While in western restaurants any plate with food in it may be referred to as a dish, Chinese restaurants reserves the term dish for dishes which are solely based on meat, vegetables, eggs or tofu and do not contain staples such as rice or noodles. Most of these dishes are cooked in a wok or on a hot iron platter but some of them are served cold and fresh.
You are probably wondering how a single app can replace the menu of different restaurants, especially in a big country like China. The answer lies in a phenomenon fairly unique to China – the Common Dishes.
Like any other country in the world China has its own staple food (rice and noodles). But unlike most countries China also has a system of dishes known in Chinese as 家常菜 (Mandarin: jiā cháng cài) which is roughly translated into ‘house common dishes’. Although a House Common Dish usually doesn’t contain staples like rice and noodles, it is almost as common and therefore will be found in most restaurants but the very small ones.
The Chinese word for hot dish (炒菜) literally means ‘fried vegetable’ but obviously it may also contain meat, eggs and other ingredients. Many of the common Chinese hot dishes, especially in the inner parts of China, are made by stir-frying chopped up stuff in a wok along with some kind of mixture of oil, soy souse, vinegar, salt, sugar and other condiments.
Unlike common beliefs, not everything in China is either steamed or fried. Even small restaurants usually have a ‘Cold Dishes’ section on the menu. These dishes are usually based on fresh vegetables, mushroom, seaweed, tofu or slices of cold meat. This kind of dishes is as close as it gets to a salad in Chinese restaurants.