For Americans who have frequented Panda Express and other fast food Chinese restaurants, the amount of oil present in nearly every dish is a common factor. People watching their waistlines have lamented that Chinese food is far too greasy for them to eat. However, many of them wonder why so many different dishes all share the same level of oil.
In Chinese culture, chopsticks are the utensils of choice. Using chopsticks to serve your food and consume it means that diners take small bites and leave most of the oil on their plates.
For many Americans, chopsticks can be tricky to navigate, and many Chinese restaurants offer alternative forks for those who are genuinely chop-stick challenged. Because Chinese food was not designed with large bites in mind, the amount of oil in each bite is significantly increased, which makes it seem like their food is much greasier than they intended.
Why Is Chinese Food So Greasy?
A lot of the misconceptions about Chinese food and its supposedly high level of grease comes from how Americans eat it, not the food itself. Chinese food was made for diners who both serve themselves and consume their food with chopsticks. For anyone who has never used chopsticks before, essentially, you end up taking much smaller bites.
Additionally, chopsticks can only pick up pieces of food, unlike spoons, which hold liquids. The apparent greasiness of Chinese food is not nearly as noticeable when you use chopsticks to eat it because most of the grease stays on the plate and does not end up in your open mouth. The oil is there as a way to flavor and spice the food.
Because the oil is less of a condiment and more of a spice itself, Chinese food is also made with the idea that diners will not eat much of the oil. The excessive amount of grease is mostly to ensure that every bite tastes just as good as the last one. You are not supposed to eat very much of the oil since it is not a sauce.
On top of that, places like Panda Express do customers something of a disservice by letting them choose which components they want. You might happen to pick only super oily dishes while all of the other steamed and plain dishes sit by the side and are not included in your meal. Typically, Chinese meals would consist of all three of these types of dishes for balance.
The McDonald’s Comparison
For people who still argue that old myth about Chinese food being greasier than most Western food, just remember the McDonald’s comparison. If you had no experience with American food except for McDonald’s, you would likely accuse it of being wholly greasy and maybe even gross, depending on your tastes.
The same could be said for pizza. Fast-food dishes will always be a lot more greasy and a lot less healthy than what you would get in a more expensive restaurant. Even what you get in a restaurant will be richer than what you would make at home. Before you judge another culture’s food, remember a point of comparison.
As it turns out, Chinese food, or Sichuan food, is not any greasier than most Western food types. Many of the misconceptions come from the appearance, the difference in eating utensils, and the fact that many Westerns have only experienced Chinese food from a fast-food restaurant. Home-cooked Chinese food will be quite different.
Another way to cut down on the grease of your Chinese food, regardless of its source, is to practice your chopstick abilities. Chopsticks force you to take much smaller bites, and you never get a mouthful of oil either. Forks and spoons have a scooping ability that chopsticks lack. When your cuisine is built around a particular type of eating utensil, it just works better.
The oil will drip off noodles, vegetables, or small pieces of meat and remain on your plate. In fact, at the end of the meal, your plate should still be quite oily. That means you didn’t eat all of that oil. It did its job of flavoring your meal without weighing down and making the meal extremely heavy.
What Kind Of Cooking Oil Do Chinese Restaurants Use?
Typically, these dishes feature vegetable oil, peanut oil, or soybean oil instead of lard or other oils made from animal fats, which is often healthier than American dishes. The way that many dishes are cooked is called stir-frying, which requires a thin coating of oil along the bottom of the pan to stop the food from burning and sticking to the pan.
As with any type of cuisine, restaurants tend to use richer spices, herbs, and oils than home cooking. For many people, restaurant-made Chinese food is the only kind they have ever had, and it is just as different from a home-cooked meal as with any cuisine. Macaroni at a restaurant will be pretty different from what you cook at home, right?
Restaurants are meant for special occasions and celebrations. The rich food that they serve was never meant to be eaten regularly. Of course, eating out every day will be hazardous for both your waistline and your wallet. It is never too late to learn to make your own Chinese food at home, where you can control the amount of oil you use.
Again, remember that plenty of Chinese food dishes are not greasy because they are steamed, boiled, or plain. Rice, pork buns, and certain vegetables are usually served without oil, but in buffet-style restaurants, they are easily missed or skipped over. It is easy to generalize when you do not have experience with the whole picture.
What Is The Difference Between Chinese Cooking In The US And Abroad?
It is important to note that China is an enormous country and is made up of many different cultures and cuisines. It can be difficult to generalize because the cuisine in one region is so different from the cuisine in another. When people talk about greasy Chinese food, however, they are usually referring to Sichuan dishes.
In China, Sichuan dishes often make use of red oil, very spicy oil that completely coats everything from vegetables to rice. That oil is not used as often in American restaurants that serve Chinese food because of the level of spice and how many Americans are unused to it. The oil is nearly ubiquitous in Sichuan dishes in China so if you visit, prepare yourself.
Another thing to note is the difference in American Chinese food. Fast food restaurants like Panda Express will not give you the same experience as more expensive restaurants will, and the quality of the food will certainly be different as well. If you judge Chinese food based solely on one restaurant, you might be underestimating the cuisine.
If you ever find yourself at the table of someone who cooks Chinese food in their home, regardless of where they live, you might be surprised to see how different it is from your expectations. The meal may consist entirely of steamed and boiled food, with nary a bottle of oil in sight. Not all Chinese food is greasy, just like American food.
The stereotype that Chinese food is somehow greasier than American food is pervasive, and many people believe it to be true. If your only experience is with fast-food Chinese food or eating it with a fork or spoon, it is easy to understand why you would think Chinese food is very greasy, but it is actually no greasier than most types of cuisine worldwide.