Whether you’re new to the Middle Kingdom or an old China hand, sometimes we all crave food from back home. Depending on where in China you live, you might not always have access to decent copies of your favourite foreign food. But do not despair! There are a number of Chinese dishes that, by coincidence or fate, taste a lot like Western classics.
Don’t get me wrong. Chinese cuisine is great. Few countries in the world can boast the kind of variety that China has to offer. From Cantonese Dim Sum to Sichuan Hotpot to Beijing Roast Duck, it really is a treasure trove for foodies. But sometimes we all need a taste of home. Here are five Chinese dishes that give you just that.
1. The Chinese Hamburger
Photo: Gary Stevens
Name:Chinese: 肉夹馍, Pinyin: Ròu Jiā Mó
Where to find: Shaanxi and Gansu cuisine restaurants
Finding a proper burger in China is sometimes easier said than done. But before you lower yourself to ordering that Big Mac meal again, give Rou Jia Mo a try.
Not to be confused with the James Bond actor, this Shaanxi delicacy is one of China’s unlikely culinary gems. The meat is usually pork, which has been stewed for hours along with spices and seasonings. In place of a sesame seed bun, there’s a delicious flakey flatbread. Traditionally, the bread would be baked in a clay oven, but these days, you’ll find it made in a frying pan too.
The dish actually dates all the way back to the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC) meaning that the Rou Jia Mo can be considered the original Big Mac, although to be honest, it’s more like a pulled pork sandwich. Either way, it’s delicious.
2. Xinjiang Fries
Photo: Ewan Munro
Name:Chinese: 新疆炸薯条, Pinyin: Xīnjiāng Zhá Shǔ Tiáo
Where to find: Xinjiang cuisine restaurants
Most of us have French fries more than we probably care to admit. Fortunately, Chinese cuisine has their own slightly healthier version, Xinjiang Zha Shu Tiao. The potato is shredded into long pieces and stir-fried, usually with some peppers. While not exactly the same as French fries, they do help homesick foreigners get their potato fix.
The dry and skinny potato strips with peppers are seriously moreish. This may be a bold statement, but Xinjiang Fries are better than their Western counterpart, at least in my humble opinion.
3. Harbin Sausages
Name: Chinese: 哈尔滨红肠, Pinyin: Hā'ěrbīn Hóng Cháng
Where to find: Harbin cuisine restaurants
I’ve had my hands burnt, figuratively, many times by sausages in China. Whether it was on a fancy plate in an expensive restaurant or on the grill of a street-side barbecue, I’ve seen many sausages that looked amazing, like the ones I knew back home. But every time I bit into one, I was left disappointed, with a strange, and often sweet, taste in my mouth.
That was all until I tried the proper sausages that are the Harbin Hongchang, and my whole life changed. The smoked savory red sausages boast a more European flavor than other Chinese sausages, similar to Russian sausage in taste.
Interestingly, the sausage was originally introduced to Harbin by Jewish settlers from Russia. Since then it has become an iconic dish of the region and is now available all over China.
4. Chinese Kebab
Name: Chinese: 烤肉串, Pinyin: Kǎoròu Chuàn
Where to find: Xinjiang, Beijing, Jilin, and Tianjin cuisine restaurants
When you’ve had a few beers and you’re on your way home from the pub, there are few things better than stopping off for a naughty kebab. It may not be particularly healthy, it may not be especially hygienic, but it just tastes so good.
It turns out, there’s not so much of a difference between a city centre in the UK on a Saturday night and a barbecue street in China in the early hours of the morning. These places, on opposite sides of the world, are united by their love of grilled meat on sticks.
The Chinese variety of the lamb kebab is defined by its seasoning, which generally includes cumin, dried red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper and sesame. Although the lamb kebab is the most popular type of chuan, you can also find them being made with chicken, pork, beef, seafood, tofu and veggies.
5. Xi’an Meat Pie
Name: Chinese: 馅饼, Pinyin: Xiàn bǐng
Where to find: Shaanxi cuisine restaurants
The meat pie. There’s something so simplistic, yet so amazing about it. Some food connoisseurs may turn up their noses, but few eating experiences beat biting into that light pastry crust and tasting that finger-licking mix of sauce, meat and vegetables.
Although not renowned internationally for their pie making, China has some great pastry options. Arguably the best is Xi’an Bing from Xi’an, characterised by its golden, crisp crust and juicy, fragrant beef filling. Be careful when eating it, however, as the juicy meat inside is inclined to burst out on first bite.
What other Chinese dishes remind you of food back home? Tell us in the comments section below.
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Keywords: food craving living in China
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