One of my favourite things about travelling and experiencing new cultures has always been trying out all of the different local dishes a country has to offer. There’s no feeling like the one you get when you find that out-of-the-way restaurant and sit down to an incredible meal, exchange stories with the locals and let the experience take over. When it comes to culinary delights, China is a never-ending journey of smells, tastes and sounds. It’s a place where you could spend years and still not experience all of the amazing local dishes in each province. That being said, there are some dishes that stand out above the rest. Here are a few you can’t miss when you go to China.
Local butcher market in Beijing.
Street noodles in Shanghai
Shanghai noodles right off the street. Photo by J Keith.
Unlike some of its other regional counterparts, Shanghai doesn’t have a major signature dish that travellers flock to. If you’re looking for a standout though, make your way toward one of the many districts in Shanghai full of street food vendors and order yourself a bowl of noodles. As the vendor starts throwing in different ingredients (eggs, vegetables, meats, sauces, noodles), you’ll get even hungrier, and with your first taste, you’ll likely get lost in the moment. These things are good enough to make you completely forget about your immediate surroundings.
Green tea in Longjing
Enjoying some freshly harvested Longjing green tea.
If there’s one thing Chinese locals consume more than anything, it’s green tea, and there’s no better place to enjoy it than Longjing – a place famous for its green tea, (sometimes called dragon well tea). Largely produced by hand here and specially roasted to give it a distinct flavour, Longjing tea is divided into up to seven different grades depending on the quality of the leaves. Whichever grade you have though, you’re sure to enjoy some of the finest green tea around.
Kung Pao chicken in Yangshuo
When visiting Yangshuo, one of the first things you’ll notice is how fresh everything is. With Yangshuo being in the countryside, it makes it easy to get fresh and local ingredients for almost any dish you can imagine. That’s why this place is one of the best to try Kung Pao chicken. Stop by a locally run restaurant to order some and you’ll devour it before you know it. Better yet, take a local cooking class in Yangshuo to learn how to make it at home whenever you like.
Hotpot in Chongqing
Hotpot in Chongqing. Photo by D Rogerson.
When passing through Chongqing, you have to try some famous hotpot. By far the most famous (and delicious) dish in the region, Chongqing hotpot is known to have a spicier kick than many of its counterparts around the country. Head out with your friends to a local restaurant here some evening and spend some time throwing in different vegetables, meats, noodles, sauces and spices into your broth as you relax and enjoy the overall experience. (And don’t worry if you don’t like spicy dishes; there are always non-spicy hotpot options too.)
Dumplings in Xian
Stacks and stacks of dumplings in Xian.
Sure the terracotta warriors are the first thing that come to mind when you think of Xian, but when it comes to food, there’s nothing that defines this region more than its famous dumplings. Don’t leave here without a visit to a local dumpling buffet. It’ll give you the opportunity to try every type of dumpling you could possibly imagine including vegetable, seafood, meat, and dessert. The only challenge might be deciding which is your favourite.
Peking duck in Beijing
No list of this nature would be complete without a mention of Beijing’s famous Peking duck. It may be cliché, but there’s a reason this one’s a must-try. Chefs around the world attempt to replicate this signature dish, but Beijing simply has the best anywhere. Many of the greatest restaurants for Peking duck can be found in the city’s Hutong districts. Venture through some of the streets and alleys here and with some help from the locals, you’re bound to stumble into one of the best Peking duck restaurants around.
Bonus: Xian’s and Beijing’s night markets
Night market eats in Xian.
There’s no better way to get a feel for a country’s food culture than its local markets and China is a perfect example. Once night falls in Xian, the Muslim quarter comes alive with street vendors selling noodles, street meat, dessert and anything else you could possibly imagine. And Beijing’s Donghuamen night market is famous for its exotic dishes, from small animals to scorpions and everything in between. If you’re ready to embrace the bizarre, Donghuamen is the place for you.
Like with all travel destinations, the best way to explore a country’s culinary offers is to do so with an open mind. You may not want to try everything, but be prepared to push your own boundaries a bit and you’ll almost certainly come across something you love.
Want to eat your way around China? We don’t blame you. G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. Check out our small group trips here.