15 Traditional Chinese Foods You've Got to Try

12 Traditional Chinese Foods You've Got to Try

Curious to know what real, traditional Chinese food looks like?

This isn’t that imitation Chinese you get from the 24-hour Chinese restaurants around the corner from your apartment. I lived and traveled in China for ten months and lived off the real deal, local Chinese cuisine of the cities and villages.

Trust me, there’s more to Chinese dishes than Dim Sum, Kung Pao Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork. Once you taste authentic Chinese food, you’ll never want to eat from the food court in the mall again.

These are 15 of my favorite Chinese dishes!

1. Spinach Noodles (bō cài miàn)

Bo Cai Mian
Delicious spinach noodles in Xi’an, China

Xi’an, in central China, is known for its noodles, and every self-respecting noodle joint in the city makes their noodles from scratch.

This dish includes handmade noodles from spinach, topped with whatever ingredients your heart desires.

The above serving has a spicy tomato-like sauce and is topped with egg, potato, carrots, beef and chili.

2. Fried Mashi (chǎo má shi)

Chao Mashi
Greasy and incredibly tasty!

It’s easy to find fried rice and fried noodles anywhere in the world. This gnocchi-lookalike, though, is quite different. It’s a little bit sweet, but it’s hot and hearty.

The additional crunchy vegetables provide a delicious juxtaposition next to the soft thickness of the má shi.

3. BBQ Meat (kǎo ròu)

Kao Rou
BBQ meat from a street vendor in China

Kǎo ròu is the standard serving of meat in China and might be one of the most well known Chinese dishes available. They are heavily spiced and come from both restaurants and street carts alike.

Often cooked over burning coal, these sticks of meat come in many variations. You might find braised pork, lamb, beef, chicken, or even the gizzards and other weird stuff no westerner would happily stick in their mouth.

And yes, I’ve seen tentacles hanging out of peoples’ mouths.

4. Cold Vegetable Dish (liáng cài)

Liang Cai
Trying to stay healthy in China 😉

Liáng cài, which literally translates to “cold dish,” is an assortment of vegetables, tofu and peanuts, served with a marinade or sauce.

The usual suspects are green beans, cucumbers, lotus root and cabbage, amongst a brilliant assortment of whatever else the house thinks bests suits the dish!

5. Stinky Tofu (chòu dòu fu)

Stinky Tofu
It smells so bad, but tastes so good!

It smells worse than it looks and it actually tastes better than it smells! Stinky tofu is often the culprit when entire sidewalks full of people are choked out as they are engulfed in a thick haze of stench. With enough of the right seasoning (you can see they use a lot), this Chinese dish actually ain’t half bad.

6. Dumplings (jiǎo zi)

Traditional Chinese Dumplings
Traditional Chinese dumplings. My favorite!

Another one of the most well-known Chinese dishes, this is your classic dumpling, often filled with beef, pork, shrimp or veggies. They can come steamed or fried and, man, do they taste good. Even though they are regarded as a staple of dim sum—which is local to southern China—dumplings are found all over the country.

My favorite way to enjoy these was by dipping them in black vinegar mixed with a chili sauce, which adds a unique bitter, sweet and spicy flavor.

7. Mutton Stew (yáng ròu pào mó)

Yang Rou Pao Mo
Pào mó, with a side of chili and pickled garlic

Pào mó is a traditional dish of the Xi’an people. Seen here is pào mó served with mutton, though it can also come with pork or beef. Instead of noodles, this stew uses bits of unleavened bread, which soaks up the rich flavor. It’s served with chili sauce and pickled garlic on the side, meant for eating on its own, alongside the stew.

It compliments the flavors, and wards off evil spirits in the process.

8. Chinese Hamburger (ròu jiā mó)

Rou Jia Mo
This is definitely not a hamburger.

This is the Chinese answer to a western hamburger, though, as a burger aficionado, I take serious issue with the fact that anybody would even call this one. That being said, these rolls are tasty treats.

It’s a homemade, stone-oven cooked bun with juicy braised pork on the inside. The pork is left to cook overnight in a large pot of spices like cardamom and cloves, and by morning, the meat would fall right apart. We called them “ro-ji’s” for short!

9. Cold Mixed Tofu and Pineapple Aloe Vera (liáng bàn dòu fu and bō luó lú huì)

Tofu and Aloe Vera
Aloe vera for eating, not sunburns.

Seen here is a giant brick of tofu (I know, right?) which is sitting in a mixed sauce of oil, chili and sesame (among other unknown flavors), topped with green veggies. The bizarre dish

Seen here is a giant brick of tofu (I know, right?) which is sitting in a mixed sauce of oil, chili and sesame (among other unknown flavors), topped with green veggies.

The bizarre dish behind it is a serving of pineapple and aloe vera….the very same aloe vera you use to treat a sunburn. It’s sweet and mushy, which I couldn’t enjoy, but the sugary pineapple underneath was a nice nosh!

