Chinese food is incredibly unique, wholesome and wonderfully satisfying. Due to the vast landscape of China and its long and storied history of various small kingdoms and ethnic groups, regional food in China is very diverse.
It’s an assortment of tastes and flavors unlike any other in Asia. That being said, the absolute staple ingredients in almost all Chinese dishes are rice, wheat and noodles.
Table of Contents
Most Popular Chinese Dishes
Modern Chinese cuisine consists of Cantonese, Shandong, Jiangsu and Sichuan. These styles all vary from each other due climate, geographical history, availability of resources and lifestyle.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of China along with our favorite recipes for you to try yourself.
As discussed above, Rice is a staple food for the Chinese. Chinese fried rice or chaofan as it is called is a complete meal for the entire family.
The delicious combination of ingredients can be anything from chicken, pork, shrimp to carrots and mixed vegetables. It is quite robust in this sense and is fairly easy to cook.
These fantastic warm, steamed, soft and fluffy baozi are basically steamed buns. They are often filled with veggies and meat such as barbecued pork. It is a diverse dish though, as they can have a filling of sweets such as red bean paste, lotus seed or even custard.
Peking Duck can be traced all the way back to the imperial days of China. It was deemed a royal dish, served to the emperor during the Yuan dynasty.
This dish is basically very thinly sliced duck with a crisp and crunchy exterior. It is a dish typically served alongside onions, cucumbers, bean sauce and pancakes.
Cong You Bing
Cong you bing is a green onion flatbread, also known as Scallion Pancakes. The dough is made from wheat flour and water. Once the dough is formed, it is rolled out into a rectangular shape and topped with green onions or scallions. The dough is rolled into a loose log then sliced. The slices are rolled out into thin discs and cooked in a pan.
Biang Biang Noodles
Biang Biang Noodles are a thicker and fatter variety of noodles and are very similar to chow fun in appearance.
Often served alongside garlic, onions and beef or mutton as per the choice of the consumers. Definitely worth trying them instead of plain old Chow Mein.
Birds Nest Soup
Bird’s nest soup is a delicacy in China consisting of, you guessed it, the nest of a swiftlet bird!
It is known to have many health benefits and has been eaten in China since the Ming dynasty. However, since getting the ingredients are quite hard to source, bird’s nest soup is particularly expensive at around $3,000-$4,000 per kg.
Congee is a porridge made from white rice. The rice is simply cooked in water for a long time until it becomes soft and slightly thick. It can be eaten plain or dressed up with flavorful toppings. It’s very common to eat congee as a breakfast dish.
Instantly recognisable by its deep dark red appearance, Char Siu is a yummy barbecue pork dish. It has many variations from different regions of China but the most common cuts used in the dish are pork loin, belly or butt.
Ingredients such as five-spice powder, honey, bean curd, soy and hoisin sauce are used for seasoning and giving it that distinct red colour. It can also be used as a filling for Baozi, eaten alongside noodles or even on its own.
Soup dumplings are a traditional Chinese food that is very popular in mainland China. These dumplings are often filled with pork and broth.
When prodded and poked, delicious, flavorful warm broth comes oozing out. Eating them alone is fun enough but the fabulous sight of seeing that broth ooze out is a heavenly experience on its own!
Ma Po Tofu
This is a dish virtually centuries old. A spicy dish of tofu in a savoury sauce with browned ground beef and topped with green onions. Paired perfectly with a hot mound of rice, it is a must-try.
Many people might look past it but in our opinion, it is the perfect dish that unites textures and is just the right amount of spicy.
Yu Xiang Rou Si
This dish is spicy Sichuan shredded chicken stir fry. It is very niche and not found outside of China very often. It is made up of shredded chicken that is cooked very quickly over extremely high heat with bamboo shoots, carrots and green peppers are thrown into the mix.
The sauce is sweet and sour with a generous dollop of garlic thrown in to give it even more taste and a pleasant smell.
Shrimp Chips (Prawn Crackers)
Shrimp chips are a popular snack or side dish in many Asian countries. They are typically made from a combination of shrimp paste, tapioca starch, and water, which is then shaped into thin, round chips and deep-fried until crispy.
