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A culinary tour of China: Chop suey, fried rice, kung pao chicken, siu mai and more

Taste your way through China with Ching-He Huang's savory dishes.
/ Source: TODAY

Chef, cookbook author and television personality Ching-He Huang is joining TODAY to take us on a culinary tour of China in honor of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Huang is cooking up dishes from Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan and more. She shows us how to make chop suey with oyster sauce, ham and egg fried rice, kung pao chicken, zhajiang noodles, Peking-style duck, cabbage-wrapped pork meatballs and steamed siu mai dumplings.

Oyster Sauce Chicken Chop Suey

This is a Beijing-meets-Canton-style chop suey. "Chop suey" in Cantonese is "cap sui," which means pieces of mixed vegetables. This easy and delicious dish uses leftover ingredients and is quicker to make than ordering takeout. Whenever I eat Chinese leaf, it reminds me of the Shandong Province, with their obsession with leafy cabbage vegetable — a symbol of peasant food. Oyster sauce was created in Guangdong and is a secret umami weapon I cannot live without in my cupboard. The oyster sauce makes the chicken super moreish and works so well with the Chinese leaf, which lends a delicious, sweet bite once softened — a perfect pairing! The wok juices are perfect tossed with egg noodles or drizzled over Jasmine rice.

When I first tried this dish in a Hong Kong café, it had Chinese ham, peas and pieces of scrambled egg, and it was super delicious washed down with a cup of Yuanyang tea. I'm using honey-roasted ham cubes, but you can use bacon if you wish; just cook it until crispy first before you cook the rest of the dish. Whenever I have this dish, it takes me back to Hong Kong.

Kung Pao Chicken

This is a dish from Sichuan that has a distinctly sweet and sour chile flavor. It was invented by Ding Baochen who was governor of Sichuan despite being from Shandong. This dish, also known as "gong bao" (which means palatial guardian), was named after him. It should be numbing, spicy, sweet and tangy from the Chinkiang black rice vinegar.

Beijing Zhajiang Noodles

Zhajiangmian translates to "fried sauce noodles" and is traditionally made with fresh hand-pulled noodles. It is a classic Beijing dish. There are many different variations — some are saucier than others — but I like the traditional Zhajiang noodle, which is slightly drier. I also prefer to add minced garlic as well as traditional leeks and ginger for the aromatics, including Shaoxing rice wine, Sichuan peppercorns and chile oil. I use smoked lardons instead of traditional belly pork (known as the "five layers of heaven," a reference to the skin, fat, meat, fat, skin) because of its smoky-salty cured flavors.

Peking-Style Roast Duck

This is one of my favorite recipes to cook for a large crowd. It's great for sharing; just set it up in the middle of the table, carve and let everyone help themselves. The traditional Peking duck is marinated is coated with a maltose-vinegar solution, but I like to use honey, dark soy, Chinese five spice and brown sugar. It enriches the flavor of the duck skin and caramelizes it. Serve with store-bought wheat flour pancakes with cucumber and spring onion.

Lion's Head Meatballs

This dish originated from Shanghai, and it is said that it was an imperial dish that the emperor ate. It is called lion's head meatballs because it is large in size — some as large as a small tennis ball, some as large as a fist. The meatballs are marinated, deep-fried and then braised in a simple stock with cooked-down Chinese napa cabbage. The meatballs resemble the head of the lion, and the curved napa cabbage wraps around the meatball, resembling the mane. My mother cooked this dish when we were younger and told us that we would be as strong as lions if we ate it.

Siu mai is an open-face dumpling with pork and prawn filling usually served in a bamboo basket. A dim sum favorite, siu mai is healthier than other dumplings because they're steamed instead of fried. Dim sum is a Chinese tradition that came out of the Silk Road, originating from the Guangdong Province (formerly Canton). Teahouses opened up to serve travelers with teas and snacks served in bamboo baskets, giving them their "yum cha" break.