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Introduction to How to Make Authentic Chinese Food at Home

Introduction to How to Make Authentic Chinese Food at Home

March 5 2024

The internet is full of tutorials on how to make authentic Chinese food at home. With our personal experience, we want to add a bit more clarity for home chefs who want to make a full authentic meal, whether you have 30 minutes to spare or 30 hours to create an entire feast.

It’s possible to make good authentic Chinese food at home—and frozen soup dumplings are an easy part of the equation that you can store away in the freezer. However, if you’re looking for a full meal alongside your dumplings and noodles, here’s what you need to know.

First: What Makes a Type of Chinese Food Authentic?

“Authentic” means a lot of things to a lot of people, especially in a food culture as rich and diverse as Chinese cuisine. China has many different culinary regions with different climates, flavor preferences, and histories, so any dish originating in China could be considered authentic.

For example, dishes originally from northern China are more likely to use wheat as a starch. In turn, because rice grows more easily in the south, you’re more likely to find southern dishes that use rice than wheat. This climate-based phenomenon also influences the regional nature of Chinese cuisine.

The Eight Great Traditions (and More)

You might occasionally hear foodies and culinary historians refer to the Eight Great Traditions in Chinese cuisine. These encapsulate different regions of China with their own unique food traditions, much like how you’ll find a very different set of dishes in New England than you would at a Soul Food restaurant in the Deep South—but both of them are American.

At a glance, the Eight Great Traditions include:

  • Anhui (徽菜): This cuisine from around the Huangshan region focuses on preserving the original flavor of the food. Tofu is a big player in this region.
  • Shandong (鲁菜): This is one of the oldest Chinese cuisines, and one of the most influential. Its dishes are known for having many different cooking techniques and a salty, savory flavor profile.
  • Fujian (闽菜): Located between the mountains and the coast, Fujian cuisine features a lot of seafood and a particular emphasis on umami flavors in its dishes.
  • Sichuan (川菜): Spice fiends, this one’s for you. Sichuan cuisine is famous for being spicy and garlicky, featuring Sichuan peppercorns as a focal point in many dishes.
  • Guangdong (粤菜): This is one of the most familiar cuisines to anyone who has been to an American Chinese restaurant. It uses a lot of dumplings and dim sum, in addition to dishes that are sweeter overall.
  • Jiangsu (淮扬菜): Originating north of Shanghai along the coast, Jiangsu cuisine emphasizes the use of seafood and seasonal ingredients. A lot of soup dishes in Chinese cuisine come from Jiangsu cuisine originally.
  • Hunan (湘菜): Hunan cuisine originates in southern inland China and is known for being hot and spicy while using multiple different types of pickles for added sourness.
  • Zhejiang (浙菜): Zhejiang cuisine is known for being fresh and soft with mellow fragrances and a heavy use of seafood. Soup dumplings also originated near here in Shanghai.
  • Grandma Knows Best

    Regardless of cooking traditions, just like with the rest of the world’s great food cultures, many Chinese Americans know that the best real Chinese food is what their grandma makes at home.

    Chinese grandmas have been cooking for their kids and grandkids all their lives, and they’ve had decades to practice and perfect their craft and know it by heart. They also aren’t shy about changing the ingredients to match personal preferences.

    That being said, the truest form of authenticity involves making it yourself. We usually follow the recipes our grandmas have had stored in their minds, and what we slowly picked up after watching them as kids. You’ll find a few of our favorites below.

    Chinese Pantry Staples to Have On Hand

    Before you start cooking any type of Chinese food, whether it’s a main dish or a side, there are certain things we recommend having in your pantry and refrigerator to make your life easier before you pull out your wok or frying pan.

    Chinese Dipping Sauces

    Whether you’re making a batch of soup dumplings or trying a new way of marinating chicken, having Chinese dipping sauces elevates your whole meal.

    We’ve taken our classic sauce trio and remixed it into something that adds flavor to every dish. With our sweet and tangy Dumpling Dipping Sauce, handcrafted Chili Crunch, and Ginger & Scallion Umami oil, each Chinese dish you make will have a unique and unforgettable flavor profile!

    Cooking Wine

    Also called Shaoxing wine (绍兴黄酒), this is one of the secrets most Chinese restaurants use to make their food taste so good. Nothing tastes quite as good as the real deal.

    Sichuan Peppercorns

    Sichuan peppercorns, also called hua jiao (花椒), are dried berries known for their presence in five-spice powder, chili oil, dan dan noodles, and beyond. They have a tingly spiciness to them that’s tricky to replicate with other spices.

    Hoisin Sauce

    This sweet and salty condiment is a staple in Cantonese cuisine, where it’s often used to glaze meat or elevate stir-fried dishes.

    Dried Chili Peppers

    These are an aromatic staple and a sign you’re cooking real Chinese food. Chefs add these to the pan or wok early in the process to add fragrant heat to the final product.

    Black Vinegar

    A staple for making dumpling dipping sauces, black vinegar or Zhenjiang xiang cu (镇江香醋) has a milder flavor that cuts through the rich flavor of meat and balances out savory or fatty ingredients.

    Both Light and Dark Soy Sauce

    There are several types of soy sauce—and they have different flavor profiles. Light soy sauce is generally saltier and used to flavor all types of dishes, while dark soy sauce is mellow and often used to provide color or add depth to the flavor profile of different dishes.

    Sesame Oil

    Made from sesame seeds, sesame oil has a distinctly nutty flavor that makes it a unique addition to everything from stir-fries to dipping sauces. A little goes a long way!

    Chicken Stock Powder

    This is a flavor-boosting powder that’s a bit different from the bouillon you’ll find in most American-style supermarkets. While those usually have herbs or vegetables, Chinese chicken stock powder has a purer chicken flavor that elevates anything it touches.

