Chinese food is really popular all over the world, particularly in Western countries. It is delicious, affordable and you can decide either to eat it at a restaurant or order a takeaway. It is no wonder that Chinese cuisine has so many fans around the world. It has a wide variety of flavors and can satisfy even the pickiest person. We will explore the peculiarities of this interesting cuisine, its nutritional value and benefits.
What Makes Chinese Food so Special?
- It has five main flavors. That makes Chinese food the one cuisine having the biggest variety of flavors in the world. Sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy flavors need to be balanced for them to be beneficial for the body according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
- Chinese consumes both wheat and rice. North China consumes wheat products such as noodles, steamed or stuffed buns and dumplings made from wheat. On the other hand, South Chinaâ€™s diet includes primarily food that is made of rice. Bowls of rice or rice noodles are combined with many fruits and vegetables.
- There are no boundaries when it comes to what is considered edible in China. There is a great cultural shock when tourists discovered that Chinese like to eat parts of the animals that are considered trash in their home countries and animals that are considered as pests or pets. The traditional Chinese menu includes cooked parts such as pork ears, heads, lungs, liver, feet and almost everything that is usually thrown out in the Western world. Some items on Chinese menu that shocked tourists are dogs, scorpions, snakes, rats and various insects.
- Chinese love fruits and vegetables and they consume them a lot. The Chinese diet includes twice as much vegetables and fruits than a Western diet. This doubles the intake of fiber resulting in healthy functioning bowels. They also have a rich variety of local fruits and vegetables that are unfamiliar to the rest of the world, such as bitter cucumbers, yard-long yams, tree fungi and many other plants that cannot be translated.
- They prefer it fresh. Canned food is not popular in China – it is loathed. Their traditional medicine states that food must be eaten fresh and in their particular growing season. They sell and consume fresh meat, vegetables and fruits. Chinese even avoid frozen food.
- Finish everything right down to the bones and do not stop until it is all gone. It sounds strange but Chinese eat bone broths. They believe that the meat that is close to the bones and marrow is extremely tasty and nourishing. Fish is served only gutted with bones and head untouched. They either eat it with the bones if they are soft enough or simply spit them out on another plate.
- The variety of preparation methods for a single ingredient is amazing. If we take fish, for example, it can be done in 12 different ways. It is really impressive how the same food can be steamed, sautÃ©ed, quick-fried, stir- fried or cooked in soy-sauced. There are no limits for creativity in Chinese cuisine.
- It can go way too far in the presentation. Most Chinese chefs expect their food to look good. According to them, the eyes also participate in the act of eating. Chinese dishes sometimes have complex decorations including precise vegetable carvings and decorative herbs.
8 Most Popular Chinese Dishes
- Spring Rolls are one of the most famous appetizers around the world. Most people have tried this delicious snack at least once in their lives. Although it has plenty of variations which differ greatly because of cultural and geographical differences, the traditional Chinese spring roll is either vegetarian or contains meat. The filling includes cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and pork. They are usually deep fried which makes them very crispy and can be either sweet or savory.
- Peking Roasted Duck boasts thin, crispy skin. It is usually eaten with sweet bean sauce, soy with garlic rolled in pancakes. Hoisin sauce or pickled radishes are also used.
- Chow Mein or Stir-Fried Noodles is made from noodles, meat such as beef, shrimp, pork or chicken, onions, and celery. The noodles are double cooked. First, they are boiled and then stir fried with the rest of the ingredients. Sometimes the meat is either excluded or replaced with tofu in order to satisfy vegetarians.
- Dumplings is a traditional Chinese food with a long history. They are made from minced meat and chopped vegetables. The mixture is wrapped in thin dough. They can be made with pork, shrimp, and chicken or only with vegetables.They can be steamed, boiled or deep fried.
- Wontons are a sub-variety of dumplings which are square in shape. They can be filled with pork and shrimps. They also contain spices, garlic and green onions. Wontons are sealed by hand and can be deep, pan-fried or boiled.
