Several years ago we invited a friend of craveDFW who lives in India to share some thoughts on Indian food culture. Recently Sachin Ghare shared the fact that he spends time working in China and we asked him to give us insight on dining in China. Sachin explains in general terms his thoughts on the over all dining scene in China. He is currently preparing another version that details some of his favorites restaurants and dishes.
I’m a regular visitor of China and Hong Kong. I have composed the following guide for Chinese dining based upon my personal experiences. As a tourist in China, you will find a diverse selection of foods that vary greatly from region to region. Chinese cuisine needs no introduction, having been successfully exported to every country in the western world and maintaining a reputation as one of the favorite foods to enjoy either while dining out or as a take-away.
Beijing is typical of capital cities in that it is home to a vast selection of eateries offering some of the finest food in the country. Whereas Shenzhen, Shanghai, Chengdu and other western culture following cities have a bit of a different story.
The local dishes can be broken into as many as ten or more different categories and can be difficult to express them easily. Dining out in China may seem intimidating at first, but once you know the basics, you’ll be able to enjoy a healthy mood that suits your tastes and the four main specialties that visitors should expect to encounter while traveling all over China.
The staple food in China is usually rice and wheat. Millet, corn, buckwheat, potato, sweet potato and many kinds of legumes are also common. Apart from rice, wheaten food like steamed bread, noodles, deep-fried twisted dough sticks, steamed stuffed buns, as well as various gruels, cakes and snacks with special local flavors always make the dining table rich and colorful to bring you extraordinary treats. As per my knowledge beef can be found in every restaurant even in fast food chains such as KFC and McDonald’s.
Normally, you can identify the category of restaurants in China by its outlook and decoration level. The better the decoration is, the more expensive the dishes are and the quality of the food. When I was on a project in Beijing, nearby my workplace there was a small restaurant selling tea, porridge, baked sesame seed coated dough pastry etc. It was very clean and had very good air-conditioning in summer. It was always packed at summer lunch time. When in hot days, this kind of simple food seemed to be a top choice.
Cheap restaurants are where most urban Chinese people often go to. This kind of restaurant was where I had my meals most often. Some cheap restaurants also have good featured dishes. 20 Chinese Yuan is enough for one person to have a full days meal at such places. I was shocked when I found many educated and good reputed people frequenting these restaurants; even they helped me to customize my food according to my needs and interest.
Many foreigners evaluate their cities on how authentic the Western food they might encounter. Most foreigners for a “taste of home,” are forced to resort to the three common fast-food chains that can now be found almost everywhere in China: McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Pizza Hut, and the prices appear to be comparable to what one would pay in the West. For example, a double-cheeseburger at McDonalds is usually eight Yuan (about USD $1.12).
Throughout China you will also find an incredible selection of vegetable dishes that have been part of the Chinese diet for centuries. Many were developed to take advantage of the known health benefits in the Ming and Qing dynasties dating back as early as 1368. The main goals of these unique dishes are to provide a delicious meal that is easy to digest and rich in nutrients.
By Western standards, alcohol is cheap in China—especially beer. A 500ml bottle of local beer in China (especially in the north and northeast) can be had for fewer than three Yuan (about USD $ 0.40). Domestic wines and brandies, that are quite drinkable, can be purchased for under 30 Yuan (about USD $3.00). Smokes can be purchased between three Yuan (about USD $ 0.40) to fifty Yuan (about USD $6.00)
I will be visiting China again soon and will lay out some specific restaurants for the traveler.