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Chinese-Italian cuisine

Italians have only learned about China more closely in recent years, yet they have had to deal with this population on many occasions throughout their lives, especially in relation to food.

If we think of Chinese dishes that are now stainless in the collective imagination, these are only a handful compared to the huge number of authentic and traditional specialties of one of the largest countries in the world. China has an impressive geographical variety and this obviously affects the cuisine. In fact, there are eight different styles of Chinese cuisine, which can be classified as macro-areas:

  • Anhui: region of the Huangshan mountains

  • Fujian: area located in front of Taiwan

  • Guandong: Southern China, Canton

  • Jiangsu: Nanjing

  • Hunan: Southern China

  • Sichuan: Chengdu area

  • Shandong: Yellow Sea, Tsingtao

  • Zhejiang: West Lake

Chinese cuisine regions Cookingwiththehamster
Chinese cuisine regions | © cinaincucina.it

Of all these culinary styles in Italy, Cantonese (from Guandong) was established during the Chinese diaspora in the 1980s, when a real boom in Chinese cuisine broke out in Italy. At that time, many cooks found it very difficult to find the original ingredients to replicate the authentic recipes, as well as having to deal with an Italian clientele not inclined to that type of preparations.

Southern Chinese cuisine is still known today for its delicate, non-spicy, light and tasty recipes: this was one of the highlights for the acceptance of Chinese cuisine in our country. Chinese cooks thus changed the original recipes to bring them closer to the taste of Italians, contaminating them with local ingredients, effectively founding a new Chinese-Italian gastronomic style.

From the first Chinese restaurant in Italy, La Pagoda (located in the Paolo Sarpi area, where over the years the most important China Town in Italy has developed), in which Mr. Sing Cheng King worked (from whose legacy the famous restaurant Lon Fon), over time Chinese restaurants have multiplied like wildfire, entering our homes with the famous take-away at competitive prices.

Today the Milanese finally discover and appreciate the true Chinese regional cuisine thanks to capable and professional restaurateurs who have decided to propose the cuisine of their land in the Milanese city, yet we cannot forget the dishes that have always been considered Chinese.

So here is a list of Chinese-Italian dishes that we have loved (or not) over time and where they prepare them well to be able to taste them.

Cantonese rice

The famous white rice with peas, eggs and cooked ham is perhaps the most popular and appreciated "Chinese dish".

In reality it is a reinterpretation of Yangzhou rice, one of the many variations of sautéed rice or fried rice: in China each one has its own version, in Italy it has been simplified to make it accessible to everyone.

  • Where? At Ta Hua, one of Hong Kong's authentic family-run restaurants in Milan since 1979. The proposal on paper is truly vast, the care and passion make this place really the difference. 🌎 http://www.tahua.it 📍 Via Gustavo Fara 15, Milan 📞 +39 02 6698 7042 💰 $$

Riso alla cantonese cookingwiththehamster
Riso alla cantonese | © stagioninelpiatto.com
Riso Yangzhou cookingwiththehamster
Riso Yangzhou | © adamliaw.com

Spring roll

The timeless roll stuffed with cabbage and carrots is a must of Chinese diners appetizers. Yet in China they are not prepared this way (they have different fillings), they are much smaller, they can be fried or prepared according to other cooking methods and eaten as a snack - in fact they are part of the dim sum tradition.

  • Where? At Lon Fon, a real Milanese institution. A familiar and informal restaurant, perfect for enjoying dishes that have become legend over the years. 🌎 http://lonfon.it 📍 Via Lazzaretto 10, Milan 📞 +39 2940 5253 💰 $$$

Involtino primavera cookingwiththehamster
Involtino primavera | © nonsprecare.it
Involtino primavera cinese cookingwiththehamster
Involtino primavera cinese | © thespruceeats.com

Almond chicken

Chicken nuggets dipped in a gelatinous sauce and filled with almonds are etched in our memory. This dish refers to the many quick preparations in a wok over high heat, with the difference, however, that this dish does not exist in China! But there are chicken with cashews or Sichuan kung pao (or gong bao) chicken, prepared with shredded chicken, peanuts, onion, chillies, vegetables and spices.

  • Where? At Yuebilou, located in the heart of China Town and crystallized in the 1980s. An extensive menu, fresh ingredients and generous portions make this restaurant a very good choice. 📍 Via Paolo Sarpi 42, Milan 📞 +39 02 3650 4611 💰 $$

  • Where to enjoy kung pao chicken? At Fan Wu, in my opinion one of the best Sichuan restaurants in town. 📍 Viale Tunisia 30, Milan 📞 +39 02 4969 0934 💰 $$

Pollo alle mandorle cookingwiththehamster
Pollo alle mandorle | © fragolosi.it
Pollo Kung Pao cookingwiththehamster
Pollo Kung Pao | © jessicagavin.com

Pork in sweet and sour sauce

The "sweet and sour sauce" in Italy is a type of preparation that is used in cooking (just think of sweet and sour vegetables or peperonata), while in China it is a mix of sugar and vinegar that is poured mainly on fish when cooked.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party used to distribute this sauce to enhance the image of Chinese culture, while in the rural areas of north-east China it is called "people's sauce" due to the low price. According to some, this sauce was invented in Hunan (where Mao Tse-tung was born).

The westernized version of these dishes is used to season mainly chicken, pork or shrimp which are first dipped in a batter, then fried and seasoned with this sauce often mixed with ketchup (to increase the red color), rice vinegar, sherry, but also pineapple, green onion and red pepper.

Maiale in salsa agrodolce cookingwiththehamster
Maiale in salsa agrodolce | © ricette.giallozafferano.it

Fried ice cream

Iconic and kitsch at the same time, perhaps it will surprise you to know that in reality this dessert has an uncertain origin, but certainly not linked to China.

In fact, it is said that it was presented for the first time at the Colombian Fair in Chicago in 1893 (during which the sundae was also presented), while others hypothesize that it was invented in the same period in Philadelphia, by frying a ball of ice cream enclosed in a thin pie crust. A final hypothesis indicates some Japanese tempura restaurants in the early 1960s. In fact, over the years this dessert has been served mainly in Chinese restaurants.

Gelato fritto cookingwiththehamster
Gelato fritto | © trattoriadamartina.com

Fortune cookie

More than a dish, a real symbol of Chinese restaurants of the 80s and 90s!

The origin of this biscuit is Japanese: it was in fact traced in an illustration of 1878 which showed the tradition in the temples of Kyoto of omikuji (ticket containing a divine prediction) with the name of tsujiura senbei.

It was the Japanese who exported this custom to California (as well as the culture of sushi, I'll tell you about it here): the landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara, in charge of the maintenance of the Japanese tea garden at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is said to have been the first to having served them in the modern version we know today at the beginning of the 20th century, produced by the Benkyodo pastry shop. Subsequently many others have claimed paternity. Only in 1989 were they exported to Hong Kong and throughout the 1990s they were offered at the end of a meal in Chinese restaurants.

  • Where? Today it is a bit out of fashion in town, but for every purchase you make you will find it at the Food House grocery store. 📍 Via Rembrandt 9, Milan 📞 +39 02 404 1224 💰 $$

Biscotto della fortuna in Giappone cookingwiththehamster
Biscotto della fortuna in Giappone | © nytimes.com
Biscotto della fortuna cookingwiththehamster
Biscotto della fortuna | © food.com