Chinese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine in the United States, with around 45,000 restaurants across the country, according to the Chinese American Association.
However, how many of them actually serve authentic Chinese dishes?
In general, fast-food eateries like Panda Express are a westernized version of Chinese food. If you’re looking for more authentic flavors and dishes, you might need to research authenticity before stepping into a restaurant.
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If you are looking for a true, authentic Chinese meal, there are key things to look out for next time you order.
Here are a few key obvious indications your dish is or is not genuine.
- What are the main ingredients?
- How is the food cooked?
- Is the food served family style?
- Is the atmosphere authentic?
- Did the wait staff serve tea?
- Is the menu U.S.-modernized?
1. What are the main ingredients?
Authentic Chinese food is typically filled with flavor and an abundance of ingredients. If your meal contains a lot of processed foods and few ingredients, chances are it is not an authentic dish.
There are five different flavor categories that Chinese food typically falls into. These are salty, spicy, sour, sweet and bitter. Ingredients like ginger, garlic and scallions, all fresh of course, are common ingredients used to make traditional Chinese food.
2. How is the food cooked?
Cooking methods are important to an authentic Chinese meal. Typically, an authentic Chinese chef will use cooking methods that are passed down through generations. The cooking method is typically longer and more detailed, rather than whipped together quickly with shortcuts.
The main cooking methods used in traditional dishes are boiled, steamed, braised or baked, according to China Highlights.
3. Is the food served family style?
When authentic Chinese food is served, it is typically presented in a family style arrangement, versus individually served to each person.
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This generally means that food is served in the middle of the table on a Lazy Susan. That way, guests can easily access the dishes and pick from what they’d like.
4. Is the atmosphere authentic?
When you walk into a Chinese restaurant, the surrounding ambiance can be a giveaway to whether you are eating authentic genuine Chinese food or not.
Places serving authentic dishes usually have a very welcoming feel to them. Red is a color typically used to decorate much of the space, as it is the national color of the country.
Gold is another color often used as accents on lanterns that are commonly added to the restaurant space.
5. Did the wait staff serve tea?
Tea is almost always the first thing served at an authentic Chinese restaurant.
Most of the time, it is served without any additional fixings and is known to aid digestion.
6. Is the menu U.S.-modernized?
There are many food items that have become known as Chinese dishes over the years, but they fit more of an Americanized version of the cuisine.
Popular foods like General Tso’s chicken, egg foo young, orange chicken and even the beloved fortune cookies aren’t considered to be traditional Chinese food.
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When scanning menus of different restaurants, if you see these sorts of items, or variations of these foods on the menu, you’re probably not going to get an authentic meal.
On the other hand, foods like kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, chow mein, spring rolls, wonton soup, peking roasted duck, hot pot and chicken fried rice are all among popular dishes in China.
If you see a lot of these types of dishes on the menu, there’s a better chance that your food is authentic.
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