10. Yak Meat Dumplings (mómo)

Yak Meat Dumplings
The best dumplings I’ve ever had.

Though not a traditional food of China, mómo are common in Tibet and Western China. There is conflict over the territory of Tibet, but I did eat these in the People’s Republic of China, so they made the list.

These dumplings rolls were filled with juicy yak meat that burst in my mouth when I bit down. This, here, is one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten in my life.

And I’ve eaten a lot. About three times every day since I was born, in fact.

11. Sweet and Sour Eggplant (yú xīang qié zi)

Sweet and Sour Eggplant
Is it eggplant…or pork?

Though I never enjoyed eggplant at home, it quickly became my favorite food in China. This is a bowl of sliced eggplant that tastes more like sweet and sour pork than a vegetable. A little bit of chili and fish sauce can go a long way!

12. Beef Noodles (niú ròu miàn)

Beef Noodles
A delicious bowl of traditional beef noodles in Xi’an.

Beef noodles are a personal favorite, and they can be found in almost every restaurant or household in China. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the most traditional Chinese dish there is.

Each restaurant prepares their noodles differently, so eating the same thing never gets boring. Seen here are homemade noodles, topped with a shredded beef and vegetable mixture from one of my favorite local Chinese restaurants in Xi’an.

13. Peking Duck (Běijīng kǎoyā)

Peking Duck

Just thinking about thin crispy duck skin is enough to make my mouth water.

Originally from Beijing, Peking Duck is a staple dish of Chinese cuisine. The ducks cooked in an open-air oven for over 24 hours before being served with steamed rolls, spring onions and sweet bean sauce.

If you’re in Beijing, you can expect to wait several hours just to be served at a peking duck restaurant. But having the succulent Peking Duck sliced and served directly at your table is absolutely worth the wait.

14. Phoenix Tail Shrimp (fèngwěi xiāpái)

Get your fried food fix with a taste of freshly battered Phoenix Tail Shrimp.

An Anhui specialty, this crispy shrimp dish is usually eaten as a snack or appetizer. The shrimp is battered with flour and spices before being fried with their tails intact. When the shrimp is served, this delicious China food resembles the tail of a mythical Phoenix, hence the name.

15. Fried Rice (chǎofàn)

Fried Rice

No list of Chinese dishes would be complete with one of the most classic Chinese dishes of all time—fried rice!

Although the main ingredients are the same, different regions of China produce different versions of fried rice. Sichuan rice is served with a spicy chili sauce, Canton rice is topped with gravy, and ying-yang rice is made with tomato sauce.

And I love the shrimp in Yangzhou rice. Made with both barbecue pork and shrimp, this version is the most popular type of fried rice in China.

****

Traditional Chinese recipes are very different from the Chinese dishes you might be used to. Western countries have, unfortunately, changed the cuisine, and turned it into something more akin to a greasy, late-night snack.

Dishes like Kung Pao Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork are Americanized versions of Chinese dishes and have almost no correlation to the Chinese culture whatsoever.

That being said, with the uprising of gourmet and artisanal restaurants, many Chinese menus are turning into something more representative of the authentic experience.

If you ever get a chance to experience traditional Chinese food, I highly recommend you try it!

What’s your favorite Chinese food? Let us know in the comments below!


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  1. Chinese food is one of the most important parts of Chinese culture. The history of Chinese food is around 1000 years old with their unique cooking style, ingredients and other stuff evolving with time.

  2. I’ve got to try those Yak meat dumplings! Rumor has it that westerners must bring their own food to China since their food is so bizarre it’s inedible but this has given me clarity. These dishes look incredible.

  3. Few blogs really give the feel of the dishes they speak about. Your blog here is impressive and you have shared images to add to the appeal. Keep sharing such innovative posts. Looking forward to more such posts. Nothing can be more interesting to a foodie than great food blogs!

    1. This IS Chinese food. China is so big that there are different regional cuisines. I am Chinese descent from Southern China, and these are not common. But they are Chinese. I’ve travelled China and Taiwan. I cook traditional Hookien and other Chinese cuisines. THIS IS Chinese food. (Just a slight correction, momo is actually Nepalese dumpling, but since it was in Tibet, still…)

  4. My favorite dish ever since I visited China ( for 3 months in the summer), has been Sichuan Ma Po Dou Fu, which has mounds of slivered green onion, Sichuan peppercorn and cilantro.
    Also at a Buddhist monastery climbing E Mei Shan, the fermented tofu was amazing. Actually all Buddhist monastery dishes were very remarkable of the ones I visited Some Taoist temples had wonderful food, as well, especially mushroom dishes. Seasonal local greens of any type are not to be passed up.. All dumplings and fresh local fruits.
    While in Tibet, I came to really like anything with yak meat,in any form, including yak sausage, Usually yak tastes similar to beef but has a slight wild game taste, Anything yak or Tibetan, especially the yak butter tea.
    Beijing had some really wonderful breakfast turnip cakes, handmade chunky noodles and short noodles made from Tofu skin tossed in a sesame sauce. I never had a bad meal or dish in China, except for American or Western dishes there.
    Hands down, the best dishes in China were the breakfasts, usually very simple congee or Xi Fan, with sides of pickled vegetables and boiled peanuts, (especially in Sichuan)

