The food of the Chinese Diaspora is famous for the influence it exerts in the four corners of the globe. Meet new friends from around the world, and you’ll find they have experience with Chinese or Chinese-inspired food–regardless of whether they know it or not! 

Chinese food has developed in its own unique and wonderful way in almost every region of the world. If you’re from Hong Kong you have eaten Dim Sum, but have you heard of the Australian Dim Sim? You might have dug into an authentic bowl of Japanese Ramen or Pakistani Jalfrezi on a number of occasions, but did you know both dishes have their roots in the ingredients, flavours, and cooking methods of the Chinese diaspora? If you’re a fan of Chinese food, you’ll be interested to find out that all the following world dishes originate from the food traditions of China. 

Japan: Ramen

Bowl of Japanese ramen

This savory noodle soup has its origins in the food of Chinese immigrants to Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries. The first ever ramen shop was opened in Tokyo in 1910, where a Japanese owner employed Cantonese cooks from Yokohama to cook and serve the ramen, which then consisted of wheat noodles in a savory broth topped with roast meats. Ramen became famous in Japan over this period as a street food, with Chinese immigrants in Japan pulling portable food stalls that sold ramen and gyoza (also an adaptation of Chinese guotie). 

Despite the dish dating back over a hundred years, it was only after the second world war that ramen really took off as a regular household staple. Following Japan’s defeat In the war, rice harvests hit a 42-year low, causing significant food shortages. The US consequently filled this gap in the food market by selling large amounts of wheat flour in Japan. This wheat was most often made into bread, but also found its way into ramen, which became a popular item in black market restaurants. P As government food distribution systems fell behind schedule, people increasingly frequented these markets to feed themselves. This period fostered a taste for the Chinese-origin noodle dish which, combined with the new tastes of returning Japanese troops from China and continental East Asia, caused it to flourish as a regular Japanese dish. 

India: Gobi Manchurian

Indian Gobi Manchurian deep fried cauliflower

Have you ever had Indian Chinese food? If you’re not from India, then the answer may well be ‘no’, but there is in fact a long history of Indian Chinese dishes! One of the staple dishes of this cuisine is Gobi Manchurian, a dish of chopped and deep-fried cauliflower in a spiced gravy flavoured with soy sauce and other Chinese flavourings. 

Despite its name, this dish has nothing to do with the region of Manchuria but was instead created by Chinese restaurateurs in India. The legend goes that the dish was created by Nelson Wang, a cook at the Mumbai Cricket Club of India, when he was asked by a customer to create him a new dish other than those already on the menu. Gobi Manchurian has the base ingredients of a classically Indian dish, such as garlic, chillies, and ginger. However, in place of a traditional spice mix, soy sauce is used for seasoning, and cornstarch to thicken the sauce into a texture akin to Cantonese Chinese cuisine. The dish can feature chicken or other animal proteins as its main ingredient, whilst cauliflower is the most common vegetarian alternative, and is very popular due to the high vegetarian population of India. 

Since its invention, Gobi Manchurian has become a truly multinational dish, popular in many parts of the USA in particular. 

Australia: Dim sim

Two australian dim sim deep fried dumplings

This food is essentially an Australian take on a dumpling, and is a staple Australian snack frequently found in convenience stores, fish and chip shops, and service stations. Dim sim is a commercial snack food,normally consisting of minced meat, cabbage, and seasonings, all encased in a wrapper like that of a traditional Chinese shumai dumpling. Typically much larger than a traditional dim sum dumpling, dim sim has a thicker wrapper, and is usually steamed but can also be found deep fried.

The origins of the dim sim can be traced to the Guangdong Chinese community of Melbourne, where it was commercialised and popularised by William Chen Wing Young in 1945, the owner of a food processing company and the father of Australian celebrity chef and author Elizabeth Chong. The original dim sim recipe consisted of minced pork, prawns, water chestnuts, spring onions, and soy sauce wrapped in a soft, doughy wrapper, but dim sim can now be found filled with various kinds of meats and vegetables. 

The word dim sim is an approximation of the Toisanese pronunciation of the word dim sum, a dialect native to Taishan in Guangdong, where most Chinese  immigrants in Melbourne came from at the time. 

Indonesia: Mie goreng

Plate of indonesian mie goreng fried noodles

Mie goreng is one of the most common dishes found in street stalls and restaurants throughout Indonesia. It is a stir-fried dish of thin yellow egg noodles flavoured with garlic, onion, and shallots with other ingredients such as prawns, chicken, beef, meatballs, vegetables, and stir-fried eggs. 

Indonesian mie goreng developed out of Chinese chow mein brought to the country by Chinese immigrants. Although the dish is pretty similar to chow mein, mie goreng incorporates uniquely Indonesian ingredients such as fried shallots, sambal, and sweet soy sauce. The pork or lard which would have been used in the original Chinese dish is commonly replaced with shrimp, chicken, or beef to cater for the Muslim majority of Indonesia. 

USA: Chop suey

Person stir-frying vegetables in a wok

Chop suey is perhaps the most famous product of overseas Chinese cuisine in the world. Chop suey consists of a protein: typically chicken, pork, prawns, beef, or fish, and eggs stir-fried with vegetables like cabbage and bean sprouts, and finished with a starch-thickened sauce flavoured with soy. 

There are various stories about how chop suey came to be; some say the dish was created in Guangdong province of China, whilst others say Toisanese immigrants invented it in the US. Most stories agree that the dish’s name derives from the name tsap seui, the Toisanese pronunciation of the characters 杂碎 meaning ‘miscellaneous leftovers’. 

Chop suey has become a prominent part of various Chinese cuisines outside of America, including Filipino, Canadian, German, Indian, Indonesian, and Polynesian Chinese cuisines. 

