Hello guys and welcome to today’s post which is another episode of my “life in China series”. As the title clearly suggests, we’ll be talking about food today, because, why not?
Food is as much a part of every culture as are clothes and festivals, and guess what? Everybody eats. This post is dear to me because I’m quite a picky eater and as such, for the longest time, I limited myself to few dishes and only discovered some very tasty local Chinese foods during my later years here. In today’s post I’ll be sharing with you some local Chinese dishes I personally love and believe anyone in China or visiting China should definitely try.
- MUSLIM RESTAURANT
For my first week in China, I alternated between soda drinks for breakfast, lunch and supper each day. This was because, a) I didn’t know where to get actual food and b) I didn’t trust anything that didn’t look familiar to me. It was therefore such a great relief when my friend, Silas, came back one evening with a bowl of what would be my first proper meal in China. It was a bowl of noodles fried with mushrooms and onions and it tasted so good (frankly anything would’ve tasted good at that point) that we immediately became regulars.
I think almost every university in China has a Muslim restaurant located within or around its premises. I’ve visited quite a number them in other cities and the setting is very similar; small with modestly arranged seating tables for customers. Their menu is pretty simple and the prices are student friendly.
If you have just arrived in China and don’t know where to go to eat what, I highly recommend the Muslim restaurant because most of their dishes are quite similar in taste to the dishes back home. Being ran buy Muslims, their foods are halal and so you can at least be assured that you won’t be served any questionable meat. You can order “chaofan” (fried rice) for starters and then as you familiarize yourself with their taste, move on to other dishes that appeal to you. In fact, some of the dishes I’ll be listing below can also be found in these restaurants.
- HUANG MEN JI MI FAN (黄焖鸡米饭)
I remember the day my friend Zabdielle first introduced me to this food in Jinan, I couldn’t stop saying how delicious it tasted. This is easily one of the best dishes you can ever try in China. Huangmenji mifan is a famous Shandong cuisine originating from the Tianqiao district of Jinan. It is a simple meal of a pot of braised chicken (huangmenji) and plain boiled rice (mifan) but don’t be fooled, that pot of chicken is filled with flavors that will take you to paradise and leave you there until you finish your meal. With various hot and sweet peppers, mushrooms and ginger enrichening its taste, you don’t need me to tell you twice. No matter which part of china you are, I am sure there’s a huangmenji restaurant near you so don’t be afraid to go there and try them out. You won’t regret it.
- DI SAN XIAN (地三鲜)
Originating from the North-Eastern part of China, this sauce is a combined mixture of sautéed eggplants, potatoes and green peppers. This is also a perfect choice for my vegans/vegetarians. Di san xian is usually eaten with rice and other dishes. This sauce is both colorful and tasty with a perfect combination of sweet and savory flavors. Never miss an opportunity to try this meal.
- XI HONG SHI CHAO JI DAN (西红柿炒鸡蛋)
I expect that this particular dish wouldn’t seem foreign to you. This sauce is similar in appearance and taste to the tomato and egg sauce from home (xi hong shi = tomato, chao fried and ji dan =egg). The only difference would be that this has a slight sweet taste to it. The recipe is quite simple and I’ve tried it at home a few times. It can also be served with rice and is readily available in the Muslim restaurant so don’t be scared to order it next time you visit one near you.
- MA LA TANG (麻辣烫)
Ma la means “numbing hot” and tang means “soup”. This is a common type of Chinese street food that originated from the Sichuan Province. The soup is mainly a combination of ma la sauce flavored with Sichuan pepper and dried chili pepper. Ma la tang can be ordered from street vendors or the ma la tang shops. To make your customised malatang, a communal pot of broth (which serves as the base for the soup) is boiled while other ingredients such as mushrooms, green leaves, fresh/instant noodles, sweet potato slices, sheep intestine, different types of tofu etc etc are displayed on shelves for customers to choose to be served with their soup. Behind the counter, the selected items are cooked in a portion of broth at a very high temperature for about 3-4mins before serving. The soup can also be seasoned with garlic, black pepper and/or sesame paste. The end result is a bowl of hot and spicy soup with a rich flavor and aroma soaking whatever ingredients were added. Ma la tang is best enjoyed during the winter season. The whole experience is indescribable. While I wouldn’t recommend this dish to someone who has just arrived in China, I’ll implore you to make sure you try this delicious soup at least once before you leave.
