Chinese cuisine may be famous throughout the world, but localized versions of the country's iconic dishes just cannot compare to the originals. No trip to the Middle Kingdom would be complete without trying these top five dishes, from spicy Szechuan tofu to Shanghai's world-renown soup-filled dumplings.
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Xiao Long Bao
Particularly famous in Shanghai and Wuxi of China's Jiangsu province, xiao long bao are little dumplings steamed in bamboo baskets. The dumplings are filled with a juicy mixture of meat, vegetables and spices as well as a steaming hot soup, which can burn an unsuspecting diner if they're not careful. The trick is to nibble a hole in the skin and drink the soup first before chomping down on the dumpling in one mouthful.
Many believe Peking duck originated in Beijing (formerly romanized as 'Peking') over one thousand years ago. For this dish, the duck is seasoned before being roasted whole in a large, high-heat oven, producing thin, crispy skin and tender, succulent meat. Peking roasted duck was a favorite of the Imperial family since before the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and eventually became a favorite of the upper classes as well as visiting dignitaries by the 1700's. China's oldest Peking duck restaurant, Bianyifang, was established in 1416 and continues to serve up this regional favorite in the capital to this day.
Xinjiang's lamb kebabs are one of the region's most famous dishes, consisting of marinated meat cooked over charcoal on metal skewers, often served with flatbread. Xinjiang Province is located in Western China, on the border with Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the region's cuisine is influenced by the mishmash of ethic minorities living there. Lamb kebabs are an example of Uyghur cuisine, a minority ethnic group related to Central Asian populations in Afghanistan, who are native to the Xinjiang region.
Mapo doufu or 'mapo tofu' gets its name from the chef who created it, who, according to some stories, was a cook at a tofu specialist restaurant with the surname Ma, hence 'ma po', meaning 'the wife of Ma'. The dish hails from Sichuan Province, and consists of soft tofu stewed in a spicy, flavorful sauce made from fermented broad bean paste and black beans, Szechuan peppercorn and scallions. The most classic version of the dish includes bits of beef, but there are also pork or vegetarian variations of mapo doufu.
Hong Shao Rou
Rumored to be the favorite of the late Chairman Mao, hong shao rou or "red cooked meat" is a classic dish of braised pork belly cooked in sugar, Shaoxing wine along with light and dark soy sauce. The dish gets its name from the color of the sauce, which cooks to a rich shade of reddish brown when done correctly. Some recipes include additions like egg, tofu or boiled squid rings.
Chinese cuisine is loved by people from all over the world, from the steamed dumplings of Jiangsu Province to tender Beijing roasted duck, spicy Sichuan tofu to flavorful braised pork belly. These top five dishes are a must-try when visiting China.