While you may associate Chinese food with your favorite restaurant dish, like fried rice or chicken lo mein, Chinese cuisine includes many diverse foods from the expansive country's different regions and culture groups. As with many international cuisines, there is no one dish central to Chinese cooking. Chinese food differs from region to region based on culinary techniques, local ingredients, and traditions.

Kung Pao Chicken
Credit: John Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr

Chinese Takeout at Home: Kung Pao ChickenHave you ever wondered why East Asian food tastes completely different from the food so familiar to us in America? Food scientists from Cambridge and Harvard found that Western dishes tend to combine ingredients with similar flavor compounds, like onion and garlic or butter and vanilla. Asian dishes do just the opposite, leaning toward contrasting combinations like soy sauce and rice vinegar or honey and hot red chiles. The stark flavor contrast in East Asian dishes creates more excitement on the plate, which explains why people love it so much!

Common ingredients in Chinese cooking include sesame oil and seeds, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, wasabi, and both fresh and dried chiles. Rice is an ancient and essential part of Chinese cuisine, with symbolic significance in many communities. Soybeans, vegetables, and tea have also been used in Chinese cooking for thousands of years and are lauded for their medicinal purposes.

Chinese food is widely available all over the US, but have you ever tried making it yourself? It's easy! Ditch the takeout box tonight and fire up your taste buds with these Chinese dishes:

Steamed Vegetable Sui-Mai Dumplings with Chili-Sesame Oil
Credit: Randy Mayor; Styling: Cindy Barr