For ten joyful episodes, Adam Liaw has affably ambled his way around China, introducing us to locals doing remarkable things with food. The same remarkable things they've been doing for centuries in the provinces that developed China's eight great regional cuisines, and in the provinces that were mysteriously overlooked for this badge of honour.
Take a foodie tour through China's incredible diversity, recipe by recipe.
Though we all want to buy a ticket and hop on a plane to China tomorrow, sadly that's not an option for the majority of us. So it's a good thing that Adam has carefully left a recipe trail for us to follow. Take a foodie tour through China's incredible diversity, recipe by recipe.
Adam calls zhajiangmian the "Beijing bolognese". It's eaten by everyone, from peasants to nobility. Pork mince is flavoured with aromatics spring onions, ginger and garlic, then tian mian jiang, a sweet bean sauce, adds punch. This super-simple dish is served over noodles, with julienned cucumber and spring onions added for freshness.
This recipe from the mountainous province of Anhui is a reminder that authentic Chinese cooking doesn't have to be complex, or even contain many ingredients. It doesn't get easier than a 15-minute stir-fry, but do buy the freshest -preferably organic - ingredients you can. That way, with one mouthful and closed eyes, you'll be transported to the lush, earthy Anhui mountains.
Jiangsu: Yangzhou fried rice
Adam says that the secret to a good Yangzhou fried rice is "finding a good chicken". The chicken is used to make the stock to cook the rice in. Cook the rice the night before, leaving it uncovered in the fridge to lose some of its moisture. Get all of your ingredients sliced and ready to go. Then it's all a matter of some super fast wok work to get this dish on the table. Master the toss.
Shanghai: Lion's head meatballs
Pork meatballs the size of cricket balls are browned, then gently braised in a fragrant broth. The result is tender, juicy, gently flavoured meatballs you'll make again and again.
Shandong: Shandong roast chicken
Watch Adam cleverly achieve a crispy skin on his roast chicken using a hairdryer. It's a game-changing technique you could pull out for getting a proper crackling on your pork, too. But back to this Shandong roast chicken recipe: it's a classic crispy skinned roast, punched up with ginger, soy and Shaoxing wine. Serve it with a sauce of black vinegar, soy, sugar, garlic and chilli.
Yunnan: Bai-style grilled pork
Sheng pi - which literally translates as, raw skin - has been a popular dish for centuries. Marco Polo wrote about it following a Yunnan province visit in the 13th century: "The gentry also eat their meat raw; but they have it minced very small, put in garlic sauce flavoured with spices and then eat it as readily as we eat cooked meat”. You may be happy to know that this Bai-style grilled pork recipe is for the cooked version of this ancient dish.
Sichuan: Mapo tofu
Literally meaning “pock-marked old lady tofu”, this dish has to have one of the least complimentary names in all of the Chinese cuisine. Using Chengdu’s famous Pixian chilli bean paste, mapo tofu has become a classic of Sichuan cookery and we can thank Fuchsia Dunlop for imparting her culinary pearls of wisdom. It’s very easy to make, too.
Fujian: Hokkien noodles
This is a "simple dish, that tells an amazing story," says Adam. "It's the story of Fujian province, a place where the mountains meet the sea." Pork and vegetables combine with prawns and squid to bring rich flavour to thick noodles. Once the ingredients are prepped, the cooking takes about 15 minutes, tops.
Hong Kong: XO sauce
While it seems that the ubiquitous XO sauce has been around since ancient times, it was actually only developed in the 1980s. The Liaw family recipe retains the requisite chunky texture that makes XO sauce so delicious. In this version, Adam adds some lemongrass to up the aromatic ante even more.
While you can't beat a good Hainanese chicken, we couldn't go past this luxe oyster dish. Tomalley is the name given to the digestive organs of shellfish like crabs and lobsters. A dish like this proves that there are some very tasty ways to use the whole food when cooking. It's the Chinese way, after all.
Bask in a Chinese food bounty like no other with Adam Liaw's brand-new series Destination Flavour China. Wednesdays at 7.30pm on SBS, replay at 9.35pm Sundays on SBS Food (Ch 33), then later 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