  5. Assalamu’alaikum
    I ask permission to download images for my school task about entrepreneurship
    may be useful, thanks
    Wassalamu’alaikum

  6. Assalamu’alaikum
    I ask permission to download images for my entrepreneur tasks
    may be useful, thanks
    Wassalamu’alaikum

  7. Well,I am from China,but I never tried the Spinach Noodles and the second dishes.Hope I can enjoy them in the future.

    1. You might only find the bo cai mian in Xi’an—it’s native to that province. I hope you can try them…they’re one of my favorites!

  8. I’m really wanting to try those yak meat dumplings you listed. I absolutely love dumplings, especially when they’re filled with meat, but I’ve never had yak before. Does it taste anything like beef? I imagine that it probably does since yaks are a similar size to cows.

    1. Ohhhhhhh the momo! I’m a dumpling guy, myself, and these were, without question, the best I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve eaten A LOT of dumplings.

      Yak meat is actually delicious. It’s been a little while since I’ve had it, but it’s very flavorful and much like beef—I’m sure you’d love it. The yak meat hotpot they do in this region is pretty scrumptious, too!

  9. Great job ! Want to try delicious Chinese food? Then why wait! Try one of the best Korean restaurant in NYC.

  10. I love Chinese food a lot, and this all looks so good! I wonder if there are any Chinese restaurants near me that cater to parties. And of those that are, how many would make traditional style.

  11. I love reading posts about traditional foods – it is always neat to see dishes that we have never heard of before. So many interesting things that you would never see on a takeout menu back home. Part of the fun of travailing for us is always trying new foods, as long as they are not too strange… like bugs and such 😉

    1. Yeah, I don’t do bugs either! I hope you found some inspiration to try some new Chinese foods!

  12. What a great line up of food! The one great thing that I love about food in Asia as opposed to back in North America, is all those meats on a stick that you can find on street carts!

  13. I love the idea of spinach noodles, though I’m not so keen on the stinky tofu option! Have you tried cooking any of the dishes back at home?

    1. I took a Chinese cooking class, actually. It’s pretty simple cooking, you just have to have the right understanding of the cuisine and the basics. To be honest, the spinach noodles are one of my favorites on that list!

      1. Chinese food menu is what to eat lots, I recommend that you try to eat 12 meals menu Chinese website has offered.

  14. Yum yum yum! I’ve had most of these but not mutton stew, that’s a new one. It all looks so good, nom nom. I can’t wait to go back to Asia and eat everything there!

    1. Oh man! The mutton stew is a highlight for sure. You’ll only find it in Xi’an, though! It’s a very local dish there, and it’s very, very tasty!!

  15. Re the section on noodles – please note it should “its” N O T “It’s” (which is short for : it is. Whatever happened to sub editors?

  16. I ate squid on a stick that I bought in a night market when I lived there. It was pretty good! Jiaozi will always be my favorite though. 🙂 Jian bing is great too.

    1. Oh yeah, the squid on a stick! The local love those–I can’t handle the sight of tentacles hanging out of someone’s mouth!

  17. Translations may differ between Taiwan (where I lived and studied Mandarin) and China, but Yang Rou, which you call mutton, is goat in Taiwan.

    Niu rou mian literally translates to Beef Noodle, but in Taiwan the dish is always served as a beef noodle soup. If you want it dry, you have to aks for it as dry (gan de).

    1. That’s really interesting. I’m studying Mandarin in central China and “yang rou” is, 100% of the time, mutton. It appears that “shan yang rou” would be goat meat, though. I wonder if the former is just a shortened, colloquial version. I can’t find any information on “yang rou” being anything other than lamb or mutton.

    2. Well how very informed of you. Jeremy you are a great writer! I laughed loudly in my cubicle when I read the Tibet line. So now everyone is giving me weird looks. Oh, and I’m super hungry now; no matter how much sriracha and soy sauce you put in this ramen….it’s not going to help.

    3. I’m Chinese and I’ve never ever had dry beef noodles. The broth is a main factor in making or breaking the dish

    4. I grew up speaking Mandarin and yang rou is what we call lamb. I just asked my mom (my parents are from Taiwan) and they call lamb and goat differently but it can still be used to call both.

    1. So maybe you’d enjoy the stinky kind, then! It’s actually not so bad.

      I wasn’t a big fan of tofu when I initially arrived in Asia, but since coming here, it’s become a favorite of mine. Funny how that happens!

  18. Great suggestions! I confess I don’t often even know what it is that I am eating in China. But they definitely have some delicious options to choose from.

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