As we gear up for Adam Liaw's most incredible and inspiring Destination Flavour adventure yet, we uncover a few highlights and whoa delights from one of the most influential cuisines known to humankind - Chinese.
Did you know...
There's no such thing as just Chinese food
If you think you know a fair bit about Chinese food because your local takeaway menu is on high rotation at home, then guess again. The variety of Chinese foods on offer will absolutely blow you away as "every region has a cuisine with its own, very different taste," says Adam Liaw. There are hundreds of regional cuisines in China and falls under eight key classifications, with each style belonging to a major Chinese Province - Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zheijang. Each of the eight greats holds their own food powers thanks to their environment, history and political landscape, and each style has its own approach to food, etiquette and art.
Before prosciutto and jamón, there was Jinhua
Jinhua ham is China's best-kept secret and perhaps the most famous ham in all of China. The history of curing meat goes back thousands of years and in Jinhua, they've been doing it for a millennium. Many people believe that Marco Polo took the secrets of Jinhua ham-making back to Europe in the 13th century and gave them things like pancetta, prosciutto and jamón ibérico. It’s the salting process that’s the trickiest to get right, with only skilled ham masters knowing the correct salt-to-weight ratio and the perfect temperature for curing.
The restaurant scene is super-fly
100 dishes can have 100 different flavours - that is what Sichuan cooking is all about. And 'fly' restaurants are really casual eateries that have diners eating outside. They're a Chengdu institution - fast, frantic, open-air and no frill little, these little restaurants are located along alleyways with small tables spilt onto the street and the name comes from the reputation that these little restaurants attract people like flies.
What's ketchup go to do with it?
The southern coastal province of Fujian is where the ketchup story is said to have originated. The Hokkien word 'ketchup' is a kind of Anglicisation of kê-tsiap, the name and condiment coming from fermented fish and soy sauces that were in abundance throughout Asia. It is said the British encountered these sauces in the region and took some of the sauces from Hokkien cuisine and tried to replicate them using umami-rich ingredients using mushrooms or tomatoes, and the rest is history.
Chop suey doesn't actually exist in China
It's probably the most famous Chinese dish and it isn't even Chinese - chop suey: Anhui cuisine became famous around the world for a dish that doesn't even exist there, chop suey. Chinese politician and Anhui local came to America. Chop suey means 'bits and pieces'. Cantonese restauranteurs in America created the smash hit Chop Suey, which you can find in America, around the globe and yes, even now in China. And for such a popular dish there is no fixed recipe. Ingredients have to be chopped, then braised in a rich chicken stock and there has to be soy sauce. The process of cooking the dish is very simple, all the ingredients are stir-fried separately and then mixed back into the pot and stewed in the chicken stock.
AUD$1000 per kilo of tea later
On the outskirts of Hangzhou City in the Zhejiang Province, valleys are covered with tiered tea fields producing Longjing tea (Dragon Well), considered by many to be the finest tea in all of China. After picking, these tea buds are air-dried and roasted and this green tea has a delicate aroma and mellow taste. Adam visits Meijiawu, the largest buds-producing area in the West Lake region and the highest-quality tea Longjing teas sell for more than AUD$1000 a kilo. Choose your cuppa companions wisely.
Use your wok to rock your caffeine hit
In a country renowned for its tea, the island of Hainan has a strong coffee history, Migrants from Hainan travelling to Malaysia and Singapore are credited with building southeast Asian coffee culture, as Hainanese people also enjoy it with sugar and condensed milk. Instead of dry-roasting the beans, they are traditionally wok-fried in butter over bamboo. They are then mixed with a pitch-black caramel and then roasted for a second time to create a complex bittersweet and rich coffee, similar to a classic shot of espresso, but stronger.
And what's Adam's kryptonite? Cantonese egg tarts...
And ours is his Chinese chinotto
Get ready to bask in a Chinese food bounty like no other as Adam Liaw's brand-new series Destination Flavour China starts from Wed, 28 Nov at 7.30pm on SBS, with an encore Sundays at 9.30pm on SBS Food (Channel 33) and then after broadcast via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #DestinationFlavour on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood and Twitter @SBSFood. Check out sbs.com.au/destinationflavour for recipes, videos and more!
Destination Flavour China is sponsored by Cathay Pacific. For more information, please visit cathaypacific.com.au
This classic Cantonese dish is quick and easy to make but it does require some hefty gas-heat in order to cook properly. If you’ve ever watched wok-cooking in a restaurant, where the flames are prodigious, you’ll know what we mean. It’s best to cook this for just 2 people, as home gas supply isn't grunty enough to cook bigger quantities without the food stewing. If you want to make more serves, simply cook a separate batch.