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The 15 Most Popular Chinese Dishes

The profound history of China has endowed the country with splendid civilization and dignified historical deposits. As the foremost part of people’s life, Chinese dishes have also gone through thousands of years of development and formed strong and distinctive regional characteristics because of diverse climate, crops and living habits in different regions.

With an emphasis on color, flavor and taste, Chinese food has become popular all over the world and captured the hearts of countless foreign tourists. In this article, we will explore the 15 best Chinese dishes that one must try during the China tours.

1. Dumplings

Chinese food - Dumplings
Dumplings

Dumplings, or Jiaozi in Chinese, are a main staple in China with a history of over 1,800 years. This traditional Chinese dish is favored by people in almost all parts of the country, especially in northern China.

Chinese people often wrap minced meat and vegetables in a thin layer of dough to make dumplings and they can be cooked in different ways to obtain diverse tastes, like boiling, steaming and frying. They are usually served with a specially-made dipping sauce mixed with soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil.

Shaped like old Chinese ingots, dumplings are also an important dish during Chinese New Year to express people’s best wishes for good luck. In some regions, people even wrap in coins. It is said that those who eat this dumpling will have good fortune in the coming year.

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2. Kung Pao Chicken

Chinese food - Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken

 

Kung Pao Chicken is a classic dish in Sichuan cuisine – one of the 8 major cuisines of China – enjoying great popularity both at home and abroad. Featuring a spicy and savory flavor, Kung Pao Chicken uses diced marinated chicken as the main ingredient and is accompanied by peanuts, chopped lettuce and peppers.

The fresh and spicy aroma of Kung Pao Chicken has fascinated diners from different regions. It offers a special taste perfectly combining the tenderness of diced chicken and the crisp of peanuts, making Kung Pao Chicken well accepted as one of the most popular Chinese dishes to go with rice.

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3. Spring Rolls

Chinese food - Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls

 

Spring Rolls are a popular appetizer in Chinese dishes, originated in regions south of the Yangtze River. This traditional snack is made by filling vegetable, meat or seafood into a thin pastry wrapper, and then deep-frying them until crispy. Spring Rolls are usually served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce to enhance its flavor.

As its name implies, Spring Rolls used to be closely related with spring celebrations in southern China, like Spring Festival, and was endowed with special meanings like welcoming the spring and festive joy.

4. Fried Rice

Chinese food - Fried Rice
Fried Rice

 

Fried rice is a simple but flavorful Chinese dish that often appears on dining table in both ordinary families and restaurants. It is made by stir-frying rice with eggs, vegetables, meat and different sauces. The secret of making perfect fried rice is to use cooked rice that has been refrigerated overnight, which helps to ensure that the rice does not become mushy during the cooking process.

Fried rice provides diverse flavors in different regions, among which Yangzhou Fried Rice gains the highest reputation. Paying great attention to the color matching, the rice is stir-fried to be golden yellow and is accompanied with eggs, shrimps, ham and peas to make the dish look more appetizing.

5. Mapo Tofu

Chinese food - Mapo Tofu
Mapo Tofu

 

Mapo Tofu is one of the traditional Chinese dishes perfectly embodying the fiery heat and spicy flavor of Sichuan cuisine. “Mapo” means a grandma with pockmarks on the face, and she was said to be the inventor of this popular cuisine back in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The main ingredients include tofu, minced meat and a spicy sauce that is flavored with Sichuan peppercorns, chili bean paste and fermented black beans. The dish is a favorite among spicy food lovers and is considered one of the popular Chinese foods to be served with rice.

6. Hot Pot

Chinese food - Hot Pot
Hot Pot

 

Hot Pot is a traditional Chinese dish favored by foodies throughout the country and has spread around the world.  It is served in a large pot of boiling broth, in which diners cook raw ingredients such as meat, vegetables, and seafood, and then dip them in the specially-made sauce.

There are different kinds of hot pot in China. In northern regions, the broth of hot pot is rather light and people often choose sesame paste as the major dipping sauce. Hot pot in Chengdu and Chongqing is noted for hot and spicy soup, accompanied by dipping sauce mixed with sesame oil and ground garlic. People in Yunnan and Guizhou would like to cook the stew with a local specialty – mushroom – to enjoy the refreshing flavor.

In China, eating hot pot is often the first choice when considering family or friend gatherings, as people will sit around together, chatting, playing and enjoying the steaming food as well as the pleasant atmosphere.

7. Peking Roasted Duck

Chinese food - Peking Roasted Duck
Peking Roasted Duck

 

Peking Roasted Duck is one of the most famous Chinese dishes that was originated in Beijing with a history of over 600 years. It uses a whole duck as the main ingredient. The duck is roasted over fruit-tree charcoal flame to obtain the ruddy-colored appearance, crispy skin and tender texture.

Peking Roasted Duck is served in slices with thin pancakes, scallions, cucumber and sweet bean sauce. Diners wrap the crispy duck meat along with accompaniments in the pancakes and then roll them up to gain the rich flavor with every bite.

Peking Roasted Duck is a must-try for anyone visiting Beijing, and there are a lot of time-honored brands serving this traditional dish, among which Quan Ju De (全聚德), Bian Yi Fang (便宜坊) and Da Dong Roasted Duck (大董烤鸭) enjoy good reputation among locals.

8. Chow Mein

Chinese food - Chow Mein
Chow Mein

 

Chow Mein is the Cantonese pronunciation for “stir-fried noodles” which is usually accompanied with vegetables, eggs and meat. It is a popular Chinese dish that can be easily found in restaurants, food streets and roadside stalls in China. For most Chinese people, especially young fellows, Chow Mein is usually their first choice for a midnight snack.

