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Regional Chinese Food For The Masses

Chinese food in Britain has long been an Anglicised version of Cantonese cookery. Spare ribs, chow mein, special fried rice and the obligatory sweet and sour pork balls. However, there’s a huge diversity of regional styles in China that the British diner is not used to seeing. But that is all about to change…
British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop is perhaps the foremost expert on Chinese food in the west and her impressive body of work dedicated to the cuisines of China are some of the most highly regarded in the world. Dunlop very recently wrote an article for The Telegraph explaining how regional styles of Chinese cookery are starting to be represented more and more here in the UK.
Small baskets of steamed dim sum have become more commonplace in Britain as has the larger steamed dumpling xiao long bao – a steamed bun from Wuxi and Shanghai. In the piece, Dunlop makes a point of telling the reader that these regional styles are no longer only found throughout London’s Chinatown, but up and down the country, in family run restaurants everywhere from Manchester to Norwich.
You’ll have noticed how the Sichuan peppercorn is now a mainstay in the fancy section of supermarket shelves, but the food from this province in the centre of China is increasingly being revered for it’s intense fiery heat. Sadly, the Sichuan peppercorn doesn’t deliver the face-numbing heat you’ll have read about, but hotpot and noodle bowl dishes in the style of Sichuan can be found on these fair shores.
However annoying the food media might be, if they run a feature on a certain type of food, readers begin to take note and hunt those dishes down. Look at pretty much any food trend of the past four years and you’ll be able to attribute its rise to the top through a mixture of bombastic food writing, Twitter conversations and a slew of digital images hashtagged on Instagram. Love it or loathe it, this is the time we are in, and diners are just as fickle as they have ever been.
Hot sauces have always drawn a devout, sometimes geeky crowd. The continual allegiance punters seem to have to sriracha is testament to this. With Korean gochujang now being last years hipster favourite, 2017 should see the widespread inclusion of Sichuan chilli bean relish, or the fiery pastes made from toasted chillies, Sichuan peppercorns and peanuts.
Bringing unfamiliar ingredients into a dish has played on the intrigue of diners for a while and China could be one of the perfect places to start looking for ideas. For start-ups, specialising in regional Chinese cookery from Hunan, Wuxi, or Xi’an could be a bold move rife with exciting new ingredients and cooking techniques. For the chef, this is an exciting time, an excuse to delve into a new style of cooking, whether it’s for a monthly pop-up or a special that goes beyond your average noodle dish. By all accounts, 2017 is the year Chinese food got serious.