Ma Po ToFu
Sure you’ve eaten Chinese takeout before, but as delicious as Chinese takeout may be, once you taste classic Chinese cuisine, you can never return to takeout ever again. So if you say you’ve tasted Chinese food before, think again. The five different types of Chinese food that will be showcased in this article may just change your mind about what really is “true” Chinese cuisine.
There’s one type of Chinese cuisine that you cannot just simply refuse to have a taste of, and that’s Sichuan cuisine. For those spice enthusiasts, this style of Chinese food is definitely for you! It originated from the blended cuisines of Chengdu and Chongqing, recorded as early as the Qing Dynasty, where 38 books detailing different cooking methods first introduced the Sichuan style. The styles combine the “Three Spices” (Chinese prickly ash, pepper and hot pepper), “Three Aromas” (shallot, ginger, and garlic), “Seven Tastes” (sweet, sour, tingling, spicy, bitter, piquant, and salty), and “Eight Flavors” (fish-flavored, sour and spicy, pepper, odd flavoring, tingling spice, oily, ginger sauce, and home cooking). A great place in Calgary that offers this type of cuisine would be “Chuan Wei Xuan” otherwise just known as “Szechuan Restaurant”, located at 320 16 Avenue NW Calgary. Great dishes of the Szechuan style include:
Ma Po Tofu: An irresistible combination of bean curd (otherwise known as tofu), minced beef, and pepper and bean sauce, said to be created by a pocked-marked woman. The flavour is absolutely heavenly–if you can stand the spiciness of the dish, that is.
Lamp Shadow Beef: The sliced beef is so thin that it looks like slippery red translucent paper. Under a lamp or light, a beautifully red shadow will appear. The meat is placed in a beautiful array with a moat of red spicy liquid surrounding it, giving it its nice, spicy flavour. Sometimes, parsley and a bit of sesame would be added to give the dish that little extra flair.
Gong Bao Ji Ding: The chicken is rather tender, which creates a very interesting contrast with its quickly fried skin. Peanuts are often added to the dish, so for those who are allergic to peanuts, avoid ordering this dish if you are at a Sichuan restaurant.
Sweet and Sour Carp
Seafood here, seafood there, there’s seafood everywhere. Because of the region’s geographic location in Jinan city and the Jiaodong peninsula, a variety of seafood is available. The area’s specialty ingredients would be garlic and shallots, but the dishes do not include just those ingredients. Famous Shandong dishes include:
Sweet and Sour Carp: Like many other Chinese dishes, it emphasizes the differing textures of the skin and the meat on the inside. The outside is crisp while the fish meat is rather tender. Of course, it would be sweet and sour, as indicated by its name, but the dish doesn’t go overboard in emphasizing these features.
Eight Immortals Crossing Sea Teasing Arhats: This dish not only has a marvelous taste, it also has some interesting symbolism to it! Usually a starter dish before a celebratory feast, it uses eight main ingredients: fin, sea pumpkin, abalone, asparagus, prawns and ham. The stocks gets its flavour from the fish’s swimming bladder and bones, but trust me, it tastes much better than it sounds! The eight ingredients symbolize the eight immortals, and the added chicken breast represents the Buddhist Arhats.
Roast Suckling Pig
Guangdong cuisine emphasizes the daintiness of the dish, taking exquisite ingredients and cooking them with refined cooking skills. The result is a clear, refreshing, and tender taste. The dishes are even seasonal, with summer and autumn dishes being a bit clearer while winter and spring dishes having a bit more substance. The cutting and carving skills of the chef are of the utmost importance, since Guangdong cuisine is all about presentation. Dishes include:
Chrysanthemum Fish: It’s all about the cutting skill of the chef. They will cut and shape the fish so that it looks like a chrysanthemum, complete with beautiful decorations to make it even more presentable. Each morsel of the savoury fish can be enjoyed with both chopsticks and forks alike.
Braised Snake Porridge: Carefully chosen meat of cobra, pullet, and grimalkin, braised as carefully as the ingredients are picked. It has another name–“Dragon and Phoenix Contending”.
Roast Suckling Pig: A very famous dish in Guangdong cuisine. With its golden crisp outer skin and its tender skin underneath, it has great texture to it. As if it wasn’t heavenly enough, it also has a dense aroma that could make people hungry enough to eat a horse upon first whiff.
Immortal Chicken with Five Elements
Upon first look, Hunan cuisine comes off as very bold and colourful. Its taste is just the same. In Hunan food, there is crispness, yet there is also softness and tenderness along with savoury flavours and spiciness. Dishes include:
Stewed Fins: A famous delicacy in the Qing Dynasty, it has a fresh and mellow taste. The soup contains some choice fins, chicken, and pork which are stewed in chicken soup and sauce.
Immortal Chicken with Five Elements: The five elements refer to the five ingredients: litchi, longan, red dates, lotus seeds and medlar, which are stuffed into a chicken that is braised. It has a rather peculiar taste, but is said to be good for the health.
A cultural infusion of various Chinese cuisines, Beijing cuisine has made its own mark in the face of Chinese dishes. Manchu, Mongol, Muslim, Buddhist, and even street influences all blend together to create this unique-tasting style of food, now renowned to the rest of the world. And still, it is ever changing with the influx of influences from all around the world. If you want to try some of this type of cuisine right here in Calgary, then just simply go to “Peking Garden” located at 4625 Varsity Drive NW. It’s actually not very far from the school! Some of the traditional Beijing dishes include:
Peking Duck: Arguably Beijing’s most popular and famous dish of all, it of course involves a duck. In terms of texture, the skin is crisp and glossy, which makes an interesting contrast to the tender meat on the inside. It is consumed in small sliced pieces dipped in dark fermented sauce, and with slivers of sliced leeks and cucumbers wrapped in a thin pancake-like cover. Just one taste will leave you begging for more!
Zhajiang Noodles: These noodles are hand-pulled by specialist chefs, and are usually served in a soup or sauce. The classical Beijing-style preparation of these noodles would be drained noodles tossed with rich mince pork sauce and a plethora of fresh vegetables.
Jiaozi (otherwise known to Western culture as dumplings): This Beijing delicacy originated from Chinese New Year traditions, where the Northern Chinese would gather, make the Jiaozi, and eat them to ensure a prosperous year. There are many fillings in a dumpling, including minced pork, cabbage, Chinese chives, scrambled eggs, and sometimes in Muslim restaurants, minced lamb. They can be boiled, steamed or fried on a skillet, each producing a different texture for the skin. Sauces that are complementary to Jiaozi include soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil, sometimes mixed all together in petite dipping dishes.
Now that you’ve seen all of these delightful dishes, it’s time to start tasting! Good luck, and have fun!