Coming from a Chinese background, I’m always annoyed when people associate takeout food with the authentic stuff from China. Everyone should have the opportunity to taste real Chinese food. Believe me, it’s completely different from the greasy, sauce-drowned and Americanized dishes you order from your average takeout place.

Traditional Chinese cuisine focuses mainly on fresh ingredients, fast preparation and simple cooking techniques. It is almost always served family style with one dish for each component of the meal (i.e. one plate for vegetables, one plate for steamed fish, etc.). Depending on which region of China you are in, you can try different specialty dishes native to that area.

Here are 4 must-try Chinese foods that are the real deal:

1. Xiao long bao (soup-filled dumplings)

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Xiao long bao is the specialty dish of China’s Jiangnan region, which includes Shanghai and Wuxi. The dumplings consist of a flour skin usually filled with pork and a savory broth. They are commonly steamed and served in bamboo baskets. Just make sure not to pop the dumplings with your chopsticks! Use a spoon.

2. Peking duck

Photo by Becky Hughes

Peking duck originates from Beijing and is considered one of China’s national dishes. The key to fantastic Peking duck is crispy skin and juicy meat. It is usually served with scallion, cucumber, Hoisin sauce or a sweet bean sauce, paper-thin rice pancakes and steamed buns.

3. Mapo tofu

Photo courtesy of Rewards Travel China Inc.

This dish is for the truly adventurous and spice fanatic. Mapo tofu is the most famous dish of China’s Sichuan province, which specializes in spicy foods. Mapo tofu consists of bean curd tofu mixed in a bean-based chili oil sauce, oftentimes served with minced meat or fermented black beans. Personally, I like my mapo tofu mixed with white rice to dampen the spiciness of the chili and saltiness of the beans.

4. Hot pot

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Though many Asian countries serve hot pot, it originated in China. Hot pot starts with a pot of broth or stock at the center of the table. Sometimes the stock is divided into two parts for different flavors of broth. Once the broth begins to simmer, you add vegetables, followed by any ingredient your heart desires: sliced beef or lamb, tofu, rice noodles or seafood. Watch it carefully! Once an ingredient is cooked, you immediately remove it with a slotted spoon and dip it in the sauce of your choice: sa cha (soybean and dried shrimp) sauce, chili sauce, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, satay sauce and more. At the end of the meal, you drink the broth. With all of those infused flavors, it is nothing short of delectable.

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