If you’re lucky enough to take a trip to this incredible country, one of the many highlights will be the food and drink. You will also quickly notice that Chinese cuisine can be starkly different to the standard takeout you’re used to in your own country.
Familiar names do exist there of course – sweet and sour pork, Gong Bao chicken and dumplings – but within Chinese borders their preparation is often at odds with westernized versions. The country’s staples include wheat and rice from which many familiar classics spring – steamed buns, dumplings, noodles and more.
You also may not realise that traditional food varies from province to province, with many different local delicacies, interpretations and staples. There are roughly 8 broad cuisine styles stemming from the 8 provinces – Shandong, Guangdong, Sichuan, Zhejian, Jiangsu, Fujian, Anhui and Hunan. Beijing and Shanghai are also known for city-specific styles of cooking.
Whichever region you experience, the most singular feature of Chinese dining is its communal nature; people gather around a table with a selection of dishes, which are then shared among the table.
There are countless unique and famous delicacies to try wherever you tread in China, so here is a brief selection of some popular and delicious options:
As a traditional Chinese dish, dumplings have a history well over 1000 years, and come in a wide variety of types and fillings. Traditionally they are meat-and-vegetable filled dough parcels, although you may find some unique and interesting fillings depending on where you’re traveling. The most common and popular are pork, chicken, beef and shrimp with vegetables, and you’ll find them boiled, steamed or fried. Make a point of trying different dumplings in every city you visit!
If in Kashgar, Xinjiang, don’t miss trying the steamed manti filled with sweet pumpkin. Kunming in Xian is known for its beautiful jiaozi and bāozi dumplings that you can get from street vendors.
Peking Roast Duck 北京烤鸭
If there’s a dining experience you shouldn’t miss, it’s Peking Duck. Served with crispy skin, the meat is sliced and placed in soft steamed pancakes with hoisin sauce, spring onions and garlic. If you’re in Beijing, there are many fantastic Peking Duck restaurants to choose from, each specialising in this popular dish.
Red bean paste
Also known as Azuki bean paste, this sweetened paste is also popular in Japanese and Korean cooking. The date-like paste, made from the boiled and mashed Azuki beans, is often found in pastries, moon cakes, glutinous rice balls and steamed buns.
You may even find some supermarkets selling croissants filled with Azuki, a great alternative to pain au chocolat in the mornings, if you need your pastry.
Gong Bao chicken 宫保鸡丁
You may know this spicy classic as Kung Pao or Kung Po chicken. This is a famous Szechuan specialty, popular with both locals and visitors. Gong Bao’s main ingredients are chicken, fried peanuts, vegetables and chili.
You can find this classic dish throughout China, with regional variations. If you love this one from your local takeout, make sure to try the authentic versions.
Century Egg 皮蛋
Also known as hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg and millennium egg, this preserved-egg delicacy tastes a lot better than it looks! Chicken, quail or duck eggs are preserved in a saline mixture of ash, clay, salt and rice hulls for a period of weeks to months.
This process causes the yolks to become creamy and almost cheese-like, while the whites transform into a dark, near-black jelly. It might sound weird but it’s worth trying as it’s one of China’s oldest delicacies!
Chinese Tea Ceremonies (Art of Tea)Widely recognised as the homeland of tea, China is the perfect place to explore different types and engage in the traditional tea ceremony. Tea is grown primarily in 4 regions – the south, southwest, and the north and south banks of the Yangtze.
Tea is prepared for a variety of customs and has great social value in China, so look for traditional stores that conduct the ceremony.
This 40-60% strength alcohol is distilled from sorghum, and is not for the meek. Baijiu is one of the oldest beverages brewed in China. Consume in moderation!
Planning a trip and want to order some of these fantastic dishes in Chinese? Brush up your speaking skills, and contact us for lessons in your area!