dish, and use of local produce like tomatoes, broccoli, carrots and onions instead of Chinese broccoli, bok choy and daikon.
While some dishes that are popular in America -- like moo shoo pork, chow mein and egg foo young -- actually are native to China, there are plenty of other authentic Chinese dishes that deserve our attention.
Here are five great ones that can be found locally:
1. Peking Duck
Originating in imperial-era Beijing, Peking duck is now considered the national dish of China. Fattened duck is pumped with air to separate the skin from the fat, then soaked, hung up to dry and glazed with a layer of maltose syrup before being roasted in a closed or hung oven, where the skin turns shiny brown and gets incredibly crisp. Served whole and carved tableside (if you're lucky), the dish is often eaten with steamed pancakes, scallions, and hoisin and sweet bean sauce.
Where to get it: Lucky Pot, for duck carved tableside; Peking Cuisine, for duck served with traditional pancakes (call to reserve one); Fung's Kitchen, for family-style platters and a dining room that is great for large parties; Arco Seafood, for duck served with soft buns.
Roughly translating to "little bun baskets" in English, xiaolongbao are a type of baozi, or steamed and filled bun, from the Jiangnan region of China. Also known as Shanghai dumplings or soup dumplings, the buns resemble jiaozi (dumplings), often leading them to be categorized as dumplings outside of China. The buns are typically filled with pork and aspic, then pinched at the top prior to steaming, creating a cascade of ripples around the crown. As the bao steams, the heat melts the gelatinous aspic, creating a soup inside.
Referred to as "glass noodles of the sea," jellyfish can be eaten cooked or raw. A great alternative to cold sesame noodles, the chewy and slightly crunchy "noodles" are often served with green onions and chile-spiked sesame oil. Spicy, sweet and nutty, the dish is a must-try.
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4. Chicken Feet (Phoenix Claws)
Popular in China as bar snacks or for dim sum, chicken feet are also eaten all over the world, from Indonesia and Korea to South Africa, Jamaica and Peru. Made mostly of skin and tendons, the sticky, gelatinous feet are great for sucking dry. In Hong Kong, they are often steamed, then deep-fried and stewed in a sweet fermented bean sauce. In mainland China, they are typically simmered in a sauce of soy, peppercorn and spices like clove, star anise, cinnamon and chile, or served cold after marinating in a sweet, ginger-punched rice wine vinegar.
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5. Hot Pot
Hot pot, also known as steamboat, refers to an East Asian stew whose ingredients are cooked at the center of the table in a simmering metal pot of stock. Believed to have originated in Mongolia, where the main ingredient was beef, mutton or horse, the tradition of eating hot pot in China goes back more than 1,000 years, when it was spread from Mongolia to southern China during the Tang Dynasty. Today the cold-weather dish utilizes a variety of ingredients, including sliced meat, leaf vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings and seafood.