When I was younger, when I thought of a Chinese restaurant, what came first to mind was the decor. They often had such a sense of mystery, with paper lanterns, gilded dragons and woodwork engraved with flowers and hummingbirds. Now, I am more concerned with the quality of the food, but I still love to find a place where both the food and the decorations are top notch.
Another favorite thing about Chinese restaurants is that you can find them just about everywhere. From Europe to Canada to South America and everywhere else on the globe that Chinese people have immigrated to, you can find these restaurants. When traveling, they provide a welcome change from local cuisine, as well as a sense of familiarity. You often find that the flavors will have been modified slightly for the local palate.
As you would imagine with a country so large, there are many different styles of Chinese cuisine. As with many areas, they are often influenced by the climate. Given its size, China varies greatly in the weather experienced from one area to another.
The first Chinese who immigrated to America were generally Cantonese. They came here to escape home and also to find work. In the early days, this was often on the railroads. However, they also brought with them their culture.
As more and more Chinese came to the States, Chinatowns began springing up in larger cities, such as San Francisco, where there was a concentration of Chinese. These areas created exotic spots for non-Chinese to go and get exposure to such sights as acupuncturists, herbal apothecaries, Kung Fu and, of course, food.
Because of the immigrants, Cantonese was the first style of Chinese food in the United States. Among the typical Cantonese dishes are all the famous sweet and sour options. Cantonese chefs use a variety of cooking methods including stir frying, roasting and steaming. The Cantonese also brought with them the custom of dim sum, which a type of dumpling or pastry with a variety of possible fillings. If you are lucky enough to live near a dim sum restaurant, these are especially popular as a form of Sunday brunch.
Later, waves of immigrants came from other areas of China, bringing with them other varieties of Chinese food. One of the best known is Szechuan, a very spicy type of cuisine from the largest province in China. As this area was along trading routes, it had outside influences from places such as India, well known for their hot spices. Szechuan food makes use of peppercorn and chili peppers as well as onions and garlic.
Many Chinese restaurants now have selections from a variety of the Chinese cuisine types. This gives you a chance to sample the different styles and find out your preferences. Because the dishes often come in large portions, they are perfect for a group to order a number to share. Whether you have never tried Chinese food, it has been a while or you just had some yesterday, there is sure to be a Chinese restaurant for you to try near you.