First things first: if you’re expecting the kind of food served in your average European or American Chinese takeaway, think again. The national cuisine is extraordinarily broad, complex and flavourful, with eight major schools (or regional styles) of cooking all apparent, namely Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong (Cantonese), Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang.
These styles are named after their areas of origin – some are highly spiced, while others are subtler. Many dishes have long histories, dating back to imperial times, and it’s common for large numbers of ingredients to be used. Rice and noodles are both common staples, while dairy products are very rare. In the better restaurants, real importance is given to how dishes look when presented.
Peking duck: Roasted and eaten in a thin pancake with cucumber and a sweet plum sauce.
Mongolian hot pot: A Chinese version of fondue, usually eaten communally. It consists of simmering soup in a large round pot, into which is dipped a variety of uncooked meats and vegetables.
Jiaozi: Steamed dumplings, typically filled with pork or other meat, and chopped vegetables.
Kung po chicken: A classic Sichuan dish, marinated with chillies.
Dim sum: Small portions of food served in steamer baskets, usually involving dumplings and rice noodle rolls.
Stinky tofu: Fermented tofu, often sold as a snack.
Shanghai hairy crab: Considered a delicacy in eastern China.
Oyster omelette: A speciality of the Fujian region.
Hainanese chicken rice: A Hainan dish also popular in Southeast Asia.
Baijiu: A strong alcoholic spirit, also known as sorghum wine.
Tsingtao: The most common of China’s beers, similar to German lager.
Still not officially approved of, tipping is becoming more commonplace in China. It is usual in tourist hotels and restaurants, and with tour guides and drivers. A service charge is often added by restaurants in large hotels.
Although China has no minimum legal drinking age, a ban on the sale of alcohol to under-18s was introduced in January 2006.