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I'm interested in learning how to cook some authentic Chinese dishes. Aside from being trained by a native chef, what are some good ways to learn?

Going past simply recipes, I'm particularly interested in learning about what characteristics make the food "authentic," and how I can invent new dishes that would still be considered authentic style.

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This is probably too broad and argumentative. Is it Chinese food if my Chinese mother-in-law fries up some bok-choy? Is it not Chinese if I do the same thing? What about making egg swirl soup with Green Giant creamed corn? –  Ward Jul 16 '10 at 21:32
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1) learn to cook hotdogs. 2) teach a chinese person to cook hotdogs. 3) cook hotdogs like the chinese person you taught to cook hotdogs cooks hotdogs. 4) enjoy authentic chinese hotdogs. –  Shog9 Jul 17 '10 at 0:19
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I'm inclined to agree with Ward. I'd like to add something else though. I see that you are American. I don't know what you mean by authentic, but as a fellow American I'd like to point out that Americans generally have no clue what authentic Chinese food even is. On top of that our palates are very different. I was on a trip to Shanghai once and I tried a couple of things from a street vendor that I can't name. They were not good at all. Yet there was a line of 20 Chinese at any given moment. –  hobodave Jul 17 '10 at 0:19
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So, I hope you aren't looking for "authentic" Chinese General Tso's or Kung Pao chicken, because those don't really exist. Those are American Chinese dishes and as varied as the wind. Note that the intent of my comments is advisory, I'm not making any assumptions about what your meaning was. –  hobodave Jul 17 '10 at 0:22
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I'm actually going to vote to close this. This hasn't been mentioned yet, but this topic is especially broad because Chinese isn't even well defined. China is a huge country with well over a billion people speaking as many as 10 different mutually unintelligible Chinese dialects, and as many if not more varied and significantly different cuisines. I suggest doing some wikipedia research and maybe fine tuning your question a bit, or asking a new more targeted one. –  hobodave Jul 17 '10 at 0:32
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closed as not a real question by Aaronut May 7 '11 at 11:10

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4 Answers

As many others have pointed out, this question is too broad. However, I do sympathize with you, it is seriously difficult to learn about the food that is actually eaten in China outside of major cities in the USA.

On thing you should keep in mind:

There is nothing that unifies Chinese cooking

  • Should Chinese food be served with rice? It depends
  • Should you use rice, wheat, or egg noodles? It depends
  • Should you use soy sauce, oyster sauce, MSG etc? It depends

My advice would be to focus on a single province; learn the sauces & dishes from there. IOM Hunan food is seriously underappriciated in the USA.

Apart from that here are some warning signs that what you are reading about might not be 'authentic':

  1. Breaded & deep fried meats
  2. Wade-Giles romanization instead of pinyin (For example szechuan instead of sichuan)
  3. You can buy all the ingredients in a supermarket
  4. Ingredients are > 60% meat
  5. Vegetarian recipes
  6. Dairy
  7. Raw vegetables
  8. Dessert items

These are not hard-and-fast rules but things that are rare in Chin but common in American-Chinese cooking.

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I'm an Asian American who grew up in the States but came from a very Taiwanese family (and visit quite often). And in my experience, only "authentic Asians" like "authentic Asian food". Obviously there are exceptions, but realize it's authentic because people grew up eating it.

One example is the pickled radishes. They're gross. But because people in Taiwan were too poor to get something better, it ended up in tons of dishes and you inevitably eat it whether you want to or not. Now I love it, but I can easily see why people who weren't forced to eat it would think it was foul.

My intention is not to hate on the fact that you're foreign to authentic Chinese cuisine, but rather to inform you not to worry about what is or isn't authentic. Just eat what tastes good and be okay with the fact that you might not like eating what other Chinese people eat.

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My fiancee's family is first generation Chinese-American. About half of the extended family live in China and only speak Mandarin. :) I don't get to see them often, but for the occasions I do this is a supurb way to make a better impression (considerably easier than mastering the language). I picked up some books - I'll add a review answer if they pass the test. –  280Z28 Jul 21 '10 at 5:26
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I love the Yan-Kit's chinese cookery book. I'm not chinese, but it feels authentic to me....

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Time to visit the cookbook section of your local bookstore. Plenty to choose from there in the way of getting started with Chinese cooking.

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