As promised, I’m back for the second installment of Decoding Chinese Food. If you didn’t get to see last week’s post.. Click Here. This week, I’ll talk about possibly confusing cooking methods and oddly named dishes.
Many of the most common or famous Chinese cooking methods can be confusing.
In the west, braising involves searing meat, adding liquid, then slow cooking in the oven. In China, braising is the same, except the dish is slow cooked on the stovetop. Red braising is braising, except soy sauce and plenty of sugar is added until the sauce is sticky, thick and sweet.
When most people, including me, see this for the first time they’re probably imagining a healthy, but boring and bland dish. It is neither. Water boiling (usually beef and chicken) is a fairly popular SiChuan method that involves first water boiling (duh!) the meat, then drowning it in spiced and very spicy oil
鱼香（ fish fragrant)
Despite the name, so called fish fragrant dishes do not include fish. The “fish fragrance” come from the addition of oyster sauce and fermented bead paste. This combination gives the dish, which would otherwise be a simple stir-fry, a whole lot more depth of flavour
烤 （grilled, baked…)
There is nothing really confusing about the term “烤” itself. Rather, it’s quite difficult what restaurants mean when they use the term. For example, 烤羊腿 could refer to roasted, baked or grilled leg of lamb. (menu translations are usually not accurate). Get this: when a Chinese restaurant offers “烤鱼”, it’s not refering to grilled, roasted or baked fish. Chinese “grilled fish” actually involves pan frying the fish, then stewing it in stock and hot oil like soup, except there’s very little liquid。
Misleading Food Items
I saved the best for last. There are some delicious and famous dishes with strange sounding, even disgusting names. Here are a few of the more important ones.
Lion’s Head (Meatballs)- 狮子头
No endangered animals were harmed in the making of these meatballs. These are one of southern China’s most famous dishes. They are huge, usually 4-5cm in diameter, pork meatballs. Sometimes crab or crab roe will be mixed in. The dish is usually red braised
猫耳朵 （Cat ears)
Asians are infamous for eating animals such as dogs and cats, but this dish does not contain cats, or even meat. It’s actually boiled pieces of dough，which can be served in soups and stir-fries. The dough is cut so that the pieces roughly resemble ears.
夫妻肺片 （Husband and Wife Lung slices)
Again, Chinese people love nose to tail cooking, but there are no lungs in this dish- human or otherwise. This dish is a popular SiChuan dish consisting of marinated (Chinese style), thinly sliced tripe and beef, which is then doused in plenty of hot oil.
麻辣炒手 (Spicy stir fried hands)
When I first heard of this dish, I was imagining a plate of spicy, stir-fried pork trotters. I was disappointed to find out 麻辣炒手 was actually wontons in peppery hot oil. I don’t know how wontons are supposed to resemble hands, but the name stuck
Well, that’s it for this post. I hope it was helpful and see you next week!