Get to Know Your Chinese or Just Keep on Ordering Your General Tso’s Then

After an exhausting holiday trip “down the shore” with the little DARLING devil children to the Delaware beaches, nobody wants to cook, grill or light a match on this muggy Independence Day eve. So we are ordering Chinese….how American of us!

Pizza? Fuggedaboutit!

However, despite the All-American irony of the local fare in my neighborhood to choose from (Chinese, Pizza, Thai, Sushi, Irish Pub food & Cheesesteaks), I am concerning myself with fixing an issue that I notice every time I order Chinese food – which isn’t that often anymore, but still.

Why can’t I remember what the difference is between Hunan, Szechuan, Cantonese and Peking style?

And what’s Gong Bo or Tai Chen?

Preparation? Particular sauce? I know the names usually pertain to a particular style from a particular geographical location, but alas, that is not enough to go on. I need to know more!

Well, it’s time to clear this matter up, because how can I taste anything new and delicious if I don’t know what it is?

And I know I’m not the only one sitting in ignorance! So let’s do this…

Szechuan: Choose if you want a bold, pungent and often spicy cuisine (think bright, powerful flavors, color of sauces vary from brown to reddish depending on chili oils, etc). Preparation generally contains dried or preserved ingredients, including the famous Sichuan peppercorns, which give it a tingling-numbing attribute coupled with other complex flavour combinations. My dish this very evening was Sezchuan Shrimp and it was made with broccoli, green bell peppers, onions, snow peas and water chestnuts and the famously spicy brown sauce. Mostly known for it’s spicier representatives, szechuan style cooking has a vast variety of dishes composed of  “sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty” flavors, but not all dishes are necessarily spicy. Well-known dishes include Kung Pao (also known as Gung Bo) Chicken/Shrimp/Pork and the less flamboyant Dan Dan Noodles. If you don’t know what Kung Pao is, it’s delicious, it comes with peanuts and if you’re lucky, red bell peppers instead of green for a beautifully colored dish.

Hunan: Choose if you want  hot spicy flavor, fresh aroma and deep color (think spicy, brown sauces, and sometimes savory or tangy flavors). Known for its liberal use of chilli peppers, shallots and garlic, it is considered “dry hot”, spicier than Szechuan by pure chili content, containing a larger variety of fresh ingredients with smoked and cured goods and is a bit more oily. Because the Hunan region has more variety of produce, the dishes reflect that and can change ingredients with the seasons.

Peking: If this is listed as a “style” on your menu, I imagine it means your meat is in or served with a sweet & savory,  or fruity sauce akin to Hoisin or Plum sauces. This pertains to Americanized Chinese cuisine of course, so “Peking” style could mean either the type of sauce used, how it is served or both. If I ever try the shredded pork Peking style, I’ll let you know what the hell that means. According to Chinese Food DIY, “This mouth-watering cuisine is renowned for its use of the best ingredients. Its flavors are influenced by highly flavored roots and vegetables such as peppers, garlic, ginger, leek and coriander (“Chinese parsley”). The food of this northerly city [Beijing] is substantial, to keep the body warm. Noodles, dumplings, and breads (baked, steamed or fried) are served instead of rice.” Peking Duck, the most famous dish, is prepared by slathering a maltose syrup over the skin of a fat-flushed, dried duck and roasted specially in a closed oven until the skin turns its prized thin and crispy texture. It is then served with pancakes, spring onions and a sweet Hoisin sauce, which reminds me of Moo Shu dishes (only that’s plum sauce, not Hoisin). Wiki says, “Foods that originated in Beijing are often snacks rather than full courses…There is emphasis on dark soy paste, sesame paste, sesame oil, and scallions, and…There is a lesser emphasis on rice as an accompaniment than in many other areas of China, as local rice production is limited by the relatively dry climate.”

Cantonese: Choose if you like a more fresh approach to the mingling of your meats and veggies. Dishes are often lightly stir-fried or steamed, and are not generally spicy. Traditional Cantonese chefs say “the flavors of a finished dish should be well balanced, and never greasy. Also, spices should be used in modest amounts to avoid overwhelming the flavors of the primary ingredients, and these primary ingredients in turn should be at the peak of their freshness and quality.” There are plenty of cooking methods, like soups and noodle dishes, and even a small number of fried dishes. Check out the link, because really there is just too much variety to list, thanks to it’s origins in a trading port city.

Black Bean Sauce: Choose this if you like black bean sauce ! LOL Ok, no really, obviously there are black beans in the sauce, but this is no ordinary black bean. The sauce gives whatever meat/veggie/noodle you choose a savory flavor with extreme little bursts of tang every time one of those little black bean bombs explode from your bite onto your tongue. This is a good pick for men’s health nuts as it contains a plethora of protein when you pair it with a meat.

Garlic Sauce: Order this if you like freakin garlic, okay? Well this should be obvious, but it’s not the same as an Italian meal, obviously. Garlic sauce is usually moderately spicy but not necessarily numbing like Szechuan or thick and brown like Hunan.

As with all things American, it’s not going to be the same everywhere unless it’s a chain, so I’m sure the veggies chosen to accompany the protein and the sauce will vary.

Well, that about wraps it up (I am so trying very hard not to make a terrible pun using spring rolls). Get out your phone and try something new at a Chinese joint sometime and good luck with your quest for Double Happiness!! (Check it out! Double exclamation points!!)

Published in: on July 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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