Chinese cuisine is a major player on the world stage. Even if you haven’t left your home town, in the UK, US or Australia, it’s likely that you’ve eaten Chinese food. When you get to China though, you might well find being an expert at ordering down the local takeaway doesn’t get you all that far. Chinese cuisine at home really does very little to reflect the vast array of dishes and styles of cuisine on offer in this massive country. So here’s a very brief guide on what to eat in China.
What to Eat in China
1. Xiao Long Bao 小笼包
Dim sum is a type of Chinese food native to the southern province of Guangdong. Xiao long bao – delicate, soup-filled dumplings – are similar, in that they come in circular, wooden steaming baskets, but are actually more of a Shanghai dish. If you end up in a dim sum restaurant or a place with small, stacked steamers, it’s worth asking for these. They are truly delicious but do require some pretty decent chopstick skills to get at. Ease the xiao long bao out of the steamer, dip them in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce and ginger, and place it on your spoon. Here, I like to pop the outside of the dumpling with my chopstick and slurp out the wonderful, soupy broth before eating the rest.
2. Hot Pot 火锅
Chinese hotpot, pronounced huo guo, originates in the western province of Sichuan but is an absolute favourite all over the country. Here you get a pot of boiling soup, either spicy or not, placed over gas or a hotplate in the middle of your table. You then order or collet food from the fridges – such as prawns, sliced meat, vegetables, corn, eggs – to cook in the pot. It’s definitely unusual at first, cooking your own food in a restaurant, but it’s a great group experience and is something very unique. Usually you’ll be given dipping sauce or you’ll be able make your own. It’s also a good place to try out some stranger foods, such as brains or cow stomach, which are very popular amongst Chinese people.
3. Peking Duck 北京烤鸭
Duck is a very common meat in China and in many places you can order it on rice or to share, as part of a bigger meal. Many believe the best place to get it though is when staying in the capital, Beijing. Here Peking duck (Beijing kao ya) is served, traditionally with small pancakes, scallions and plum sauce. It’s pricey but delicious and certainly classic Chinese fare. There are a few popular restaurants around Beijing with multiple locations as well as smaller places. Do your research to find a good one and don’t underestimate how much of this lovely stuff you can eat – my girlfriend and I had a whole bird, with a couple of extra dishes, and still felt like we could have eaten more.
4. BBQ 烧烤
Alright, it’s not what you expect to hear when reading about what to eat in China but barbecue (referred to as shao kao) is very popular throughout China, either as an evening meal or a late-night snack. Often you’ll see little roadside barbecue stalls in the early hours of the morning but there are also restaurants or outdoor areas that specialise in the stuff. Oysters, chicken wings, scallops, fish with slices lemon, aubergine, meat on sticks, crispy potato, dried tofu with spring onions, corn, and chives are among my favourite things to get. It’s usually seasoned with garlic, spices and cumin. Wash it down with some cheap beer and you’re bound to walk away satisfied.
5. Liang Mian 凉面
Cold noodles (liang mian) were one of my favourite dishes to eat from the north-western, Muslim restaurants that you find in every city in China. These places often serve hand-pulled noodles which are made to order. Not only do they taste great but it’s amazing to watch them being made. You can get all sorts of noodle and rice dishes at these restaurants. The cold noodles were mixed with a light dressing and fresh vegetables and were perfect with a crispy spring onion flat bread (葱花饼 cong hua bing), which are also common at these restaurants. The dishes at these places are often very cheap and perfect for a quick lunch or late-night meal.
How about you? Do you have other suggestions on what to eat in China? Tell me about your favourites!