Safe eating while travelling in China
Chinese food is varied and delicious and it's tempting to try everything when you get there, comparing your favourite takeaway dishes with the real thing (or the version that spawned the copy you know and love). However, this can sometimes cause tummy upsets as your digestive system gets used to the sudden change in diet. To avoid getting ill when eating in China, follow these simple rules:
Firstly, start taking a probiotic a week or two before travelling and continue to take daily once in China. Secondly, ensure any food you order is piping hot when served and only buy food from street stalls where the food is cooked in front of you. Thirdly, avoid raw meat, salads and raw vegetables, which are washed in poor quality water, which runs the risk of contracting Hep A. If in doubt, follow the crowds - the more popular a dining establishment, the better the quality of food.
What's the food like in China?
Chinese cuisine falls into four major regional categories: Cantonese (Guandong) - this is the cuisine of worldwide fame and its most popular export is dimsum, Shandong - notable for the quick frying method of cooking, Szechuan (Sichuan) - known for its spiciness and use of pepper, and lastly Huaiyang, which liberally uses vinegar and leans toward sweeter flavours. To these four can be added four more culinary traditions: Hunan, Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang. Sometimes, Beijing and Shanghai cuisine are also counted. The variety and style of cooking in China is amazing, as are the ingredients.
It's important to understand that Chinese cooking in China is different from Chinese food served in the West, and in most cases is far superior. What may come as something of a surprise to many first-time visitors is the tendency of Chinese cooks to use all of the animal. Fish is usually cooked whole after removing the guts and entrails. The head remains on, and if anything, takes on a decorative appearance on the dish. The cheek of the fish is considered a delicacy that meal participants will vie for. It's not uncommon to find the chicken's head, feet and sundry vitals floating in the soup tureen. Bones are often cut up into the food rather than removed.
In many restaurants, dishes of food are placed onto a glass rotating 'lazy Susan' for the table of diners to share and chopsticks are the utensils of choice though knives and forks can be requested in most restaurants. Steamed rice, if ordered, is usually served near the end of the meal, whilst fried rice is considered a main course.
The Chinese excel at noodle-based dishes. They appear in soups and can be boiled, crispy, short, long, fat or thin. Shaanxi Province is famous for its noodles and on most visits to Xi'an you'll get a chance to see the preparation of noodles by trained chefs and actually try them in delicious soups. Every conceivable type and cut of meat is used including offal, and seafood is highly recommended. Vegetables feature in all dishes and fruit usually forms the very last course of a banquet. Indeed, vegetarians are, for the most part, well catered for though sauces and broths tend to be cooked with fish sauce or stock made from meat so it's best to check before digging in to eat.
Did you know? Using chopsticks involves over 30 joints and 50 muscles in the fingers, wrist, arm, shoulder as well as thousands of nerves so do as the locals do and try eating all meals with a pair for a mini workout.