    MSG

    You might see this listed on ingredient labels as “monosodium glutamate.” This ingredient has been the victim of an unjustly bad reputation for decades, even though it’s in everything from bacon and salami to cheeses and tomatoes. It also adds an extra layer of umami to your food, making it essential for dozens of Chinese dishes.

    Easy Authentic Chinese Dishes for Weeknights

    If we listed every single easy and authentic Chinese dish you can make at home, this post would be the length of a novel. These are a few of our favorites when we’re in the mood to make some homestyle Chinese cuisine. Even better—you can whip up most of them in 30 minutes or less.

    Mapo Tofu

    Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a spicy, mala-filled classic from Sichuan. It consists of ground pork or beef, fermented black beans, and firm tofu. This oily and savory dish is a quick fix for lighting a fire under your weeknights since it’s ready in a matter of minutes and pairs beautifully with white rice.

    You might see this dish appear frequently on Chinese takeout menus, but most restaurateurs will market it as a vegetarian dish because so many people associate tofu with vegetable dishes. However, the ground meat is traditional!

    Fried Rice

    This is the Chinese answer to getting rid of leftover odds and ends in your pantry and fridge. It’s fast, easy, and can be tailored to your exact tastes, whether you like the main protein to be spam or you want to go more traditional with dried scallops and green onions.

    Stir-Fried Tomato and Eggs

    This is the classic midweek dinner for many a Chinese grandma since it’s easy, cheap, and quick to make—plus you can customize it to be either sweet or savory depending on your preferences. Simply combine seasoned scrambled eggs with a gingery tomato sauce and eat it alongside rice and your favorite type of soup dumplings for a complete meal.

    Three-Cup Chicken

    Three-cup chicken, or sanbeiji (三杯鸡), is a classic dish from Taiwan that uses three main ingredients for the sauce. Simply cook up soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil with chicken—or sautéed eggplant or oyster mushrooms if you want to make a vegetarian version—and serve it alongside your favorite soup dumplings or Chinese noodles, and you’ll have dinner in a matter of minutes.

    Authentic Chinese Veggie Dishes for Any Meal

    No Chinese meal is complete without some veggies on the side. Here are our favorites to have ready alongside our favorite authentic weeknight Chinese entrees, soup dumplings, and noodles.

    Smashed Cucumber Salad

    This one’s a classic at restaurants like Din Tai Fung for a reason—it adds freshness, spice, and a tangy kick to everything it touches! Just be sure to use seedless cucumbers, because that makes a surprising difference in the taste.

    Stir-Fried Bok Choy

    This is the classic pair of denim jeans at the Chinese dinner table—it pairs with just about everything. Simply stir fry some young bok choy in a ginger and garlic sauce, and you have a healthy side dish within a matter of minutes that does well as leftovers.

    Green Beans

    Another classic for any mom trying to get their kids to eat their vegetables, these green beans are flash-fried, garlicky, and the perfect way to get some extra color on the table in a matter of minutes.

    Other Stir-Fried Veggies

    Have some bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, or pumpkin leaves and flowers that you found at the farmers market? Any of these are good candidates as stir-fried vegetable side dishes for a truly authentic Chinese meal. Whether you’re cooking Dan Dan Noodles as the main event or an elaborate feast for the Lunar New Year, there’s almost always a vegetable of some sort on the Chinese dinner table.

    Chinese Dishes for Special Occasions

    Steamed Fish

    For some Chinese-American families, a whole steamed fish is a dish made for holidays, birthdays, graduations, bar mitzvahs, or the season finale of The Bachelor. It’s a simple but elegant dish that’s flaky and juicy and filled with an aromatic sauce. However, it’s a bit labor-intensive if you want to cook it traditional style and somewhat expensive if you want to spare yourself from gutting it at home, so a lot of us save it for special occasions.

    Lion’s Head Meatballs

    Even if you take out all the preparation time and just focus on the cooking, this dish can take almost two hours to make. However, these gigantic braised meatballs are worth every second and pair beautifully with stir-fried bok choy.

    Braised Eggplant

    Braising in general takes a long time compared to other ways of preparing Chinese veggie dishes. However, there’s nothing quite like the sweet and salty taste and silky texture of eggplant, especially as a contrast to the umami in the first few bites of a plate of soup dumplings.

    Homemade Dumplings

    Making homemade dumplings is a great way to pass an afternoon or spend time together with your family—because it takes a long time to make and benefits from teamwork. However, if you’re all together for the holidays, there’s nothing quite like taking the first bite of a potsticker you all worked together to make, especially when you pair it with other dishes like our soup dumplings or Chinese noodles.

    What to Buy: Frozen Chinese Food Online

    While it’s a great experience to make certain authentic Chinese dishes at home, certain things are just better to buy and leave to the experts. Here are a few examples.

    Frozen Authentic Soup Dumplings

    We compiled every dish on this list knowing that they pair well with our frozen soup dumplings. When you buy frozen soup dumplings online from us, we can help you get a taste of the authentic Chinese experience, without having to put 30 or more years of work into mastering the perfect soup dumplings like we had to do with our parents.

    Frozen Chinese Noodles

    If you’re not in the mood for rice, we’ve still got you covered. We’ve mastered three different types of Chinese noodles that make the perfect pairing for any dish on this list that’ll match perfectly with savory, salty, spicy, and any other flavor profile.

    We’ll Take Care of Dinner

    Want one of the most essential parts of an authentic Chinese meal? Order your soup dumplings or Chinese noodles today and we’ll make it that much easier to experience a meal worthy of Grandma’s cooking skills.