China is awash with tantalising, taste-bud-tickling cuisine, each region, and often each city, owning its own unique sumptuous flavour. For serious wow factor, prepare your taste buds for a fresh adventure on this gastronomic tour of China
Racing towards the future, yet inextricably linked to its past, Chinas capital is a unique combination of the ancient and the contemporary. Beijing is also a foodies heaven and dining out is a key part of social culture among Beijingers; the many different dishes and restaurants you will encounter in this city will reveal the sheer joy locals take in eating. In the Chinese north, wheat is the staple, as opposed to rice, so you will find many more dishes which include pancakes, noodles, steamed buns and dumplings here. But the epitome of Beijing cuisine is the highly esteemed imperial dish of Peking Duck, and if you had just one dish to try whilst in the capital this would be it. Thin crispy skin, and succulent roast meat, served with an array of sauces and accompaniments, this simple dish is a delicious classic among Chinese food.
In 2010 Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, and with restaurants and street vendors serving up mouth-watering dishes and snacks on every street, its hardly surprising. Being capital of the Sichuan province, naturally the hot and spicy Sichuanese cooking technique reigns supreme. Renowned dishes such as Kung Pao chicken, Sichuan hotpot and tea smoked duck are the main specialities. But first-hand experience of this fiery cuisine is essential, re-creating it outside of China is a struggle. For example, when making the classic mapo tofu (spicy bean curd) only in northeast China can you get the specific organic beans which produce the most fresh and tender tofu; the exact peppercorns needed can only be harvested in Hanyuan County in the southwest of Sichuan, as they are known for their lasting taste; the soul of Sichuan cuisine, the broad bean paste, should only be from Pixian country. But even beyond this trio of core ingredients, there are still 20 more to begin to adequately produce a delicious dish of mapo tofu. This is a place where food is taken seriously and made to perfection.
A show-stopping skyline, a dynamic cultural landscape, a dizzying array of glitzy malls and side-street boutiques and a legendary kitchen. Hong Kong has long been an entrepôt between east and west, and so is restaurateur to the world. One of the worlds top culinary capitals, there are rumoured to be over 60,000 restaurants meaning that you can eat out three meals a day for ten years and never eat at the same restaurant twice. Cantonese, Sichuanese, Japanese or French, so deep is the citys love of food and so broad its culinary profile, whatever your gastronomic desires are, Hong Kong will be able to satisfy them. Whether you head for a steaming bowl of Cantonese wonton noodles, freshly steamed dim sum or the artistic creations of the latest Michelin starred chef, the city worships the God of Cookery and each kitchen has its own culinary demon.
Dreamy West Lake panoramas, lush green hills and delicately manicured gardens, Hangzhou is one idyllic city. Immortalised by poets and emperors alike, the city has intoxicated the imagination of China for centuries. Its no wonder that the cuisine then mirrors this classical and serene Chinese image. Characterised by its light flavours, pretty presentation and delicate preparation methods, Hangzhou produces sumptuous dishes that are crisp, tender, light and fresh. The city is renowned for using fresh seasonal ingredients, freshwater fish and fresh seafood. Unique local dishes include West Lake fish in sweet and sour sauce, shelled shrimp with Dragon Well Tea (a local tea grown in the mountainous region of Longjing), West Lake water shield soup and dongpo pork. These light local delicacies are certainly a treat for the taste buds to behold.
James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel.
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