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'Chinese' Food You Won't Find in China

We've gathered together 10 dishes, along with their origins, that you'd be hard-pressed to find in China.
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When you think about Chinese food , what comes to mind? Heaping platters of lo mein, beef with broccoli, and General Tso's chicken, most likely. But should you find yourself on a slow boat to China, when you arrived you'd be inundated with a highly regionalized, unimaginably vast selection of dishes that bear shockingly little resemblance to what you'll find at your neighborhood Chinese takeout joint here in the States. We've gathered together 10 dishes, along with their origins, that you'd be hard-pressed to find in China.

It seems like every small town in America has two types of establishments, without fail: an Irish pub and a Chinese restaurant. Some Chinese restaurants are full-blown affairs, complete with "Oriental"-sounding music and wall decorations that evoke the Far East.

Sweet and Sour Pork
Click Here to see The Complete List of ‘Chinese’ Food You Won’t Find in China This dish is a take on China’s sweet and sour fish, but the sauce is completely different: American sweet and sour sauce contains tomato paste, which isn’t used in China, and ismuch sweeter than anything you’ll find there. You probably won’t find those little nuggets of battered and fried pork there, either. Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock
Egg Foo Young
The real version of egg foo young is actually an egg pancake with crispy, frilled edges, and it bears no resemblance to its American counterpart. It is believed that the version we see in restaurants was created by Chinese-American chefs who worked in logging or on railroads, and simply mixed together eggs and vegetables. Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock
Beef with Broccoli
Click Here to see The Complete List of ‘Chinese’ Food You Won’t Find in China Broccoli is a Western vegetable that you won’t often find in Asia. In China dishes do exist that combine beef with Chinese broccoli, called gai lan, but the vegetable is completely different, as are the dishes’ flavor profiles. Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock
Orange Chicken
Orange chicken is a spin-off of General Tso's, but sweeter. Although the Chinese have a dish called orange chicken, it’s completely different (not at all sticky and messy) from what we find in the States. Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock
Egg Drop Soup
Click Here to see The Complete List of ‘Chinese’ Food You Won’t Find in China Egg drop soup is the American take on a dish called egg flower soup, which is not found in many restaurants in China. The main difference between the two is that the American version of egg drop soup contains cornstarch. Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

Others are about as hole-in-the-wall as it gets, with only a few plastic orange booths, a counter, and a photo-heavy menu board above it. One thing they all have in common, though? The menu, which has become so predictable these days that most people order without even looking at it.

However, real, authentic Chinese food thankfully isn't impossible to find in America, but you'll need to travel to Chinatowns in the big cities in order to find it. Should you happen upon an authentic Sichuan restaurant, you'll encounter hot and numbing dishes like mapo tofu along with twice-cooked pork and tea-smoked duck. At an authentic Hunan restaurant you might find stir-fried meat with chile peppers, braised pork, and stewed beef with rice noodles. And at a Cantonese restaurant (what a lot of "Americanized" Chinese cuisine is based on), you'll find roast pork and duck, steamed fish, congee (a type of porridge), and preserved duck eggs. As you can see, there's a ton of variety when it comes to real Chinese food, and regional specialties vary, in some cases, from village to village.

So the next time you find yourself in Chinatown, stop into a local establishment and order something you've never eaten before. It'll broaden your horizons in more ways than you might realize. In the meantime, keep in mind that you'd be hard-pressed to find any of these dishes in China.

-- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal

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