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6 Chinese Foods You Won’t Find in China

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Chinese food is beloved in every corner of the world. But if you ask someone outside the Asian continent what constitutes “authentic” Chinese, they might not be able to answer (correctly, at least). An American might say crispy sweet and sour pork, while someone from the West Indies may mention jerk chicken lo mein.

Of course, defining “authentic” food in any context is tricky. Sure, the dishes below may not be part of an age-old Chinese culinary canon, but they are authentic products of the Chinese immigrant experience — and we, the rest of the world, are grateful for them.

As Chinese immigrants dispersed and formed communities throughout the world, they yielded diverse takes on Chinese cuisine using the ingredients at hand, and tweaked for local palettes. Here are six Chinese dishes to try on six different continents.

1. United States: General Tso’s Chicken

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General Tso’s chicken (source: Depositphotos)

General Tso’s is a new-age classic of pseudo-Chinese cuisine. Sweet, tangy and deep-fried crispy chicken chunks cater to a distinctly American palette – but the dish is nowhere to be found in any shape or form in China. Where does it come from? Who is General Tso?

The original recipe is commonly attributed to Peng Chang-kuei, a banquet chef of the Nationalist government who fled to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War, and later opened a restaurant in New York City where he reportedly created the dish. The name is a reference to the Qing dynasty military leader Zuo Zongtang, but the reasons why are unclear. General Tso’s Chicken — and its brothers, orange and sesame chicken — form the golden trifecta of American Chinese fast food.

Related:

The Legend of American Chinese Food: 8 Dishes and Their Authentic Counterparts

2. Peru: Lomo Saltado

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A dish of lomo saltado (source: Depositphotos)

Lomo Saltado is a classic Peruvian dish that’s become a staple of the nation’s diet, but its origins are in chifa cuisine. (The word is a transliteration from the Cantonese for “cook/eat food.”) The chifa culinary tradition arose when immigrants from southern China arrived in Peru in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, modifying their favorite recipes to accommodate the local ingredients and creating one of the first true fusion cuisines in the process.

Lomo Saltado is a stir-fry that varies from place to place, but generally includes strips of sirloin, tomatoes, onions and French fries over rice. A haphazard, but drool-worthy mix that should be on your must-eat list if you visit Peru.

3. Australia: Chiko Roll

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A still from the Chiko Roll commercial (source: YouTube)

Australian sporting snack history was changed forever when food vendor Frank McEnroe saw a Chinese cart outside a cricket stadium selling eggrolls. What if, he dared to dream, there were a stronger, sturdier alternative that could withstand the drunken terror of an Australian sports event?

Thus the Chiko Roll was born. Originally marketed as the Chicken Roll, the meat-based – though decidedly chicken-less – snack was first introduced at the 1951 Wagga Wagga Agricultural Show, and lives on today as a crowd favorite.

4. Holland: Tjap Tjoy

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A dish of chop suey, which became tjap tjoi in Holland (source: Depositphotos)

Holland’s colonial history has yielded Dutch-Chinese food that is inextricably entwined with Indonesian influences. Soy sauce meets satay sauce in this inter-Asian culinary free-for-all — even the Dutch probably couldn’t tell you where one ends and the other begins.

Thousands of years of elegant culinary norms are tossed out the window to make room for maximalist, surf-meets-turf dishes that satisfy the hearty cravings of Dutch customers. When Chinese food landed in the United States, it became chop suey.

When it landed in Holland, it became tjap tjoy — an even heartier, vegetable-heavy version born from the tradition of Dutch stews. This dish brings together the ungodly forces of Chinese noodles, vegetables, chicken, and sometimes even shrimp — which gives us the dish tjap ha — all drenched in satay sauce. Eat enough of it, and you too might grow to reach the size of the average Dutch person.

5. Trinidad: “Chinese-Style Chicken”

In the 19th century, after the British abolished African slavery in Trinidad, Chinese indentured servants began arriving to fill the labor void. They brought their cooking with them, and the result was an eclectic mix of spices, sauces and flavors that can still be seen in one of Trinidad’s most popular dishes, which locals refer to simply as “Chinese-Style Chicken.”

The chicken is marinated overnight in dark soy sauce and five-spice, then deep-fried to a warm, crispy, chestnut color. Tartness from ginger and lime is a must, and the bi-national flavors of Chinese oyster sauce and scotch bonnet pepper sauce complete the dish.

6. India: Paneer Schezwan

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Paneer sczechwan (source: Depositphotos)

Indian-Chinese cooking has existed for a long time, originated in the Hakka Chinese communities of Kolkata. The style adapts select Chinese cooking and seasoning techniques to Indian tastes, yielding dishes the likes of which mainland China has never seen.

Paneer Schezwan, a dish using Indian cuisine’s famous soft cheese, is no typo — most Indian kitchens use this spelling rather than the contemporary pinyin, “Sichuan.” Indian dishes with names like Schezwan and Manchurian correspond only loosely with their original counterparts, but the idea is there. Indian Schezwan dishes often use a sauce containing Indian red chilies and garlic, and sometimes even Sichuan peppercorns.

As dairy is uncommon in most Chinese regional cuisines, Paneer Schezwan is a perfect example of the liberating new ideas that can be born from this kind of cross-cultural intermingling.

Related:

Boycott Indian-Chinese Food? For Most Indians, That’s Unthinkable

Header image: Depositphotos

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers. He blogs about China and Asia on Instagram: @this.is.adan