The chips are usually served as a light and crunchy snack or appetizer and can be eaten on their own or with a dipping sauce.
Chinese snake soup is a 2,000 year old delicacy made using one or more snakes including python and water snake. Diners typically pick their own snake before it is cooked up and served.
Snake soup is said to have many health benefits and is eaten for its medicinal qualities.
Very similar to donuts that we all love, the only difference is that these are not sweet. You will find them as a very popular street food in the morning served with soup or congee. The Chinese usually dip them into a soup for a complete breakfast.
Dan Dan Noodles
This is a spicy dish from the province of Sichuan and is a perfect comfort food. The noodles are dressed in a spicy sauce composed of chilli oil, vegetables, minced pork and scallions. It is perfect for those winter months as it will fill you with warmth and spices!
Deep-fried Scorpion is a Chinese dish made with, you guessed it, a deep-fried whole scorpion, typically served as a street food or snack. The scorpions used are usually harvested from the wild and are considered a delicacy in some regions of China.
The dish is often served as a crispy snack and is sometimes accompanied by dipping sauces or seasonings to enhance the flavor.
Also known as moon cake, this sweet rice cake is usually eaten at Chinese New Year. It is symbolic and thought of as bringing good luck for the year to come. Though mostly sweet, there are certain savory versions of this scrumptious cake.
Chicken feet is one of the more unusual dishes of Chinese cuisine, but it is actually a dish enjoyed in many countries throughout the world, each with their own unique variation. In China, the chicken feet are fried, steamed and cooked in a spicy sauce.
They can be eaten as a quick and simple bar snack or as the basis for a main course.
Cháo quẩy, also known as Youtiao, is a long golden-brown deep-fried stripes of dough much like a straight donut. Generally consumed during breakfast time, cháo quẩy is slightly salted and usually served with rice congee, soy milk, or regular milk mixed with sugar in China.
Sea cucumbers belong to the same group as starfish and sea urchins, which is echinoderm. They consist of a long, tube-like body (like a cucumber) and are usually found living along the ocean floor.
Sea cucumbers can be consumed raw, pickled, or fried. They have a soft, slippery texture and are bland in taste. Hence, other ingredients such as meats, other seafood, or spices are added to balance the flavor of the dish. They’re frequently combined with foodstuffs like Chinese cabbage, winter melon, and shiitake mushrooms.
Lap Cheong (Chinese Sausage)
Lap Cheong is a Cantonese pork sausage with a savory, sweet and smoky flavor. Often eaten during the Chinese New Year, Lap Cheong can be eaten hot or cold by itself, or incorporated into rice or noodle dishes. The addition of MSG and Baijiu give Lap Cheong its distinctive taste.
Turtle soup is a delicacy eaten for its supposed health benefits. Turtle meat is low in calories, fats and cholesterol and is also considered to be a great source of nutrients. Turtle meat is often recommended to women to ease their menopausal symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes and irritability. It is said that the meat of a turtle helps to enrich the blood and calm the body.
Turtle soup is believed to taste like a mix of chicken thigh, clam and pork meat.
Sesame Jellyfish Salad
Generally said to be flavourless but crunchy, comestible jellyfish are consumed in numerous East and Southeast Asian countries. It is frequently processed into a dried product which can be used to create quite a lot of dishes. Some of them include salads, sushi, noodle dishes and main courses.
Sesame jellyfish salad is a popular way to prepare jellyfish in China, utilizing sesame seeds, sesame oil, ginger, cilantro and soy sauce.
Century egg (or hundred-year egg) is a Chinese delicacy of preserved duck, chicken or quail eggs. They become black in appearance with a dark green yolk after being processed for weeks or months in a clay, ash, quicklime mixture along with salt.
There is a common misconception that century eggs are hundreds or thousands of years old. They are more commonly just a few months old after preservation.
Douhua is a Chinese dish made from soft tofu. Though it is described as a pudding, it is made using pieces of soft silken tofu in a sweet spiced broth. The broth is made with water, a mixture of sugar and fresh ginger which are simmered together. The warm broth is poured over the tofu which can be homemade or store-bought. Douhua can be eaten warm or cold.