- HUO GUO 火锅
Huo guo, Chinese hot pot, is more or less like ma la tang that attended Harvard university. Unlike ma la tang, hot pot is not a street food and customers get to start their soup from scratch by themselves. The hot pot restaurants are usually set in such a way that each table has an induction plate installed at the center so one needs only to set a pot and whatever other ingredients they want in their soup ready to go. Other than the ingredients mentioned above for ma la tang, hot pot usually includes an assortment of meat and other seafood…. mmm yummy! Hot pots tend to be on the pricey side so I’ll advise you visit such restaurants as a group, in fact, it is best enjoyed in the company of friends. There are so many hot pot diners spread across the various cities in China so why don’t you gather a few friends of yours and go enjoy some hot, delicious Chinese hot pot together.
- JIAOZI 饺子AND BAOZI 包子
This list wouldn’t be complete without these two.
In Chinese homes, dumplings (jiaozi) are eaten mostly during the spring festival. They can however be eaten anytime of the year as well. The taste of dumplings depends on the type of filling they contain. Dumplings are best served hot and eaten alongside a bowl of soysauce, black vinegar, crushed garlic and chinese pepper suace.
Baozi is the older brother of jiaozi, the main difference between the two is that baozi is thicker and steamed while jiazi is thinner and boiled. There is also a clear difference in the shapes and sizes of both as well. The filling for either is usually meat or vegetables. Baozi is a great breakfast option and most Chinese like to eat it with porridge.
- SHOU ZHUA BING 手抓饼
Shou zhua bing is by far my favourite Chinese street food yet. It is said to be the cousin of the more traditional Chinese Scallion Pancake. It’s layers are crispier, lighter, fluffier and can be easily pulled apart, hence the name shou zhua bing which transliterates to “hand grab pancake”. A standard shou zhua bing in my school costs about 7rmb and comes with a filling of chicken, fried egg, lettuce and whatever sauce you want to season it with. One is enough to fill the tummy and oh don’t even get me started on how tasty it is. Just one bite from the crispy crust, through the saucy chicken and then finally through the fresh lettuce will leave your taste buds singing Hallelujah to the food gods. Definitely worth trying once and again and again!
- SHAO KAO 烧烤
Chinese people do not joke with their meat at all. Shao kao is the chinese name for kebabs and the taste isn’t really different. The only difference I have noticed will be the fact that while back at home people usually prefer to buy their sticks of khebab and takeaway, chinese folks prefer to sit together at the spot, drink and eat and chat their drunk hearts away. Shao kao joints are very popular everywhere you go in China and the summer season is always the busiest time as the streets are always filled with groups upon groups of people just chilling together. If you enjoy the night life, or just want to go chill out at night with friends, then this is a perfect place to try. The prices are very low (about 2rmb per stick for beef/mutton and 8rmb for chicken wings) and there’s always a shao kao joint opened to receive you wherever you are.
- NIU ROU LA MIAN 牛肉拉面
I saved the BEST! for last. Yes! this in my opinion is the best meal you’ll ever taste in China. La mian is a type of Chinese noodle made by twisting, stretching and folding a dough of soft wheat flour into strands. Everything about this dish from the beef-based broth to the hand-pulled noodles is 100% delicious. I am yet to buy a bowl of niu rou la mian (beef ramen) that I didn’t enjoy. I was introduced to this food by my friend Mbiko and my life has never been the same since. The aroma from the steam alone is enough to send one to Utopia. As for this food dierrrr… onaaa mpo! As you eat the noodles, get a spoon by you to enjoy the soup as well.
The Chinese cuisine is filled with a wide variety of dishes rich in taste and flavor, and each dish is a whole experience waiting to happen. If you visit a place without experiencing their cuisine, then you haven’t really been there.
These are my tops Chinese foods that I enjoyed over the period of my stay. If you are in China, have you tried any of these? What is your favorite Chinese food? If you are yet to visit China, which of these would you like to try? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
Don’t be a stranger. Eat, pray, love… (30 seconds family will get this hehe)