Philippines: Arroz caldo

Bowl of filipino arroz caldo rice porridge

Arroz caldo... doesn’t sound Chinese, does it? Well, you’d be right. The name of this dish comes from the Spanish words arroz (rice) and caldo (stock or broth), owing to the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines between the 16th and 19th centuries. This rice porridge dish is made of East Asian glutinous rice, cooked in chicken stock and heavily infused with ginger, mixed with chicken pieces and topped with toasted garlic, scallions, black pepper, and a hard-boiled egg. The rice is coloured a vibrant yellow by the spices, giving it a very distinctive colour.

Arroz caldo developed out of congee dishes introduced into the region by Chinese-Filipino migrants and has evolved over the years to include more and more Filipino ingredients to suits local tastes. The dish is usually served with calamansi, a Filipino fruit similar to a lime, or fish sauce. 

Ireland: Spice Bag

Plate of chinese takeaway salt and pepper chips

If you’re not Irish, this might not even sound like a food, let alone something of Chinese origin. A spice bag is a fast food dish served in Irish Chinese takeaways inspired by Asian cuisine. The dish usually involves deep-fried salt and chili chips, salt and chili shredded chicken or chicken balls, stir-fried peppers, sliced chilis, and fried onions all tossed together with even more spices! 

This dish is one of the most recently invented dishes on our list. According to a reporter from RTE, the national broadcaster of Ireland, the dish was supposedly invented in 2010 by a Chinese takeaway in Dublin. The Spice Bag was voted as ‘Ireland’s Favourite Takeaway Dish’ in the 2020 Just Eat National Takeaway Awards. 

Korea: Jajangmyeon

Bowl of Korean Jajangmyeon noodles with black sauce topped with cucumber

Jajangmyeon is a staple of the South Korean takeaway food scene. This noodle dish, consisting of wheat noodles topped with a thick sauce made of sweet bean sauce, diced pork, and vegetables, was introduced into Korea in the 19th century as the Chinese dish zhajiangmian (炸酱面). The dish came to Korea with workers from the Shandong Province of China sent by the Chinese military. The first Jajangmyeon restaurant in Korea opened in 1905; the site of which now holds the Jajangmyeon Museum! The dish quickly became popular in Korea, exploding in the mid-1950s as a cheap, accessible food that was always available. 

Jajangmyeon differs from the Chinese version of the dish in that it usually has a much thicker, darker, and sweet sauce. 

Peru: Lomo saltado

Peruvian lomo saltado stir fried pork with fries and rice

Lomo saltado is part of the chifa culinary tradition, the Chinese cuisine of Peru. Lomo saltado, which translates to ‘stir-fried steak’, is a stir fry that combines strips of beef steak marinated with soy sauce, vinegar, various spices, onions, tomatoes, French fries, and sometimes other ingredients served over rice. The dish is the perfect example of the combined cultures of Peru and China since it incorporates both potatoes and rice, which originate in Peru and China respectively. 

United Kingdom: Chicken balls

Plate of sweet and sour chicken balls

If you’re from the UK, or maybe Ireland or Canada as well, this dish may well be an absolute staple of your Chinese takeaway experience, despite not existing in China at all! A dish of chicken balls in sweet and sour, plum, or curry sauce, is the perfect combination of Chinese flavor and the British love for battering and deep-frying everything! 

This dish is a cornerstone of British-Chinese takeaway food, a style of food that emerged in the UK in the late 19th century, when Chinese eating houses first appeared in the port cities of Liverpool and London. As decades passed, British Chinese restaurants and takeaways adapted their dishes, even inventing new ones, to fit the tastes of British customers.

Bangladesh: Jalfrezi

Pot of jalfrezi curry with paneer cheese

Believe it or not, some of the techniques used in the preparation of the first Bengali jalfrezis came from cooking methods introduced by Chinese immigrants! Jalfrezi is prepared by stir-frying a main ingredient (such as meat, paneer, fish, or vegetables), a technique introduced into the region through contact with Chinese cuisine. Jalfrezi recipes began appearing in cookbooks as a way to use up leftover ingredients by frying them with onions and spices, then combining with a flavoured gravy. The dish has since become very popular across South Asia and, in particular, in the Indian cuisine of the United Kingdom, where it regularly voted as a customer favorite in British South Asian and Indian restaurants. 

Singapore: Hainanese Chicken Rice

Plate of Hainan chicken rice with sauce

Despite a region of China being in its name (Hainan), this dish is no longer primarily associated with China. Hainanese chicken rice consists of poached chicken and seasoned rice, usually served with chilli or ginger dipping sauce and garnished with cucumber. The dish  is now the national dish of Singapore! It can be seen throughout Southeast Asia, where Hainanese immigrants brought it with them about 150 years ago.  

In Singapore, the dish became popular for its frugal use of ingredients. Since a single chicken is used in multiple ways in this dish– the meat is poached, the bones are turned into stock for the rice, and sometimes also then turned into a soup– the most is made out of one animal. To this day, Hainanese chicken rice is served in hawker food centres across the country, and has even inspired a McDonald’s Hainanese Chicken burger to celebrate the country’s National Day. 

So, next time you’re eating a delicious meal that you might think has nothing to do with China or the diaspora, it’s always worth having a look into its history… you never do know where the dish may have come from!

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Niamh Calway

Niamh Calway is a PhD student at the University of Oxford in the department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, specialising in the history of recipes in China, Korea, and Japan. She is particularly interested in the interaction of East Asian and European cultures, particularly when it comes to food and the language used to describe it. She has been writing blogs for My China Roots since 2020, and loves researching the fascinating history and cultures of global Chinese diasporas!

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