Chinese dishes to order which aren’t sweet and sour chicken. So most people know that the Chinese food you get from a standard British Chinese takeaway is basically a version of Chinese food which was created to adapt to the palates of British people at the time. None of it is really stuff that British Chinese people traditionally ate at home, although that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a sweet and sour chicken from time to time.
Here, I thought I’ll go through some of my favourite dishes which you can order the next time you go to a Chinese restaurant. This is mainly focused on Cantonese cooking, as this was the food of the first wave of Chinese immigrants into the UK, thus making it the most popular. This is also the type of food I grew up eating.
Chinese names, pronounciation and audio
I have put the Chinese names of food items for anyone wanting to find the words in their menu. These are pronounced differently depending on the Chinese dialect used. As I speak Cantonese, I have added the Canto-English version also.
If you wish to know how it’s actually pronounced, check out Microsoft Translate/Bing either on the web or as a mobile app (Apple / Android), as this has audio output in both Mandarin and Cantonese. Just put Chinese Traditional or Cantonese (Traditional) into both sides of the translator to hear the audio translation.
Considerations for ordering and eating style
When you go to a traditional Chinese restaurant, the plates of food are shared in the middle. The eating style is akin to having a roast dinner at home. You don’t order just roast potatoes and eat that by themselves (although you might be tempted to!). You order several dishes and eat elements from each dish over the course of the meal. Think of it as a mezze or tapas even.
With that in mind, it is important that the dishes have a bit of contrast from each other, otherwise, you might as well be eating the same dish. As the plates are quite big, I’d consider maybe one dish between 2-3 people. One portion of rice is usually sizeable so I’d say one portion between 2-3 again unless you eat a lot.
For this reason, gather a sizeable group ahead of time or be prepared to take some of the leftovers home with you! Chinese restaurants are very good at this and it is fairly common practice. Just ask for a box if you didn’t bring your own. Order at least one protein-heavy (eg poultry, pork, beef, seafood, tofu) dish and one veg dish.
Chinese dishes to order
Roast Meat 烧味
Have you ever seen the hanging meat from the restaurant window? Those are the roast meats that are very popular amongst the Chinese diaspora. These are located in the 烧味 (siu mei) section of the menu and the most popular roast meats are
- roast duck served with the bone 燒鴨
- roast belly pork (siu yuk) 燒肉
- honey BBQ pork (char siu) 叉烧
You can usually get these served on top of a bed of rice (faan) 飯, egg noodles, crispy (chui mein) 脆麵 or soft (chau mein) 炒麵 or without any carbs (in which case, you normally get more meat on the plate).
These three are so popular in the Chinese diaspora, it is sometimes referred to as literally “three roast” 三燒. But don’t be calling them this in say, Hong Kong. They’ll just ask you which three you mean?
Other types of meats, usually served with the bone, include:
- soy sauce chicken 豉油雞
- poached chicken 百切雞 (served cold with a dipping sauce)
- poached chicken in herbs 貴妃雞 (served with a spicy sauce)
In Manchester, I recommend the following places for roast meats:
- Happy Seasons (Dai Ga Lok) 大家樂
- Jade City (Chui Wah) 翠華
- Manchester Chinese Restaurant (Man Sing Lau) 曼城樓
Stir-fried greens 菜類 (Choi Leoi)
Balance is everything so if there’s a meat-heavy dish, go for some stir-fried greens. These are usually stir-fried with ginger and garlic, or plain. Sometimes you get fancier options, like stir-fried with shrimp paste, oyster sauce or preserved tofu and chillies.
Here are some stir-fried greens:
- Chinese broccoli (Kai Lan) 芥蘭
- Morning Glory (Hong Sum Choi / Ong Choi / Tung Choi) 空心菜 / 蕹菜 / 通菜
- Choi sum 菜心
- Pak/Bok Choi 白菜
- Broccoli (Sai Lan Fa) 西蘭花
- Chinese mustard (Kai Choi) 芥菜
- Iceberg lettuce (San Choi) 生菜
If this is your first time ordering, I highly recommend choosing from the first three in the list with garlic.
I hope you enjoy the start of this series. I do plan on making a dim sum specific one in future too!