One of the best ways to experience a new country is through its food. Visitors to a new place can learn so much about a culture through what they eat, from why they choose certain foods to how they spice it up. China offers up a variety of unique cuisines that will delight your tastebuds. On your next trip to China, find these must-eats at a local market or restaurant near you. Here are our picks for 10 must-try foods in China.
Also read: Top 11 Must-Visit Attractions in Shanghai
Peking Duck is one of China’s national dishes, and there is no confusion as to why. This roasted duck meat is known for its preparation, where the air is pumped between the skin and the meat. It is then hang-roasted so that the skin becomes crispy and the meat maintains its juice and flavor.
Typically served in strips, Peking Duck can be paired with a variety of sauces and spices, as well as being wrapped in a thin pancake. While this is a world-renowned dish, there is just something special about trying it in Beijing, the place where it originated. Must-try food if you are visiting China.
Roast ducks hanging outside a Chinese Restaurant © SpencerWing / pixabay
Dating back hundreds of years, dumplings not only look exquisite but are now a favorite for their flavor and variety all around the world. Most popular Chinese cuisine, these little wheat pockets of joy are typically steamed or boiled once they have been hand-rolled and filled with an assortment of meats and vegetables. There really is no limit to what can be used in a dumpling, and visitors to China will rarely find two made of the same ingredients. This is just more of a reason to try as many as you can!
Nangua Baozi, or pumpkin dumplings, from Yuncheng, China © J B / Flickr
Sweet and Sour Pork
This dish needs no introductions. Sweet and Sour Pork or Chicken is one of the most classic dishes in all of China. Originating in the 18th century, this dish has exploded all over the world and remains one of the most ordered meals in China. The small chunks of meat are batter-coated, deep-fried and slathered in a sweet and sour sauce before being mixed with carrots, green peppers, and onions. Just about any restaurant, local or not, will have some variation of this on its menu.
Sweet and Sour Pork © Cegoh / pixabay
A hot pot is just that, a simmering pot of soup, oils, and spices that is placed in the middle of a table for sharing. Diners will take the role of the chef as they cook and tenderize an array of meats and vegetables in the stew. Because of the ability to cook whatever one would like and change the ingredients in the hot pot on demand, this is the most versatile meal in China, and is great for large parties to share!
Yummy hot pot served in Chengdu Sichuan © leacky_321 / pixabay
This dish does not actually contain any squirrel but is so named for its resemblance to a squirrel when cooked. Squirrel Fish begins with a freshwater fish that is commonly found in and around the rivers in China. To prepare it, chefs will first debone the fish, cross-hatch cut it, batter and deep fry it. It is then doused in a tangy sweet and sour sauce before being served whole to hungry guests. Often served at festivals throughout China, Squirrel Fish is definitely must-try when in China.
Squirrel fish © Ines Yeh / Flickr
Ma Po Tofu
Named after a signature recipe from a small village in Chengdu, people all over China have been enjoying Ma Po Tofu since 1862. This tasty tofu is seared in different hot and spicy sauces, infusing the flavor into the tofu. When served, it is often accompanied by minced pork, chilis, and peppers. Like many of the dishes in China, there are multiple variations on ways to serve and eat this meal. There is no limit to the possibilities!
Mapo Tofu © Craig Dugas / Flickr
The name “chow mein” comes from Cantonese, translating to “fried noodles”. The chosen noodles are stir-fried separately and then mixed in with chopped vegetables and meats. Different restaurants use different sauces to bolden the flavors already present, as well as different meats to include. This dish is the starting point for many others across a variety of cultures, such as Pad Thai in Thailand.
Plain chow mein © bob walker / Flickr
Kung Pao Chicken
A signature dish at many Chinese restaurants around the world, Kung Pao Chicken is a staple while dining in China. This concoction of diced chicken, peanuts, cucumbers, and peppers is flexible as it can be eaten alongside rice, noodles, or even by itself. Try enjoying it as either a side or as the entree itself!
A plate of Kung Pao Chicken © Archon6812 / Wikimedia Commons
Spring rolls were traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival to highlight the end of winter and the beginning of Spring. As its popularity grew, so did the demand for these rolls during other seasons of the year. They can now be found all year long throughout China and the world. These small fried pancakes are stuffed to personal preference, with either sweet or savory fillings. Once prepared, these crispy appetizers can be dipped into many different sauces for a variety of tastes.
Fried spring rolls and dumplings on top of a tray © Abby Kihano / pexels
Need a snack? Look no further than the wonton, a traditional snack originating in Northern China. Similar to the dumpling, these handmade snacks are both convenient and easy to make. Depending on which region in China you find yourself in will determine which fillings and cooking methods are used. The most common wontons seen in China use a meat stuffing, are fried, or are served in a soup.
Wontons in Chili Oil (Hongyou Chaoshou) at Little Szechuan © Gary Stevens / Flickr
Featured Image: Top view of people eating dim sum © Leung Cho Pan / 123RF.com