Chinese takeaway: Is what you’re eating authentic?

What’s the difference between authentic Chinese and the Westernised version? We asked the chef at Hakkasan Dubai.

Peter Iantorno October 12, 2015

Chinese food is famous the world over for being one of the best-loved cuisines on the planet. From crispy duck pancakes to sweet and sour chicken, everyone has their favourite dish.

But how much of the Chinese food we all know and love is genuinely Chinese, and how much is a cheap Western imitation? We asked a man who knows, Chef Andy Toh, the Chef de Cuisine at Hakkasan Dubai.

“There are many differences between authentic Chinese cuisine and Westernised Chinese food,” he says. “From ingredients to cooking methods to popular dishes, the differences are numerous.”

One of those differences Chef Toh highlights is the use of certain ingredients in Western versions of Chinese cooking that would simply never make the plate in China. For example, “beef with broccoli is a very popular dish in Westernised Chinese, however it actually never existed in classic authentic Chinese culture,” says Chef Toh.

While the likes of beef with broccoli and the thick, sticky dish we all know as sweet and sour are examples of dishes that have been entirely made up to suit the Western palate, according to Chef Toh, most Western-style Chinese dishes are at least inspired by their authentic counterparts.

“In the most part, Westernised Chinese food is inspired by authentic Chinese cuisine but then given a Western twist,” he says. “This could be displayed in the ingredients [such as broccoli, carrots, onions and dairy products], the cooking methods and even the presentation of the dish.”

One ingredient that isn’t often used in Westernised Chinese food but which can be found in high-end authentic Chinese restaurants is abalone – a type of shellfish with a delicate flavour similar to a scallop. According to Chef Toh, abalone is “one of the most famous and premium ingredients used in authentic Chinese cuisine”, and that is why Hakkasan uses it in its Golden Week menu, which is tailored especially to traditional Chinese tastes.

Aside from ingredients, authentic Chinese can also be identified by the cooking methods and equipment used, which Chef Toh says are “much different from Western cooking”. While many dishes tailored to the Western palate are deep fried, a lot of genuine Cantonese cooking is done by steam using a bamboo basket. In fact, this is the method that Hakkasan uses to cook all its dim sum platters.

So, if your Chinese food comes steamed and features slices of tender abalone it’s most likely genuine, whereas if it’s deep-fried and includes half a tree of broccoli, you can safely assume you’re eating a cheap imitation.

In celebration of Golden Week, Hakkasan has created a special menu catered to the traditional Chinese palate. Priced at AED228, it includes a dim sum platter featuring a lychee and lobster dumpling, abalone shu mai with caviar, Alaskan king crab dumpling, and a golden Chilean seabass dumpling, as well as a Golden Orchard cocktail and the exclusive Golden Macaron desert.

Details: The Golden Week Menu at Hakkasan Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi is on until October 18. Visit hakkasan.com