Friday, July 4, 2008

Chinese Food, Part One: Introduction

(This is part of a series of posts on our recent trip to China. We'll be posting throughout the summer as we bum around at or near home.)

Well, Nana and I are back in North American and slowly overcoming 12 time zones worth of jet lag, which means it's time to start tackling our enormous backlog of China posts. We'll start with the food, for no other reason than the fact that I need more time to work on the other photos. (And, um, I really love food.)

Chinese Regional Cuisine

In case you haven't noticed, China is huge, and local cuisine varies dramatically by region, from Korean food in parts of Manchuria, to Thai-style food in the south and southwest, to Persian- or Central-Asian-style food in the West, all Chinafied, of course.

In the US, most Chinese food is of the Hunan or Szechuan varieties--the first spicy-sweet (think General Tso's Chicken), the second spicy--with liberal doses of Cantonese in major cities and on the coasts--seafood, white sauce, dim sum, and sweet-and-sour pork. This is because most Chinese immigrants to the US come from these regions, bringing their home cooking along with them.

During our trip, we visited two regions whose cuisines aren't generally known in the US. In the northeast, we ate Dongbei (literally "northeastern") food, characterized by an abundance of pickled and fresh vegetables, milder hot sauces (with stronger pepper flavors), grain-based noodles and potatoes (rather than rice-based noodles or rice), game meats, and lots of green onion, ginger, and vinegar. Dongbei cuisine, and especially the Beijing subset, which draws flavors from a wider variety of regional Chinese cuisines, also includes a lot of Mongolian and traditional Manchurian foods, such as hotpot and, yes, Mongolian/Korean BBQ.

In Beijing and in Xian, we also ate Western Chinese food, which is heavily influenced by the Muslim populations along the Silk Road. Xian cuisine features a heavily Chinafied version of far-Western Xinjiang fare, characterized by lamb kebabs, spicy wheat noodles and stews, and a kind of sesame flatbread a lot like Indian naan.

We'll show you samples of all of these foods, plus a few other oddities, though we'll start with the humble dumpling . . . stay tuned!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back In Seoul

Nana and I staggered back to our new apartment in Wolgye-dong, Nowon-gu, Seoul in the wee hours of this morning--look for Nana's second installment of "Landing at Incheon Is Harder Than You Think" sometime later today.