What can I eat when I go to China? This is a question we often hear from travelers that are coming to China. Well, obviously China offers a wide variety of food! It’s food reflects its large size and many different cultures within the country. Food is a huge part of Chinese culture, with different regions offering their own special dishes (and all regions are very proud of their dishes!! ;)). This guide will help you understand what kinds of food you can expect in various parts of China, whether you are an adventurous eater or prefer sticking to more familiar tastes :).
Understanding Chinese Food Culture
Food in China is about enjoying meals with family and friends. Each region has its own unique style of cooking and ingredients, making the food in China very diverse. Eating together is important, and meals often have many dishes shared by everyone at the table.
The food in China differs a lot per region:
Beijing: The capital city is famous for Peking Duck, a roasted duck with crispy skin, often eaten with pancakes. Street food like savory crepes (jianbing) and steamed buns (baozi) are also popular, offering easy options for all kinds of eaters. Another favorite is Zhajiangmian, noodles with soybean paste, which is widely loved by foreigners for its savory and slightly sweet taste.
Shanghai: This city’s food is a bit sweeter. Xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, are a favorite. Shanghai’s mix of Chinese and international food means there’s something for everyone. Seafood also plays a big part in Shanghai cuisine, with dishes like sweet and sour spare ribs and braised pork belly (Hong Shao Rou) being highly popular. A dish that wins the heart of many foreigners is Shanghai-style fried noodles, offering a familiar texture with a unique local flavor.
Chengdu: Known for its super spicy (!!) Sichuan cuisine, Chengdu offers dishes like Mapo Tofu and Sichuan Hotpot, full of chili and spice. But don’t worry, there are also plenty of non-spicy options for those who prefer milder food, such as Kung Pao Chicken, a spicy stir-fry chicken with peanuts (most foreigners love it!). Oh and Chengdu’s tea culture is also very big, with tea houses serving as social places for many people. Try out some local teas such as Sichuan Mengding Ganlu (蒙顶甘露), or Ya’an Tibetan Tea (雅安藏茶), or E’mei Xueya (峨眉雪芽)!
Guilin: Guilin is known for using fresh, local ingredients. A common dish is Guilin Rice Noodles, a simple yet flavorful option for breakfast or lunch. Beer Fish, a dish made with local river fish cooked in beer, is another specialty reflecting the region’s natural resources. The sweet and sour taste of Guilin Water Chestnuts is popular with foreigners. It’s a crispy and refreshing snack!
Tibet: Tibetan food is hearty, with barley flour (Tsampa) and butter tea being staples. Yak meat is common, offering a taste of the local lifestyle. Dried cheese and Lhasa beer are also part of the local diet. A dish that many foreigners enjoy is Momos, for their similarity to dumplings found in other cuisines but with a unique Tibetan twist.
Inner Mongolia: The food here focuses on meat and dairy, reflecting the nomadic culture. Lamb and beef are common, and Mongolian hotpot is a fun, customisable meal. A foreigner-friendly dish is the Mongolian BBQ, where diners can select their meats and vegetables to be cooked on a large, flat grill, offering a fun and interactive dining experience.
Yunnan: Yunnan’s cuisine uses lots of mushrooms and flowers. The region’s warm climate means lots of fresh produce, making dishes here fresh and light. Try the cross-bridge rice noodles or Yunnan-style barbecue for a good introduction to the area’s flavours. A dish liked by many foreigners is the Mushroom Hotpot!
Tips for Travelers
China’s wide range of foods means there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re excited to try new and spicy dishes or prefer something closer to what you’re used to, you can find it in China. The country’s food scene offers a chance to explore different tastes and experiences, from city street food to regional specialties. So, as you plan your visit, look forward to discovering the delicious and diverse flavors of China!