Chinese Food Guide: 7 Must-Try Dishes

Food in China is quite different from what you used to …

Most foreigners are taken by a complete surprise by the Chinese food they have in China.

They frequented Chinese restaurants in their home cities on the regular, but when they arrive in China, there’s no beef with broccoli or mushu pork. That’s because Chinese restaurants in the West pander to the American palate.

In China, you’re going to need to let go of your preconceived notions of what Chinese cuisine actually is. 

Get ready to feast your eyes on the best foods of China. Each region has its own specialty, making for many great flavors to explore. Here are some flavors you must try while in China: 

1. Dumplings

chinese food you must try: xiaolongbao

By and large, dumplings are one of the most popular items in China.

Known as jiaozi, these pockets of steamed meats and veggies are divine. The Chinese don’t dip them in soy sauce though. Often, they use a dark vinegar. You’ll find them in all kinds of varieties and will be sure to have a favorite.

2. Noodles

chinese food you must try: spicy noddles

Dandan Noodles, Chengdu, Sichuan (photo credit: delish)

Another way to fill up in China is by eating one of the many noodle dishes.

Dan dan noodles are one of the most popular, a spicy Sichuan dish!

3. Hot Pot

chinese food you must try: hot pot

This meal doubles as a pastime. It features a large pot of boiling water on your table and plates of raw meat and vegetables.

You cook them in the pot and then dip them in a savory peanut sauce.

4. Steamed stuffed buns

chinese food you must try: steamed buns

Grab these on the go and you’ll have a cheap, satisfying lunch.

These buns are stuffed with pork and vegetables, then steamed up. They’re warm and filling!

5. Ma Po Tofu

chinese food you must try: mapo tofu

photo credit: pbs

Because it’s 100 years old, you’ve got to try it. Because it’s delicious, you’ll love it.

This spicy tofu dish swims in a savory sauce of ground beef and is topped off with green onions. Don’t miss it!

6. Wonton Soup

chinese food you must try: wonton soup

  photo credit: kirbiecravings

For a familiar taste from back home, try the wonton soup (called hun tun tang here). The only difference is it’s better in China!

7. Roasted Duck

chinese food you must try: peking duck

photo credit: taste

And finally, don’t miss out on the famed Peking duck from Beijing.

You can find roasted duck anywhere in China, but Beijing is world-famous for it for a reason. It’s usually served with savory crepes and sliced up so you can roll it into them along with sweet bean sauce and spring onions.

How to discover the most authentic Chinese food?

In time, you will find similarities and some items that you recognize from that Chinese restaurant you always went back home. But when you first arrive, try to go in with an open mind and try as much as possible. Here are 5 steps to start your tasting China journey:

Step 1: Order Regional foods 

In your local Chinese restaurant, you’ll find dishes from all over China. In China, you’ll generally only find the dishes that are specific to the region you’re in.

In bigger cities, you’ll find restaurants that specialize in other regional cuisines, but for the most part, you’re going to want to go for the stuff of your region.

Step 2: Try the famous dishes

Finding the famed food for your city or region is a must. You might not like it, but you really should sample it.

For example, in Shanghai xiaolong bao (soup dumplings) are absolutely revered. You shouldn’t miss the chance to try them. In Beijing, the roasted duck is beyond compare.

Step 3: Grab some street foods

Street food in China is cheap and good. It’s best to have a Chinese friend show you around your city since some places can be dirty.

Generally, if there are lots of people lined up at one vendor, it’s a good place to go. Try jianbing (Chinese crepes), jiaozi (dumplings), baozi (Chinese bread buns, usually stuffed with pork and vegetables), and chuan’r (Chinese barbecued meat kebabs).

Step 4: Have hot pot with friends 

Hot pot is best enjoyed with a group of friends.

There’s a boiling cauldron in the center of the table and you order raw meats and vegetables to cook in it. It’s served with a dipping sauce. Spend some time in China and your Chinese friends will insist you come dine at a hot pot restaurant with them. Don’t say no!

Step 5: Get a little sweet too

Chinese people aren’t as into sweet things as they are more into salty and spicy stuff, but you’ll still find some sweet stuff to love.

Try the dan tat, Chinese egg tarts that are custardy and divine, or grab a stick of bing tanghulu, a skewer of sugar-coated Chinese hawthorns that will make you think of candied apples.


Tasting China is part of the fun so get ready to explore it with your taste buds. You’re bound to find some new favorites!

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