Ma Po Tofu is a spicy tofu dish. The sauce used is made from chilis and beans. Other ingredients for the sauce include green onions, garlic, rice wine and Sichuan peppercorns. Minced meat such as beef or pork is added.
- Gong Bao Chicken is a traditional dish with diced chicken, fried peanuts and dried chili peppers. There is a western variation of this traditional Chinese dish which is made with cornstarch and vegetables. Garlic and sweet and sour sauce also go into the preparation of this delicious dish.
- Sweet and Sour Pork is famous primarily because of its favorite sweet and sour sauce. The original dish contains fried pork bites. This gave rise to numerous variations which include almost every type of meat. Chicken or beef are some of the most preferred substitutes.
These dishes are well-loved by the Chinese and people from all over the world Â Each one has unique flavor and appearance and thanks to the many preparation methods, thereâ€™s a Chinese food for everyone.
The American-Chinese Versions of Those Traditional Chinese Dishes
The history of American-Chinese cuisine began with the immigrants from China. They developed new dishes based their traditional food and used the ingredients that were available in the new land. One of the main differences is the vegetables. While in China, vegetables are considered the main ingredient. In the USA, vegetables are either garnishes or a side dish.
Another difference is the method of preparation. While traditional Chinese ways include frying along with boiling and steaming, frying is the Americanâ€™s usual method of cooking. Stir frying, deep frying and any other ways of frying are preferred because it is the fastest way of preparation.
While traditional Chinese dishes use fresh food without additives, Chinese-American food in the USA rely on additives such as MSG to enhance flavor. The usage of frozen goods is also pretty common.
There are also differences in the ingredients used. American-Chinese dishes are made mainly with ingredients that are native to the continent. For example, broccoli is used in American-Chinese dishes and not Chinese broccoli. The same goes for carrots and onion.
Egg fried rice is also different. In USA, it is prepared with a lot of soy sauce to enhance its flavor and to make it more appealing to the Americans. In China, they use significantly less soy sauce. In other dishes, American cuisine uses batter, something which is not often used in Chinese cuisine. On the other hand, there is an improvement in American-Chinese cuisine when it comes to healthy eating. Raw ingredients are rarely used in traditional Chinese dishes. In the USA, the use of fresh vegetables and raw food is increasing. Chinese restaurants in America try to offer a wide variety of dishes from different parts of China by combining many recipes into one, making the dish very rich in flavor, heavy in calories and sweeter than the original.
Common Dishes Served in Chinese Restaurants Across America
- Almond Chicken: the rich flavor of almonds and onions enrich the battered chicken, providing interesting taste with an exotic note.
- General Tsoâ€™s Chicken: bite-sized chicken is served with ginger and garlic. Hot chili peppers and scallions are also present in this deep-fried dish.
- Sesame chicken: another deep-fried recipe with spicy sauce, usually red or orange in color, which is sweet and sour.
- Chinese Chicken Salad: chicken bites are served with raw leafy vegetables and noodles with dressing.
- Fortune Cookie: this is a Californian invention which are sweeter than the original version.
- Royal Beef: wine-sauced beef served with broccoli.
- Pepper Steak: a stir-fried dish of sliced steak with vegetables
- Fried Wontons: usually pork filling is wrapped in dough and then fried. The original Chinese wontons are usually boiled or steamed which makes them much healthier.
- Sweet roll: fried and sugar-coated yeast roll.
What are the Health Benefits of Chinese Food?
The secret behind healthy Chinese food is in the ingredients used. Of course, healthy nutrients are stripped from American- Chinese dishes due to all the frying.
Ginger is widely used to improve health. Â It treats nausea and vomiting because it soothes the stomach. The spice even helps to relieve morning sickness, reduces muscle pain after vigorous exercise and fights and soothes various inflammations like osteoarthritis. It is beneficial for the control of sugar levels and thus prevents diabetes. Heart diseases are more unlikely to occur if a person uses ginger frequently because it lowers cholesterol levels. It improves digestion and reduces menstrual pain. It also has some anticancer properties. It stimulates brain functions and prevents diseases such as Alzheimerâ€™s disease. Ginger also fights flu and bacterial infections.
