Having lived in San Francisco for eight years, I think I have become somewhat acquainted with the different varieties of Chinese food available in the United States. While most of it has become more or less Westernized, providing popular dishes easily identified by just about anyone, there are still some authentic aspects which, other than in China itself, can only really be found in a large city which happens to boast a decent sized China town.
Yes, you can get your typical red lacquered Chinese delicacies just about anywhere these days, from downtown Los Angeles to even the smallest towns in rural America. And worldwide from Panama City to London to Cape Town, it seems that Chinese food has made its way into just about every avenue of the worldwide restaurant scene.
I can even recommend a few great places. Like one in Riverside, California called The Dragon House. This unique Chinese restaurant decorated both outside and inside can be spotted from the street by its blue pagoda style roof. Inside, you will find the calming fountain and Buddha statues, but what is truly unique about this place is the menu itself.
Sure, you can get your favorites here too. You can get your pork chow mein, fried rice, Orange Chicken, or sweet and sour pork. That’s usually what my husband and I order there when we visit. The lunch specials are decently priced and come with soup, won tons, egg rolls, and rice.
What is unique about this place though, isn’t just the delicious flavors of the meat dishes, its the fact that the menu features a doppelganger. One side you will find a regular menu; on the other, you will see what appears to be the same menu except for one difference. All the ‘meat’ item on this look a like menu are in fact vegan meats. Yes. Your vegetarian friends can enjoy the same orange chicken, egg flower soup, and chow mein as you without shame. It’s really great, I’ve never really seen a vegetarian menu like this, but it really is innovative considering the growing trend of plant-based diets.
Of course, the Dragon House is just one of the many Chinese restaurants you will find throughout the world but if you really want to experience authenticity in your own backyard, head to your closest Chinatown for the real taste of China.
It’s in these Chinatowns that you will discover that there is more to Chinese food than just your typical rice and chow mein. Here, you will find that each region in China has its unique characteristics. For instance, there’s Beijing cuisine, Cantonese cuisine, Schzetzuan, Hong Kong and so many other distinct regions all of which can be entirely different from one another.
Cantonese is most likely the type of cuisine you associate with Chinese food outside of China. This is because this is the region from which most Chinese immigrants from around the world have originated from. This is where you will see the origins of your Barbeque Pork, Pork Chow Mein, and other classics. It’s also the origin of a little less known Chinese delicacy- Dim Sum.
Dim Sum is characterized by small dishes. Here, the dumpling reigns supreme. You can find any number of steamed, fried, and sauteed dumplings with an unending plethora of sizes, shapes, and compositions. You will also find delicacies such as Chicken feet and steamed frog.
If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in San Francisco, there are many dim sum places throughout the city which provide an authentic dim sum experience. One such style of serving dim sum is where the servers visit each table with their carts of dim sum, and you just take what comes by, and they stamp your menu after which you pay at the very end. Each plate offers one or two dumplings are range from $2-$5 dollars, and you can select as many as you want.
Other than this most famous region of Canton, other popular regions of Chinese cuisine include the hot and fiery region of Sichuan, the origin of the nuclear Sichuan pepper and the signature dish, the Sichuan Hot Pot. Another lesser-known regional style is Jiangsu style which boasts a plethora of simmered, braised, and stewed dishes rather than the more well-known stir-fry dishes of the south.
Whatever the region, this one country has made its mark on world cuisine the world over. No other world cuisine in the world is as well traveled or as easily identified as Chinese cuisine. Even with modern cities where you can experience the world of flavors in your own backyard, Chinese cuisine still tends to dominate as the most identifiable and infamous.
Dragon House restaurant, Riverside, CA.
AUTHOR: Elyse Brown