There are significant regional differences in cuisine in China. What Americans consider to be “Chinese food” is what mainly comes from the southern parts of China, mostly Cantonese styles. There is, of course, Beijing’s signature Peking Duck (delicious), and some abundant dumpling restaurants to be found in Beijing and other cities in northern China. If you have a less adventurous palate and prefer to stick to what might be more Westernized, then Cantonese food might be more suited for you. There are some very good hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over, and if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon one that turns out to be what you’d been looking for, complete with the very familiar fried rice, egg rolls, lo mein and steamed dumplings you would see here in the States.
Beyond the restaurant scene, the local grocery stores might also be worth a browse. A trip through the Chinese grocery can be an interesting and educational venture, as there are so many different things you might have never seen before. And for the record, there seems to be absolutely no soy sauce in China. No joke. So if you really like it, you should consider bringing your own. There are a lot of good local snacks and some familiar-looking foods, such as what would appear to be Chinese ramen- in flavors like shrimp and hot pot. There are also plenty of Western products given a regional and local twist. Try potato chips in varieties like Italian meat flavor, cucumber, blueberry, hot pot and beefsteak, or Oreos that come in mango, green tea and wild berry. They might not sound appealing, but they’re certainly worth a try.
The Western restaurants are also worth perusing; although they seem unauthentic, many have their own adaptations. Pizza Hut, for example, has some dishes and pizzas customized to local tastes. Try some miniature octopus on your pizza for a change! You never know what variations you might find in these seemingly mainstream and Western chains.
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