Must-try foods when visiting China

This question is akin to asking “I’m going to the Western hemisphere, what should I eat?”. Watch “A bite of China” (the first season is on youtube) to get some tips on the variety and styles of cooking available. In general you’ll want to specifically avoid anything you might be familiar with (e.g. fried rice, fried noodles, sweet & sour etc. – that’s if you can find them!) as you’ll just be disappointed because you’ll probably be expecting a better version of what you’ve had before and you won’t get it.

Chinease-cuisine

Also, avoid desserts – Westerners are used to having dessert courses which are often very rich and sweet, whereas the very concept of dessert, or “sweet things” 甜点 as they’re known, is quite new here. Given that a most Chinese people don’t have a sweet tooth, many are lactose-intolerant, and that the rich, sweet flavours often come from the main dishes themselves, any cakes, biscuits, or puddings you’re likely to find here may seem very bland and disappointing.

When you go to a restaurant, wander around the tables first and see what other people are eating and what’s popular. A lot of restaurants have picture menus to help. If you don’t speak or read Chinese and are not with someone who does then you likely won’t find many of the suggestions below (or you might not know it if you have found them) because obviously it’s a big country and the dishes don’t always look the same – it depends on who cooked it. You could try saving some pictures to your phone and showing them inquisitively to waitresses. Street food is almost always safe and delicious. If you see a tiny, dirty-looking street-side restaurant packed with people, even if it just looks like a hole in the wall, try it.

China also has some major regional styles of cooking:

Northern China has lots of wheat and millet based foods – breads, noodles, pancakes. In the far NorthEast you’ll get hearty stews. Across most of Northern China you’ll get restaurants and peddlers selling roast lamb and naan bread.

In the Central areas from Hubei and Hunan to Guizhou and Sichuan the climate can be harsh – anything from torrential rains, stifling heat, to freezing rain – and the terrain quite mountainous. These are hard-working, weather-worn people with a tradition for very spicy and strong flavours, and preserved meats, pickles, wines and curds feature quite heavily. The lands are also quite lush and fertile, and so Sichuan food for instance is the equivalent of French or Italian in the West – generally the most famous/popular with lots of special ingredients and techniques.

Further South, Yunnan is the most ethnically diverse province and so boasts its own plethora of food styles. There are influences from sichuan cooking, as well as from South East Asia – ingredients like galangal and lemongrass make an appearance. It’s also the land of wild mushrooms.

Heading East from there you come across the food more familiar to Western palettes – Cantonese. Guangdong / Hong Kong has much more to offer than dim sum though. Guangdong people are famous for eating anything. In terms of flavours, it’s generally lighter / sweeter and features lots of seafood.

In fact following the coastline all the way back up to Dalian in the NorthEast, passing through Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Shandong, you’ll find lots of seafood. Again lots of lighter dishes, compared to Central/Northern cuisines, with more steaming, braising, light soy-based sauces, aromatic vinegars etc.

Ask any Chinese person what they most like to eat and your guaranteed to get the same response – whatever mummy cooks. Assuming you’re mother isn’t Chinese, here’s a list of some of the most popular/well-known dishes you’ll find in restaurants, some of which are always winners with the tourists and a few only for the adventurous – you can decide what you want to go for. I’ve chosen these randomly – just some of my favourites off the top of my head – and listed in no particular order (except the first one… that had to be first!):

 

Xiao Long Bao

Chinese people would not understand the appeal of crab rangoon, deep fried wontons filled with fake crab meat and cream cheese. If you’re hankering for a dumpling, order Xiao Long Bao instead. These Shanghai dumplings are filled with meat—usually pork or crab—and a rich savory broth that oozes out at the first bite. There’s a trick to successfully eating one of these dumplings: bite the corner of the dumpling and let the broth seep out onto the spoon. Then eat the dumpling and slurp up the broth.

Xiao_Long_Bao_by_Junhao!

 

 

Scallion pancakes

American-style egg rolls are thick, bloated, deep-fried rolls of dough filled with meat and vegetables. Biting into one can be a greasy, daunting, and messy affair. For a similar crunchy fried appetizer, try scallion pancakes, delicious fried flat bread loaded with chopped scallions.

scallion pancakes

 

 

Peking duck

You won’t find General Tsao’s chicken in China, but if you’re hankering for a rich poultry dish, try Peking duck, a roasted duck dish which is famous for its succulent meat and flavorful, crispy skin. Pair it with some scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce, and wrap it in a pancake for the traditional Peking duck dining experience.

Peking duck.


 

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Yu Xiang Rou Si

There are two problems with the beloved beef with broccoli dish: There is no broccoli (at least not the western version) in China, and Chinese people generally don’t eat much beef. Instead, try Yu Xiang Rou Si, a dish of shredded pork in hot garlic sauce. In this spicy and flavorful Sichuan dish, the pork is usually sauteed with vegetables such as mushrooms and peppers.

Yu Xiang Rou Si
La zi ji

Instead of sesame chicken, which is fried chunks of chicken coated in a sweet sauce and sesame seeds, order la zi ji, an incredibly spicy Sichuan dish that consists of fried chunks of chicken breast with peppercorn, toasted sesame and chili. It’s got the same crunch as the Chinese-American version, but with a lot more flavor.

 

La_Zi_Ji

 

 

Shrimp dumpling soup

Chinese American-style wonton soup usually consists of a thick noodle wrapped around a clump of pork in a broth. Hong Kong is famous for its noodle soups, and the shrimp dumpling soup is far superior to the American version. The shrimp dumpling has a much more delicate shell, the broth has a fragrant wonton flavor, and the soup is filled with fresh noodles.

Wonton-Soup

Yuen Long food a lot, victory and beef balls is one of net and beef balls $27 a bowl.No ingredients such as scallions and steamed, net and beef balls, is simply to be balls and soup.Broth is good drink, thick of cattle soup flavor, couldn’t help will again to half bowl! cattle pills of appearance is quite smooth, each grain of round also good average, bite Xia Hou, oral feels cattle pills internal has juice flow out~! cattle pills core Zhijian no too more of loan sharks loan sharks, density good high, so taste is is, also is refreshing, beef flavor really of thick.

 

Beef Balls Pho

beef balls

Yuen Long food a lot, victory and beef balls is one of net and beef balls $27 a bowl.No ingredients such as scallions and steamed, net and beef balls, is simply to be balls and soup.Broth is good drink, thick of cattle soup flavor, couldn’t help will again to half bowl! cattle pills of appearance is quite smooth, each grain of round also good average, bite Xia Hou, oral feels cattle pills internal has juice flow out~! cattle pills core Zhijian no too more of loan sharks loan sharks, density good high, so taste is is, also is refreshing, beef flavor really of thick.


cotswold


 

 

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