9. Dim Sum

Chinese food - Dim Sum
Dim Sum

 

Dim Sum is a traditional Cantonese cuisine that comes in a great many varieties, including shrimp dumplings, Char Siu Bao (steamed BBQ pork buns), Shumai (steamed dumplings) and Cheung Fun (steamed rice noddle rolls). Cantonese Dim Sum is often served on a small dish or steamer basket, depending on the type of food.

Regarded as the soul of Cantonese life, Dim Sum is a popular brunch or lunch option for locals. Cantonese people would like to order a pot of hot tea at the same time and enjoy the delightful dinning time with friends and family.

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10. Steamed Fish

Chinese food - Steamed Fish
Steamed Fish

 

In Chinese food culture, “fish” carries the blessings of prosperity and harvest. Therefore, it is common to see various fish dishes served at banquets and special occasions, among which the Steamed Fish featuring a light and healthy flavor is the most popular one. Chefs often salt the whole fish first and then steam the fish together with ginger, scallions and soy sauce until the meat is tender and gives out a special fragrance of addictive saltiness and freshness.

11. Sweet and Sour Pork

Chinese food - Sweet and Sour Pork
Sweet and Sour Pork

 

Sweet and Sour Pork is a timeless classic in Chinese dishes, and has captured the hearts of food lovers all over the world. The dish looks like pieces of amber on the plate, showing a bright color of orange. Often served with steaming rice, it perfectly balances the sweet and savory flavors, making it a must-try for anyone looking to explore the rich and diverse world of Chinese dishes, especially best for family with kids.

To make the Sweet and Sour Pork, one needs to coat pork pieces in batter made from egg, cornstarch and flour and deep-fry them to golden perfection. Finally, stir-fry the pork with colorful vegetables and a mouthwatering sauce made from a combination of sugar, vinegar and ketchup. At this point, the perfect Sweet and Sour Pork is ready to be served.

12. Wontons

Chinese food - Wontons
Wontons

 

Looking for more authentic Chinese dishes? Wontons are usually a kind of popular appetizer for breakfast and supper and has a long history of more than 2,000 years in China. It is a type of dumpling with minced pork or shrimp filled in a thinner wrapper. They are generally served in a clear broth featuring a savory flavor. But in Sichuan, you can also enjoy Wontons in hot and spicy flavor.

13. Xiaolongbao

Chinese food - Xiaolongbao
Xiaolongbao

 

Xiaolongbao is a kind of traditional snack in China, which means stuffed buns served in a small steamer basket. It originated during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and has been a popular street food for breakfast and supper all across the country, especially in Shanghai, where Xiaolongbao has become one of the symbolic foods. People can enjoy authentic Shanghai Xiaolongbao in many time-honored restaurants like Nanxiang (南翔), and the bustling City God Temple Food Court.

Xiaolongbao is often filled with pork as well as tasty broth. After steamed, the thin layer of dough wrapper will become light and fluffy while the broth inside will be very hot. Therefore, many experienced diners often take a nibble first and then blow the bun to make the fillings cooler. To improve the flavor, Xiaolongbao is usually served with dipping sauce mixed with black vinegar and ginger.

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14. Congee

Chinese food - Congee
Congee

 

Another popular Chinese diesh, congee is a type of rice porridge that is often eaten for breakfast in China. It is made by boiling rice in a large amount of water until it becomes soft and creamy. People usually add some salt or sugar according to their own tastes for extra flavor. In Guangdong Province, congee can be cooked in many different ways using a variety of ingredients, such as meat, vegetables and eggs.

15. Jian Bing Guo Zi (Chinese Breakfast Crepes)

Chinese food - Jian Bing Guo ZI
Jian Bing Guo ZI

 

Jian Bing Guo Zi is a popular street food in northern China, especially in Tianjin. “Jian Bing” is a type of crispy crepe made by spreading the batter of wheat flour, eggs and water on a hot griddle. “Guo Zi” is the name of deep-fried dough in Tianjin dialect, which is the major filling of the crepe. Besides, people also top the crepe with a variety of fillings for a better taste, including scallions, cilantro and special sauces. The crepe is then folded up and cut into halves for people to share with companions.

Chinese dishes are known for its rich flavors, fresh ingredients and emphasis on balance. From spicy Sichuan dishes to delicate Cantonese cuisine, diners with different tastes can always find something to satisfy themselves.

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FAQs about Chinese Food

What is the most popular Chinese dish around the world?

It is difficult to determine which is the most popular Chinese dish in the world as it varies depending on location and personal preference. However, dishes such as dumplings, Kung Pao Chicken, scrambled egg with tomato, and fried rice are widely popular and can meet various tastes.

What is the difference between Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine?

Sichuan cuisine is known for its bold and spicy flavors, while Cantonese cuisine features delicate and mild flavors. The former one uses ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns and chili bean paste to create its intense taste. However, Cantonese food focuses on using fresh ingredients and cooking techniques to keep the original flavors of the food.

Is Chinese food healthy?

It depends on the cooking methods. Generally, dishes that are stir-fried or steamed with plenty of vegetables are a good choice for health consideration, while deep-fried ones and those that are high in sugar and sodium should be enjoyed in moderation.

Is it safe to eat street food in China?

Street food in China can be safe to eat as long as you follow some basic precautions. Look for vendors that have a fast turnover of food, which indicates that food here is fresh. Avoid vendors that have unclean cooking conditions or use questionable ingredients. Also, be cautious when eating spicy food as it may upset your stomach if you’re not used to it.

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