Now one of the most popular types of cuisine in Britain, Chinese restaurants are busy nearly every night of the week. Whether it's a romantic meal for two in a secluded booth, a family celebration, a business dinner or a meal with a few friends, a Chinese banquet is a delicious and fun-filled choice.
Chinese food is very popular throughout the world for its exquisite taste, intriguing appearance and the huge choice of dishes available. The cuisine is actually made up of individual types of cuisine from many provinces and ethnic groups in China, but for us this means a wide variety of Chinese food to suit almost every taste and budget.
Chinese restaurants - Flavours to savour
Chinese cuisine contains many different ingredients and spices to give a wide range of flavours from sweet and sour to spicy Szechuan. Among the most popular ingredients are fresh ginger, root garlic or chillies, soybeans, vinegar, wine, aniseed, cinnamon, peppercorn or sesame oil. Complementary nuances are added.
Here are the three most common types of Chinese cuisine that you'll find on a menu at a Chinese restaurant in the UK. Shandong cuisine, which includes sweet and sour sauce and Bird's Nest soup is typified by seasonings such as shallots and garlic. Meat and vegetable stir-fries and seafood dishes are popular with Shandong chefs.
One of the most famous Chinese cuisines in the UK, Szechuan, is known for its spicy flavours, which are made from the main ingredients, chillies and peppers. Garlic, ginger and soybean are also used when cooking dishes from this type of Chinese cuisine, and popular dishes include Kung Pao Chicken, Twice Cooked Pork and Mapo Dofu.
Well known the world over, and always a good type of Chinese cuisine to start with, Cantonese is less spicy than Szechuan and include delights such as dim sum, Cantonese sweet and sour chicken and steamed sea bass.
Chinese restaurants - First visit food
If you're heading to a Chinese restaurant for the first time then you'll want to order a meal that offers you plenty of different flavours, so you can get a good idea of the tastes Chinese cuisine has to offer. At the same time, you may not want to go for anything too hot and spicy.
We recommend you start with the classic Cantonese sweet and sour chicken/pork with egg-fried rice, or if you prefer noodles then you could opt for chicken/beef/seafood chow mein. For a starter why not try vegetable spring rolls, while no visit to a Chinese restaurant would be complete without a helping of aromatic crispy duck wrapped in a pancake with cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce.
Get a feel for Chinese restaurants
Most Chinese restaurants have a lively atmosphere, although many also have quiet areas with booths where you can enjoy a more intimate meal. The Chinese like to keep their restaurants authentic in style with woodcarvings of dragons and Buddha around the place, although modern restaurants are tending to go for a minimalist look, so these traditional armouries may be very subtle.
Find Chinese food in the UK
If you're looking for a top rated Chinese restaurant then you'll be pleased to know there are plenty to choose from, particularly in London, which is home to Hakkasan, Feng Wei and Elvis Gracelands Palace.
Hakkasan, London - The only Chinese restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star, this restaurant caters for lunch and evening meals and serves an extensive variety of Chinese food, including lobster tail served with sliced orchids and strawberries, and scallop shu mai with tobiko.
Feng Wei, Oxford Street, London - Dedicated to providing an authentic Chinese dining experience to the capital, this restaurant is one of the most popular Chinese eateries in the capital. Dishes on the menu here include, sautéed beef with sacha sauce, chiu chow style baked lobster with ginger and spring Onion, and fried spaghetti with Malaysian seafood.
Elvis Gracelands Palace, Old Kent Road, London - The place to go for a great party atmosphere, this place has a varied menu and a Chinese Elvis impersonator who entertains the diners.
There are also plenty of other great Chinese restaurants in other parts of the UK, including Hull and Manchester.
Mr Chu China Palace, Hull - promotes itself as the largest Chinese restaurant in the UK with more than 500 seats in its eatery on St Andrew's Quay.
Kwok Mann, Chinatown, Manchester - One of the finest Chinese restaurants in Manchester, this place has an extensive menu with set banquets and plenty of specials to give your taste buds a treat.
Things to look out for at Chinese restaurants in the UK
There are many things to look out for when visiting a Chinese restaurant in the UK, but one of the main things to be aware of is that the Chinese eat with chopsticks. In China, knives and forks are believed to represent violence and therefore they are not used as tableware. Of course, in the UK Chinese restaurants will provide forks if requested but you will probably find chopsticks on the table when you arrive.
It may seem like a daunting experience but learning to eat with chopsticks is a relatively easy task. The secret to using them is to hold one chopstick in place while moving the other one to pick up small portions of food.
Also worth noting here is that many Chinese restaurants now offer great entertainment along with great food. Pianists, Elvis impersonators, singers, musicians, and comedians - they all help to keep guests happy while they eat.
Finally, if you are planning on going to a Chinese restaurant for the first time, why not head to a Chinese all-you-can-eat restaurant? Here you can choose from a wide selection of dishes, which are set out in a buffet-style allowing you to get a feel for different types of Chinese food. You'll find buffet-style Chinese restaurants in many towns and cities across the UK.
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