Garlic has few calories and contains high amounts of manganese, selenium, calcium, iron and vitamins B6, B1, C, etc. It boosts the immune system. Cold symptoms are also relieved by daily garlic consumption. It is known to reduce blood pressure. People with low blood pressure should avoid eating too much garlic while people suffering from hypertension should eat more of this spice. It also lowers the levels of bad cholesterol, stimulates brain activity and decreases the occurrence of Alzheimerâ€™s disease and dementia. This is due to the antioxidants found in garlic. Garlic increases lifespan because it is beneficial for almost every system in the human body. It helps to detox from heavy metals and also improves bone health.
Sesame seeds contain plenty of minerals and vitamins. It reduces blood pressure, prevents cancer development and improves bone health. It lowers the chance of diabetes and has a positive effect on digestion. Sesame seeds also relieve inflammation diseases, keeps blood vessels healthy and boosts circulation. It improves skin, hair and oral health and also boosts metabolism.
They have lots of antioxidants which help fight cancer. Selenium, vitamin D and folate have anticancer qualities. They lower blood sugar and insulin levels, thus playing an important role in the fight against diabetes. Fiber, potassium and vitamin C, which are found in mushrooms, keep the heart healthy by regulating blood pressure and cholesterol. It boosts immunity and by boosting digestion, keeps weight at a healthy level.
Tofu lowers bad cholesterols levels because it is a healthy alternative to animal protein. It decreases cardiovascular diseases and prevents breast and prostate cancers. Genistein found in tofu prevents cancer cells from growing. Some people suffering from type 2 diabetes suffer from kidney disease. The consumption of tofu improves the health of the kidneys. It prevents bone loss and increases bone density. It prevents liver damage by fighting free radicals. It keeps the function of brain normal by decreasing the occurrence of various mental diseases related to old age.
This member of the cabbage family protects you from various types of cancer. It helps in the fight against lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers. Folate in bok choy prevents cells from mutation. It prevents inflammation and improves bone health. The minerals and vitamins found in this particular type of cabbage are known to maintain and build bone structure. It decreases blood pressure and increases heart health. It prevents ischemic heart disease and keeps blood vessels healthy. It reduces chronic inflammation and boosts immunity. It contains vitamin C, which is essential for healthy and good-looking skin.
Consuming steamed fish is beneficial for your health. It contains fewer calories and fats than fried fish. Omega-3 fatty acids in the fish control cholesterol levels and prevent heart attack and stroke. Protein keeps your appetite in check and encourages weight loss. Â
Shrimp Fried Rice
This tasty dish provides protein for your diet. Protein helps build up muscle mass, keeps you full for longer, thus contributing to weight loss. It stabilizes your blood sugar levels, improves your mood, keeps the brain, bones and heart healthy. The dish contains iron, niacin, zinc, vitamins A and K. All of them are beneficial for the overall health.
Watch Out When You Eat Chinese Takeout
Beware of the Calories
Always be aware that most Chinese dishes in America are full of calories and fat. The amount of calorie and fat content may vary from restaurant to restaurant but always check what your calorie intake per meal is. The cooking method can add more calories and fat, although it is not always the case. Egg rolls have more calories than summer rolls for example.
Edamame isnâ€™t always a healthy pick. Soybeans are full of fiber but always ask how this delicious appetizer is cooked. They are usually steamed, but some restaurants put them in oil afterwards. That adds empty calories and fat that you do not actually need. The simple solution is to ask how they are prepared before ordering them. If they are boiled only, order them. If they have extra oil content, avoid it for the sake of your health. Or simply request that they prepare the edamame without adding additional oil.
Lobster Sauce does not Deserve its Bad Reputation
It is actually quite the opposite. Believe it or not, it is delicious and healthy at the same time. It is one of the low caloric sauces you can have in American-Chinese cuisine. The main reason for this is the lack of sugar in it. It contains only 50 calories per serving and can have a positive effect on your health. So, next time when you wonder what sauce you want to eat, stick to the lobster sauce.
