Land of plenty
The world's most populated country hosts a myriad of cuisine styles that go far beyond egg rolls and fried rice-here's how to distinguish Sichuan from Cantonese and where to go for a local taste.
Cantonese refers to the dialect spoken in the southern region of China, specifically the Guangxi and Guangdong provinces, but it is also the term for the type of Chinese cuisine most commonly found in the U.S.
General flavors Mild combinations of soy sauce, sugar, salt, rice wine, corn starch and oil are used to stir-fry or steam fish and vegetables. Garlic, ginger and green onion are the primary flavoring additions. Meats like pork, goose and duck are commonly rotisserie-cooked, while whole chickens are slowly simmered in broth, the finished liquid eaten as soup. Deep-fried and steamed buns, rolls and dumplings are collectively known as dim sum, a breakfast tradition Hong Kong is famous for.
Classic dishes sweet-and-sour pork, steamed fish, beef chow fun, salt-and-pepper squid, char siu (barbecued pork), red bean soup (dessert), congee (rice porridge), shark fin soup
Try it at Phoenix (2131 S Archer Ave, suite 2, 312-328-0848) or Shui Wah (2162 S Archer Ave, 312-225-8811)
People who identify with this subset of the Han ethnic group live primarily in the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Jiangxi. Their cuisine is often lumped in with Cantonese and shows up in Cantonese cooking mostly via dishes that incorporate preserved foods.
General flavors Texture is a major focus of Hakka cooks, who often braise or stew meats until they reach a “melt-in-your-mouth” consistency. Traditions of drying/preserving/fermenting everything from tofu to greens to shrimp result in intensified flavors and an often savory quality best described as “funky.”
Classic dishes salt-baked chicken, stuffed tofu, dried shrimp, 100-year egg (preserved egg), sliced pork belly with preserved mustard greens
Try it at Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant (1132–34 W Argyle St, 773-769-1254). Sun Wah is best known for Cantonese staples like char siu and beef chow fun, but the menu also features a couple of Hakka dishes, namely salt-baked chicken and “homestyle” tofu, bean curd that’s stuffed with a mixture of salted fish and ground pork, fried, then stewed in an oyster-soy sauce.
Thanks to a proliferation of night markets on this Chinese island, movable feasts are common, and as the majority of Taiwan’s residents migrated from the Fujian and Guangdong provinces, the snacks are somewhat an amalgam of those regions.
General flavors Spices are rarely used; instead simple seasonings of soy, rice wine and sugar are common. Not surprisingly given its island status, fruits and seafood are popular; beef, not so much. Pork is often turned into sausages, and nearly everything that can be stuck on a stick or wrapped to make portable is.
Classic dishes oyster omelettes, tea eggs, stinky tofu, bubble tea, rice and blood sausage, savory-filled crepes
Try it at Saint’s Alp Teahouse (2131 S Archer Ave, 312-842-1886)
Also called Beijing cuisine because of the capital city’s stronghold on the style, Mandarin cuisine is an amalgam of cooking traditions from various northeastern provinces, from Mongolia to Shandong.
General flavors Sesame oil, dark soy, garlic and ginger are used liberally in cooking methods like stewing and roasting. Snacky foods are eaten throughout the day, and noodles, breads and dumplings are more common than rice. The colder northern climate produced warming dishes like Manchurian hot pot, as well as a fondness for pickling and using mutton as a central ingredient.
Classic dishes Peking duck with pancakes, lamb with cumin and bell peppers, pickled cabbage with dried tofu, sweet-and-sour spareribs, hot pot
Try it at Ed’s Potsticker House (3139 S Halsted St, 312-326-6898) or Lao Beijing (2138 S Archer Ave, 312-881-0168)