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It is said that food often heals the body and soul. A mutual love for food can bring people together. It’s also an easy topic to discuss and start an open dialogue with your students. With a population of 1.38 billion, China has one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. There are so many regions and ethnic groups within the country that it would take a good while to go through the nuances of each delicacy and cooking style! But there are many aspects of Chinese cuisine and food culture that are overall consistent throughout the nation.
For example, it is very typical for Chinese people to eat in a group rather than by themselves. Tables are usually set with a large serving of rice, then a few other dishes are put in the middle to share. This is known as family-style dining. In addition, there are many dishes that are popular across China but may have different variations based on the region. Here are a few popular dishes that are staples in China that you should definitely know about!
Ma Po Tofu
Ma Po Tofu is a major staple dish in Chinese meals. Allegedly named after the creator of the dish, a woman with prominent freckles from over a hundred years, Ma Po Tofu features soft tofu cubes in a red thin sauce of chili oil and minced meat. It originates from the Sichuan region, which is known for its spicy food, and it’s typically eaten with rice. This is not a difficult dish to cook at home, so it is easily enjoyed by many!
Hot Pot is the go-to dish to share on cold evenings with friends and family. The mass appeal of this dish lies in its versatility and customizability. Restaurants allow customers to pick one of many broths as a base then order a variety of vegetables and meats to cook in the broth. With a bowl of rice readily available, people ladle broth and cooked food into bowls to eat with rice and they relish in the multitude of flavors steeped in the soupy concoction. Needless to say, on chilly nights and with good company, hot pot hits the spot for many.
As you may have seen in recent Western media featuring Asian experiences, like the movie Crazy Rich Asians and the animated short Bao, dumplings are an integral part of Chinese culture and cuisines. For both special and everyday occasions, Chinese families make dumplings at home with different fillings and in different styles, like steamed dumplings, soup dumplings, pan-seared dumplings, and fluffy stuffed dumplings. But these aren’t just eaten at home. Office workers can easily find a delectable plate of dumplings in convenience stores for lunch or at street food carts. Dumplings aren’t simply popular in China—they are interlaced in the Chinese lifestyle.
Peking Duck is one of the most popular dishes served for special occasions in China. The dish composes of roasted duck, slices of bread or thin pancakes, and chopped cucumbers or shallots. The skin of the duck is cooked to be crispy, but the meat is moist, and despite the amount of fat in duck, the dish is not greasy. It originated from Beijing, but multiple Chinese regions will have their own variations on how they cook, serve, and eat Peking Duck. For example, sometimes slices of crispy duck skin is served with a small saucer of sugar that the skin should be dipped in. No matter how restaurants serve and cook Peking Duck, the delicacy is well-renown in China and the rest of the world.
Another street food dish, Jianbing can be compared to the French crepe or a stuffed pancake. The pancake batter can be made of wheat and grain and/or mung bean batter with egg and then it can be filled with several different ingredients components, such as a spicy sauce, scallions, sausage, peanuts, mung beans, and more. This inexpensive dish is typically eaten for breakfast, however, because it is so filling and rich, it can also be for lunch if it’s too heavy to start the day. But it is popular with many in China because of how inexpensive it typically is, how it’s served fresh and warm, and how it’s packed with nutrients. It’s also easily accessible and found in many cities.