Imagine you’re travelling in China. You wake up and order a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea. You then take many beautiful pictures of mountains and rivers, before your fish and chip supper. No. That’s not travelling in China.
When you join a barbecue table and order a Qingdao beer by the road, surrounded by the waiter grilling fresh beef and a busker singing, you’ll feel connected to the real China. After all, food is culture and following this food map will help you experience a real slice of Chinese culture.
Intestines vermicelli — Sichuan cuisine
Sichuan is located in southwest China and people here are crazy about hot, spicy, fresh and fragrant food. Nearly all the food in Sichuan is spicy, including the popular snack intestines vermicelli. The smooth vermicelli is made of sweet potato, the soup tastes fresh and salty and the intestines are fantastic, never greasy.
It’s said that about 100 years ago, a man carrying a shoulder pole sold different kinds of snacks whilst walking along the street, including intestines vermicelli. People were so surprised by how good it tasted that it became the widespread and popular dish it is today.
Sichuan people’s attitude towards life is positive and they like things slow paced and simple. People here won’t hold on to their money until they die like other Chinese people. On the contrary, they’ll spend as much money as they have just to enjoy the moment they’re living in. Sichuan people like hanging out with each other and doing things like playing Mahjong. You can see people playing at the teahouses, at home and even by the road. It’s the Sichuan people’s belief that there’s no better way to spend your time than hanging out, enjoying the moment and snacking.
So, when in Sichuan, your breakfast will be a bowl of intestines vermicelli and a bottle of green tea in the old teahouse. People around you will joke and laugh with their friends and there’s no rush to work. Just drink your tea slowly and enjoy your intestines vermicelli like a local, without worries or stress.
Dezhou Braised Chicken — Shandong cuisine
Shandong cuisine dates back over a thousand years and includes delicious meat and seafood. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, Shandong cuisine was specifically enjoyed by emperors and dishes can be best described as fragrant, tender and mellow.
Dezhou Braised Chicken is representative of Shandong cuisine and evolved from roast chicken. When Qianlong (a famous Qing dynasty emperor) first visited Shandong, he insisted on trying Dezhou Braised Chicken. After he finished the meal, he praised this ‘amazing dish’ and declared Dezhou Braised Chicken a court tribute. Nowadays, people still choose Dezhou Braised Chicken as a gift to send to friends and families.
So, why do so many emperors favour Shandong cuisine? Shandong is the place where Confucius was born, a scholar whose thoughts have influenced China for over 2,000 years, right up until today. The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasises personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity and in Shandong, people like to maintain these ancient traits.
The food here is quite moderate, not too spicy, not too sweet and not too salty. It’s a mixture of all the tastes, just like the core spirit of Confucianism, which is why it was so popular with the emperors. Dine on Dezhou Braised Chicken and you’ll not only appreciate the thoughts and ways of emperors, but also the core spirit of Confucianism which lies in every Chinese person’s heart.
Dragon and Tiger — Cantonese cuisine
There’s an old saying that goes: Guangdong has all the food the world has, but the world may not have all the food that Guangdong has. Although this is an extravagant claim, the Cantonese do have a huge variety of food and ingredients, involving many meats not usually used elsewhere, including snake.
One of most famous Cantonese dishes is Dragon and Tiger. Legend has it that there was once a warrior called Yuejiao, who wanted to murder the emperor of Chu. Another warrior, Youji, discovered the plot and challenged Yuejiao to an archery duel. Youji prevailed and his arrow killed Yuejiao. Emperor Chu was informed of the dual whilst eating his favourite dish of snakes and leopard and renamed the dish Dragon and Tiger.
Guangdong cuisine may surprise visitors with its variety, reflecting the brave, clever and persistent nature of the Guangdong people. Guangdong was also the first place in China to open its doors to the world and so there’s a lot of foreign culture mixed in. If you want to get the true taste the Guangdong, you should definitely start with Dragon and Tiger. Be brave, it’s the first step to learning Cantonese culture.
Fish wrapped in mutton — Suzhou cuisine
Suzhou is a historical, ancient place and one of its highlights is the elegant Suzhou gardens, which boasts striking riverside buildings. Bluestone roads, built hundreds of years ago, are also still visible today. Suzhou cuisine is delicate, tender and on the sweet side while retaining the ingredients’ natural flavours. If Shandong cuisine is a strong and tough man, then Suzhou cuisine is a soft, tender woman.
While in Suzhou, make sure to try the fish wrapped in mutton. It’s said that about 2,000 years ago, Ancestor Peng’s son was keen to catch fish in the river. But Ancestor Peng worried about his safety very much and told his son not to play with water. The son ignored his father’s advice, caught a fish and when he got home concealed it in the steaming mutton cooking on the oven. Surprisingly, the mutton with the fish was extremely fresh, fragrant and tasted good, which is why it’s so popular today.
When visiting Suzhou, you can walk on the bluestone road and feel the ancient history, you can watch local life unfold and eat finely-cooked Suzhou cuisine. There will be moments when you truly feel part of this beautiful water township.
China boasts a huge variety of cuisines, each with its own traits. The unique flavours and cooking methods reflect centuries of tradition and culture. Beautiful views, ancient buildings and lovely warm people combine with delicious local food to make you feel a part of China and China to feel a part of you. I hope you enjoy your trip.