Chinese eat lizards 1

China - the tasting of the world

It would be easy to plan a China trip just around food. In Hong Kong, you can spend mornings in dark dim sum shacks, savoring steamed dumplings, tripe and chicken feet while you smell steam and the smell of wet bamboo baskets; In the afternoon you feast on Char Siu, the famous barbecue where the skin of the animals becomes as crispy as parchment; and in the evenings, world-class restaurants await like “The Chairman”, currently number 41 on the “World's 50 Best” list.
In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, you can eat hot pot all night long, a kind of fondue on which a finger-thick layer of red chilli oil floats and which makes the lips and tongues slightly numb and tingle from the Sichuan pepper, or you can try a famous local snack : spicy roasted rabbit heads.

Along the coast, for example in the port cities of Xiamen and Whenzhou, every imaginable marine animal is served: As is customary in China, there are dozens of aquariums, buckets and buckets in front of the restaurants in which fish swim, mussels splash water and turtles cranks. When ordered, they are fished out and freshly prepared. In the deep southwest, in the tropical mountains of Yunnan, the food tastes very much like Thailand or Vietnam, and a few hours further northeast, in the old Tibetan areas, nomads drink yak butter tea in front of their tents.

Famous duck and more

In the capital Beijing you can try the famous duck (definitely in the "Duck de Chine"!) Delicacies from all provinces - almost every local government runs a restaurant here in addition to a political representation. And in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai you can find everything that is good and expensive on this planet: a large number of Western star chefs have opened Michelin-starred restaurants here. The most spectacular and in demand at the moment is probably the “Ultraviolet” by Paul Pairet, a mixture of fine dining restaurant and virtual reality show.

If you want to experience Chinese cuisine at the highest level, try the ingenious Cantonese specialties in the "Imperial Treasure". And if all of this is too chic for you, you can simply go to any side street. Here, cookshops still serve hand-drawn noodles with dried shrimp and spring onions or Xiaolongbao, wafer-thin dumplings full of luscious crab eggs.

Anyone who has tried all of this knows: that was just the beginning. You have still only scratched the surface of Chinese cuisine. The country is similar in size to Europe, it stretches from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the jungles of Southeast Asia, from the deserts of Central Asia to the coast of the northern Pacific. More than 1.3 billion people live in between: In addition to the majority, the Han Chinese, there are at least 50 different minorities, some Muslims, other Buddhists or Christians. This country is so big and wide and diverse that the Chinese once called it simply “Tianxia”: “Everything under heaven”.

The many cuisines of China

Since the empire existed, its scholars have been concerned with how to divide the many different kitchens. Currently there are officially 35 different kitchens, eight of which are considered the "great kitchens of China": Sichuan, Hunan, Canton, Fujian, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shandong (this also has to do with the fact that eight is a lucky number, because it sounds similar to the word wealth in Mandarin). The cuisines and influences of the countless minorities, from the Uyghurs to the Lao, are not even counted here.

Despite all the differences, there are a few things that most Chinese kitchens have in common: As in the past, food is always shared here - there is only a separate portion if someone quickly eats a noodle or rice soup on their own. Meat is always served on the bone, fish often with bones - the Chinese don't mind going a little for a delicate piece of meat. They nibble and gnaw, suckle and slurp - and just spit out inedible remains.

Nose to tail is a matter of course, offal are considered a delicacy and the head is the most expensive because it is the most sought-after part of the fish. There are hardly any food taboos for this: from lizards to grasshoppers to jellyfish, everything is cooked and made delicious with astonishing skill. However, that does not mean that the Chinese are not afraid of anything: Most people find rotten milk (in German: cheese) quite disgusting.
The most important animal in Chinese cuisine is the pork - this goes so far that the Mandarin word for “pork” and “meat” are the same, and vegetarians who order “something without meat” in Chinese restaurants often serve lamb to get. The animal is so important to the Chinese economy that the Chinese government is storing frozen pork halves - a national pig reserve, similar to gold in other countries.

Soy is an important source of protein everywhere, be it fresh, as tofu or soy milk. Ginger, spring onions and soy sauce are omnipresent, and Chinese rice wine, garlic and various fermented vegetables are often added. North of the Yangtze, grain is the most important source of calories, while south of the great river, rice is more popular. Speaking of rice: Many visitors are surprised that they hardly ever get served rice in China. At an upscale Chinese meal or banquet, it is only put on the table at the very end of the meal, if at all, for those who are still hungry despite all the food.

Have you eaten yet?

Food is taken very seriously here and has always been an integral part of Chinese culture. Chinese poets already raved about the elegance of noodles or the enjoyment of rice soup on cool autumn evenings thousands of years ago. To this day, the importance of culinary art is evident in idioms: the Chinese like to greet each other with "Chiˉ le ma?", Which means "Have you already eaten?" called. "Don't eat my tofu!" means “Don't look at me so lustfully!” and “You are my flesh close to the bone” is another way of saying “I really like you”.

In the past 60 years, Chinese cuisine has had a hard time in China. The communist rulers did not think much of food culture, which they condemned as bourgeois. Top chefs (and their employers) have been evicted, restaurants have been closed, and farms have been nationalized. The very best Chinese food - made from high-quality ingredients - is therefore still often available outside of China: in Taipei, Hong Kong or Singapore - wherever there have long been strong Chinese communities that have been spared the cultural revolution.

That is slowly changing again. Restaurants like the "Dragon Well Manor" near the old imperial city of Hanzhou or chefs like the legendary chef Yu Bo in Chengdu are trying to reconnect with the old greatness of Chinese cuisine - or even to develop it further. We very much hope that you will succeed.


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