Light Shrimp Chips have a Dirty Secret
They may look healthier than crunchy noodles but do not let yourself to be fooled. They actually contain starch and shrimps that are deep-fried. We all know how unhealthy the deep-fried method of preparation is. This appetizer can have the calories of a whole meal so try to avoid it as much as possible. Always try to avoid something that is deep-fried. The empty calories and fat simply are not worth risking your health for.
Vegetables are not Always as Healthy as They May Sound
You think vegetables are the perfect choice for a healthy way of life? Maybe not. The nutritional value of vegetables strongly depends on their preparation. If they are Â eaten raw or steamed, they are the perfect choice. But in American Chinese cuisine, most vegetables are deep fried. This means most nutritional value has been stripped out of them. They either contain few nutrients or none at all. Additionally, the process of frying adds extra fat and calories which makes them a hidden threat to your health. Some vegetables, such as egg plant, soak up much more oil than others. Vegetables that do not absorb so much oil are snow peas, broccoli and peppers. Try to choose these vegetables as often as possible.
What about Steamed Dumplings?
They are more or less the same as vegetables. Steamed dumplings sound like a healthy option but the filling is what counts for the calories.The pork filling is way more caloric than a vegetable filling. So, either avoid eating pork dumplings or try to decrease the amount of dumplings per meal. The best option is to replace them with steamed vegetable dumplings.
Stir-fried is not that scary after all
That may sound strange but actually, stir-fried food can have some health benefits. This is valid, of course, if the stir-fried dish is prepared with moderate amounts of oil. Stir-fried vegetables contain more calories than the steamed version. Ginger and garlic are often used and they have tremendous health benefits. Along with that, no one can deny the amazing taste of stir-fried vegetables. Remember to consume stir-fried food in moderation.
Lo Mein is Better with Shrimp
That may sound ridiculous, but again the preparation plays an important role. Shrimp lo mien has way less sodium and calories. Vegetables are usually prepared with a heavy soy sauce and lots of sodium and oil to make them taste better. So stick to shrimp lo mein. Vegetables prepared with a very salty sauce are not always the best choice.
Tofu May Not Be Always healthy
You think that tofu is healthy? In most cases that is true. But some dishes containing tofu are really unhealthy. Again this has something to do with the way itâ€™s being prepared. There could be a lot of calories because some recipes call for deep-frying before stir-frying. You can avoid that by asking how the dish is prepared. Ask that the tofu is stir fried only or choose to a healthier tofu dish.
Sushi can be Healthy and Delicious too
Sushi can be Healthy and Delicious tooAvoid tempura. There are healthier rolls. You can ask for a delicious and healthy snack like chopped peanuts, cashews or almonds. They can be either inside or outside of your roll. This will add some health benefits to your sushi and you will avoid the empty calories.
Are You Going to Just Eat the Whole Dish?
This is a huge mistake. The amount of food in a single dish is usually enough for two or three people. It is much better option to share it with someone. If you are taking it away, simply eat until you feel full and save the rest for later. Chinese food keeps you full for a long time, so when you are ordering, bear in mind that you may want to eat various dishes but you may not be able to finish all of them. Simply stick to a single meal or two and do not overeat in an attempt to eat all the dishes in one single meal.
Nutritional Value of Some Chinese Dishes
|Serving size: it varies||Calories||Fat(g)||Carbs(g)||Protein(g)|
|1 cup of almond chicken||281||14.74||15.78||21.78|
|1 order of General Tsoâ€™s chicken||360||21||31||14|
|1 vegetable spring roll||63||2.84||7.44||2|
|1 cup of sweet and sour pork||231||8.23||24.81||15|
|1 meat filled wonton||54||2.52||4.72||2.87|
|1 cup of pepper steak||317||20.48||4.95||27.71|
|1 small Chinese chicken salad||246||8||21||23|