Chinese food and western food can be very different. This can be easily deducted from one look at the coffee table book-sized menus they throw in your face at most Chinese restaurants around town. These restaurant menus are often an excellent source of entertainment with their hilarious mistranslations and over-the-top plating, but also very educational. Considering the hundreds of dishes often available, that doesn’t mean that you can’t also find some similarities between this and meals you would experience back in your homeland.
Think about it. There are only a limited number of ingredients available to humanity, especially when it comes to just stuffing your face with food. We aren’t talking about haute cuisine here.
With this in mind here are some items that you can find that are either being boiled, fried, roasted, braised, or baked being hawked near you. With this simple guide, you also won’t break the bank as Chinese food, especially in its most simple form, is almost always cheaper than its western equivalent.
This example, while it may be a bit of a stretch as to whether it should be considered a near or distant cousin to its Italian pasta counterpart, is quite possibly one of the most popular dishes in Beijing. To make it, thick wheat noodles are topped with a zhajiang sauce made from simmering ground pork or beef in a salty fermented soybean paste. There are also many variants of this dish for those looking for a vegetarian or halal option. Additional toppings include pickled cucumber, radish, and edamame.
Jianbing is a traditional Chinese food similar to savory crepes. It is usually eaten for breakfast and is one of northern China’s most popular street foods. It consists of a pan-fried egg and dough mixture that is filled with a crunchy, often spicy, and sometimes meaty filling. This can pretty much be found outside any subway station and can be recognized by the presence of a large, round-shaped griddle. Their popularity is also slowly growing with the food truck movement, as street vendors begin to pop up in major cities across America.
A roujiamo from Shaanxi is like a hamburger of sorts. Some people even consider it to be the oldest in existence, as it dates all the way back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). We guess it all depends on what you consider a burger to be. Roujiamo essentially means “meat sandwich” in Chinese. The meat is commonly pork, stewed for hours in a soup containing over twenty spices and seasonings. Other alternatives include beef seasoned with cumin and pepper, which is widely found in areas with a sizeable Muslim population, such as Xi’an where this sandwich originates. The chopped meat is then stuffed in a baijimo, a type of flatbread made from wheat flour dough.
A nanbaorou from a Xinjiang restaurant is pure comfort food, and quite similar to a pizza. They both have yeasted flatbread, however, they also have entirely different toppings. The nan bread is also sometimes eaten without toppings. The toppings for nanbaorou are usually a meat, such as lamb and a rich, complex sauce consisting of a variety of different spices. Conveniently, the flatbread at the bottom soaks up all the sauce, making for a deliciously messy meal when attempting to devour with chopsticks. If you love lamb, don’t miss out on this excellent pizza-like dish.
Photos: Kipp Whittaker, Uni You, Adobe Creative Cloud
This article appeared on p22-23 of the beijingkids September 2018 Teen Takeover issue