As Deborah Cater nicely summed up in a few words, you have to taste a culture to understand it. China, the land with 4 thousand years of history is no short of exquisite food culture. It will be hard to cover it all—You will need a few weeks at least to experience different provinces in order to gain some appreciation of the culture in China through its vast variety of local cuisines. However, spending a few days in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong will give you a bit of a taste of what this gem in the Far East can offer.
Beijing, the capital in the north of China, with its forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace, is noble and impressive. Beijing is a city that is built on a grid, like New York—if you ask a local for direction, a true Beijinger would often instruct you to head west/east, instead of turning left/right. There are countless hutongs, which are alleyways local to Beijing, which are hidden in between the forever-widening avenues of Beijing. I grew up in a house inside a hutong—to this day I still find them wonderfully fun and interesting to explore. What to eat in Beijing? Beijing’s Instant-Boiled Mutton Hot Pot (shuan yang rou), through which you appreciate the true natural flavour of good meat, which makes a healthy and sociable meal, and tells you a story from a thousand years ago war-time northern China/Mongolia. There is the Beijing roast duck (kao ya), not the crispy shredded type one would find in the western world like in London Chinatown, but the juicy (melting in your mouth) type with the paper-thin and crispy skins. There is also steamed dumplings (jiao zi), what the locals have for Chinese New Year. I still think spring and Autumn to be the best times to visit Beijing. Alternatively, visit during Chinese New Year for quieter streets and (a lot of) beautiful fireworks that will light up the sky at high. However, be prepared to dress for the cold weather.
Shanghai used to be a tiny fishing village in the east of China, but it has now become a financial heavy-weight. Shanghai has a beautiful river (the Bund) running through the city, which is lined with international banking corporations, restaurants, high-risers all competing to be titled the tallest building in Shanghai, and is very popular amongst the visitors. The cuisine of Shanghai is known as the Huaiyang cuisine, which is derived from the native cooking styles of the region surrounding the lower reaches of the Huai and Yangtze rivers, and centered upon the cities of Huai’an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province. The foods here are wonderful and colourful. Here is a few family (secret) recipes to whet your appetite…
Hong Kong tells a different story. It’s a multicultural densely-populated city built on an island. Now most people speak both Cantonese and Mandarin, and most restaurants and shops on Hong Kong Island have staff fluent in English. Where to stay? Four Seasons hotel. What to do here? Shopping, eating, visit Ocean Park and Disney World. What to eat? Seafoods, and dim sums! There are a good selection of Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from too.
Come and visit China, and dive into its wonderful culture and local cuisines. Come hungry, and leave hugely satisfied.