Spicy, Saucy, and Adaptable
Chinese food has become a staple takeout option in America. Rich sauces filled with umami flavor, oodles of noodles, and crispy stir-fried ingredients are a key part of Chinese cuisine here in the United States. However, American Chinese food is often very different than what is eaten in China itself. There are eight major cuisine styles in China, marking Chinese cuisine as a rich, varied, and adaptable tradition. Shandong cuisine is salty, fresh, and includes a lot of seafood. Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are both hot and spicy. Anhui and Fujian cuisines include local foods found in the mountains. Finally, Cantonese, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu cuisines feature sweeter, lighter flavors and incorporate a lot of seafood. Cantonese-style Chinese food is the most internationally popular.
Chinese food was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s by immigrants from the Canton region. The first Chinese restaurant opened in California, and most of what we think of as Chinese food in America today originated in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950s. Much of this cuisine is a direct result of Chinese immigrant chefs adapting to a new set of local ingredients and tastes. So while it's true that some Chinese takeout dishes are not related to Chinese cuisine at all, there are plenty of Chinese dishes available in America that are adaptations with strong roots – or even direct counterparts – in Chinese cuisine. In general, Chinese dishes available in the West are more salty, less spicy, and sweeter than the Chinese originals. If you’d like to try making some Chinese recipes in your own kitchen, we’ve got you covered! Join us as we explore the top five best Chinese recipes to make at home.
#1 Kung Pao Chicken
This popular Chinese takeout order is actually an authentic Sichuan dish. However, the Western version tends to be much less spicy than what you’d find in China. Kung Pao Chicken features small, bite-sized pieces of diced chicken, peanuts, chili peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns. It is sweet, tangy, salty, and spicy. In China, this dish tends to be made fiery hot, but by making it at home, you can control the spice level. Ready to make this classic Chinese recipe?
#2 Vegetable Lo Mein
This dish is on practically every Chinese restaurant’s menu in America, but it is also enjoyed in China. The name means “stirred noodles” and it’s typically made with wheat noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Sometimes, a protein like meat, shrimp, or tofu is added as well. As for which vegetables to use, take a page out of the book of Chinese-American chefs and focus on what you can find fresh in your area. Common choices include: scallions, onions, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, napa cabbage, various leafy greens, peas, and even thinly sliced celery. This dish is not only very adaptable, but it comes together quickly and can be made on a weeknight. Ready to make your own Vegetable Lo Mein?
#3 Fried Rice
It wouldn’t be a list of the best Chinese recipes without fried rice! This classic is a popular order at many Chinese restaurants in America, but it’s also eaten in China and all across Asia. It’s a great way to make sure that leftover rice is safe for consumption and injects new flavor into otherwise plain leftovers. In fact, fried rice works best with cold, day-old rice (or older); freshly cooked rice will not work as well. Fresh veggies may be more authentic, but frozen mixed vegetables will work just as well if it’s all you have at home! True to the legacy of Chinese cuisine, this dish is extremely adaptable: you can add whatever vegetables and proteins you have on hand, including peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, eggs, bacon, pork, tofu, and more! The savory sauce is what really elevates this dish; it’s a mixture of mirin, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a hint of white pepper. Ready to feast on homemade Chinese fried rice?
#4 Buddha’s Delight
This dish is a popular order in Chinese restaurants all across America. It is usually made up of a mixture of vegetables, tofu, and sauce. The dish is usually vegetarian-friendly (depending on the ingredients used in the sauce), but may not be vegan-friendly. In China, Buddha’s Delight is just as popular as it is in the United States. Originally, it was eaten by vegetarian Buddhist monks, but the dish has gained much more widespread popularity over the years. In fact, it often served around Chinese New Year as a form of self-purification to start the year off right. Sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and oyster sauce give vegetables and tofu a sweet, salty, and savory taste that’s bursting with umami flavor. Want to make your own Buddha's Delight at home?
#5 Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings)
Dumplings are a traditional food that has been eaten in regions of Northern China for over 1,800 years. They feature a thin skin made from wheat-based dough and are filled with minced meat, chopped vegetables, or both. In particular, Chinese dumplings are eaten during Chinese New Year and are thought to symbolize wealth due to their shape, which resembles ingots (which were once used as ancient currency). Different fillings also symbolize different things. For example, cabbage stuffing invokes hope for a well-off life for a hundred years, while mushroom stuffing is eaten to increase wealth and luck. In America, dumplings are a common order at Dim Sum restaurants. While making your own can be a bit time consuming, it’s well worth it and can be a great bonding activity for your family or group of friends to enjoy together! Ready to check out the best Chinese dumpling recipe to try at home?