Chinese meals should be enjoyed in a group with everyone sharing a selection of dishes. This is because Chinese restaurants are not suited for individual diners. If you were to travel alone, you would most likely patronize one of the typical roadside eateries. Be sure that the restaurant is clean and the food is hot and freshly prepared. It is not considered an insult to bring your own chopsticks. As most of the Chinese restaurants are not heated even during winter, it would be wise to dress warmly.
Based on imperial court and Shandong cuisine, Beijing food has enjoyed an age-old reputation. The main methods of cooking are deep-frying, sautéing, stir-frying and roasting. When in Beijing, an opportunity to sample its celebrated Peking Duck should not be passed. This dish is renowned for its scented, crispy skin and is served with pancakes, which are spread with hoisin sauce and garnished with spring onions. All the ingredients are rolled into a tube and it is a delightful blend of taste and texture, especially the delicious crispy skin. For more exotic fare, stir-fried pig's tripe and chicken gizzard, sautéed fish slices with brewer's rice, pork fillet in brown sauce and sautéed cabbage might tantalize your taste buds.
Guangdong food features a wide range of refined ingredients and quick frying. The dishes are fresh, tender, refreshing and smooth. Guangdong chefs will always try to adapt the dishes according to the season - light flavoring in summer but heavy during winter. Restaurants in Guangdong offer specialties such as smoked pomfret, sweet and sour pork, deep-fried egg jelly wrapped in wheat flour and steamed pomfret topped with scallions and flavored oil. If you are the adventurous type, go ahead and dig into some snake dishes, braised chicken, roast piglet or assorted soups in wax gourds. Guangdong is also famous for its moon cakes.
Dishes in Szechuan are noted for their varied and heavy flavors. The eight common seasonings used are pepper sauce, pepper with vinegar, pepper with fish sauce, chili jam with wild peppercorn, cayenne pepper with wild peppercorn, black pepper with peanut and sesame paste, peppercorn with sesame oil and chili oil - all scorchingly tasty. Distinct dishes include pork and chicken cubes with peanuts and chili, and 'clubbed chicken', which is chicken meat firstly pounded and then shredded into floss before being added the eight seasonings - a sweet but hot dish. Others include Luyang-style crisp chicken and beancurd.
Specialties in Anhui feature dishes stewed in brown sauce and most of the cooking stress heavily on oil and sauces. Stewed fish belly in brown sauce, stir-fried eel slices, and deep-fried meatballs in plum sauce are the main delicacies offered in many restaurants in Anhui.
In Fujian, dishes are usually marinated in wine and taste sour with a tinge of sweetness. "Buddha Jumps the Wall" is a famous dish with an equally interesting story. It is made from an assortment of materials: shark's fin, shark's lip, fish maw, abalone, squid, sea cucumber, chicken breast meat, duck chops, pork tripe, pork leg, minced ham, mutton elbow, dried scallop, winter bamboo shoots, mushrooms and others. These are seasoned and steamed separately and then put into a clay jar, mixed with cooking wine and a dozen or more pigeon eggs. The jar is firstly covered and put over intense heat and then simmered on low heat later. Four or five ounces of liquor is then added while the ingredients are kept simmering for another five minutes. Voila! A dish fit for a king!
How 'Buddha Jumps the Wall' got its unusual name is explained by a local fable. A Fuzhou scholar went picnicking with friends in the suburbs and he had put all the ingredients he had with him in a wine jar, which he heated over a charcoal flame. The tantalizing smell spread all the way to a nearby temple and was so inviting that the monks, who were supposed to practice vegetarianism, could not resist and jumped over the wall to partake in the hearty dish. One of the friends wrote a poem in praise of the delicious dish, in which one line read: "Even Buddha himself would jump over the wall to taste this dish". Hence the name 'Buddha Jumps the Wall'.
Curing, simmering, steaming and stewing are the main cooking methods of Hunan food. Hunan dishes are usually tinged with sour and spicy flavors. Fragrant, spicy yet slightly sour Dongan-style fried chicken is one of the main attractions.
Jiangsu cuisine can be classified into three categories, which are Suzhou-Wuxi, Zhenjiang-Yangzhou and Shanghai styles. Suzhou cooking tends to retain the original flavor and stock of the main ingredient and specialties are boat-shaped fried duck, braised pork in fermented beancurd sauce, fried rolls stuffed with croakers and minced shrimp, stewed beancurd with shrimp and ginger sauce, five-spiced chicken drumstick and so on. But most of all, one should try the sizzling rice with shrimps; it is absolutely delectable! Tender shrimps in tomato sauce, ladled over deep-fried, golden, crispy rice crust...delicious.
Zhenjiang-Yangzhou cooking can best be described as "the soup is crystal clear one can see the bottom of the bowl, while the sauces are so thick that they resemble cream." Among the well-known dishes are boiled beancurd slices, crab meatballs shaped like lion-heads, butterfly-shaped sea cucumber and silvery carp in the form of lotuses.
Zhejiang food is represented by Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing styles. Hangzhou dishes are meticulously prepared and therefore are tasty and crispy. Famous features are sweet and sour fish, deep-fried fish balls, shrimps cooked in 'Dragon Well' tea, and braised pork Dongpo style. Exquisite dishes such as yellow croaker with preserved Chinese cabbage, braised fish, braised eel casserole, and fried peanuts with liver moss are in popular demand in Zhejiang. Shaoxing food uses poultry as its main specialty and the dishes are usually crisp, glutinous and palatable. The tender, boiled chicken is a wonderful accompaniment to porridge.
Local produce abounds in Shanghai. Shanghai cuisine emphasizes a lot on vegetables and seafood in fermented bean sauce and stir-fried in vegetable oil. The major traditional dishes are 'eight-jewels' stuffed duck, pig's viscera braised in brewer's rice, stewed catfish in brown sauce, 'eight-delicacies' chili paste, and stewed sea cucumber with shrimp roe.
China offers a variety of desserts and snacks, which will see you through the day if you do not feel like having an elaborate meal. For breakfast, there are Chinese pancakes, deep-fried twisted dough, glutinous rice balls, creamy soya bean milk, wonton soup, steamed stuffed dumplings, steamed bread with meat fillings, and various types of noodles.
A wide selection is also available during festivals. There are glutinous rice cakes for Chinese New Year, green dumplings for Qingming, fermented glutinous rice for the Beginning of Summer, zhongji for the Dragon Boat festival, moon cakes for the Mid-Autumn festival, and sweet dumplings made from glutinous rice flour for Yuan Xiao, the lantern festival.
Seasons play a part in the availability of snacks. Fried spring rolls and oysters marinated in wine are for spring, cold drinks and cold noodles for summer, dumplings stuffed with crab meat and minced pork and sweet potatoes scented with osmanthus flowers for autumn, and New Year's glutinous rice cakes with braised pork and noodles in mutton gravy for winter.