Wondering what Chinese dishes you should try in China? There are way too many options on a Chinese menu and you probably won’t like many of them. For this reason, I’d like to share 16 Chinese dishes that are popular among Chinese and safe for foreigners to eat for your trip to China.
If traveling to a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language weren’t intimidating enough, imagine how stressful it is looking at a restaurant menu that is only Chinese characters!
Lucky for you, China is a top food destination and there is so much to enjoy there.
But with all the food options in China, it helps knowing what tastes best, so that you’re not going choosing restaurants entirely based on whether or not they have picture menus.
That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 16 popular Chinese dishes to help you plan what to eat in China.
These dishes are also incredibly foreigner-friendly and include so much more than your typical sweet and sour pork, Peking duck, spring rolls, and all the other general dishes you’ve probably already heard about.
We’ll break down the suggestions by meal type:
- Popular Chinese Foods for Breakfast
- Popular Chinese Dishes for Lunch
- Best Chinese Foods for Dinner
- Popular Chinese Snack Dishes
Let’s dive into what’s on the menu because my mouth is watering just thinking about all the delicious food you’re going to enjoy!
Popular Chinese Foods for Breakfast
I was never one for breakfast and I often skipped it until I moved to China.
Every day on your journey should begin with a good meal and here are some tasty foods you can try for breakfast in China.
Chinese Steamed Buns | 包子 Bāozi
Although the English translation for baozi may not sound particularly appetizing, this food is delicious and perfect for busy mornings when you don’t have time for a proper breakfast but still need to eat.
The key to enjoying Chinese baozi is to know which is most delicious as there are so many different kinds. In fact, what makes baozi delicious is the type of stuffing at the center of the steamed bun.
So below is a list of my favorites and you can show this list to any baozi restaurant or stall in China to help you order at a Chinese restaurant:
- Beef Baozi: 牛肉包子 | niúròu bāozi
- Pork with Napa Cabbage Baozi – 猪肉白菜包子 | zhūròu báicài bāozi
- Napa Cabbage Baozi with Scrambled Eggs: 鸡蛋小白菜包子 | jīdàn xiǎo báicài bāozi
- Soup Baozi: 灌汤包子 | guàn tāng bāozi
It’s also good to know that baozi is much more delicious when you dip it in Chinese vinegar mixed with pepper.
Also use caution when buying baozi as some restaurants don’t pay enough attention to hygiene, which increases your risk of getting food poisoning.
If the restaurant gives you any sort of impression that you shouldn’t eat there, then don’t!
Chinese Burritos/Pancakes | 煎饼 Jiānbing
While jianbing best translates into pancake, this food looks more like a burrito packed full of delicious ingredients and flavor.
Like baozi, Chinese pancakes are great for eating on the go and are commonly sold by street vendors in every major Chinese city.
They are also always fresh to where the Chinese pancake chef will spread the pancake mix on a circular cast-iron grill upon ordering.
From there, you’ll see the mixture of ingredients come together that include eggs spread over the pancake, cilantro, scallions, and a crunchy wonton in the middle.
A sweet and spicy layer of hoisin and chili sauces also enrich the flavor of the Chinese jianbing.
Each Chinese pancake chef may also have their own secret ingredient. While studying at Beijing University, my favorite jianbing place even filled their pancakes with diced chicken, which was a fantastic touch.
Chinese pancakes are also super cheap making them not only a delicious breakfast but can also help you travel China on a tight budget.
油条 | Yóutiáo or Fried Breadsticks
Fried breadsticks are another tasty breakfast item to try on your trip to China.
This food is made by taking premade dough rolled out into breadsticks and frying them in a wok full of hot oil.
As you have probably guessed, fried breadsticks can be quite oily. But don’t let that throw you off as they are delicious.
The best way to eat Chinese breadsticks is to dip them in a hot bowl of Chinese soy milk, or dòujiāng (豆浆) in Chinese.
早茶 | Zǎochá or Dim Sum
Dim sum makes for a great breakfast for travelers looking to enjoy a meal at sitdown restaurant. You’re also in for a real treat if you’re into buffets with lots of different options to choose from.
With Chinese dim sum, parades of waiters push around carts filled with bamboo steamers. Each steamer has a different dish fresh from the kitchen.
When you see something you like, simply wave down a waiter with a cart and pick whatever dish that tickles your fancy.
As its Chinese name implies, dim sum wouldn’t be complete without selecting some good tea (the 茶 character in the name means “tea”) . So I’d do some research prior to eating dim sum on teas and what would complement the dishes best.
Popular Chinese Dishes for Lunch
Like with breakfast, the Chinese are particular about having a good lunch every day.
So in keeping with that tradition, I’ve shared my favorite Chinese dishes that are bound to fill you up and satisfy your palette.
Chinese Dumplings / Potstickers | 饺子 Jiǎozi
Chances are you’ve either tried or at least heard of Chinese Jiaozi (sometimes referred to as “potstickers” back at home).
Even if you’ve tried it at home before, authentic Chinese dumplings are a dish you shouldn’t miss out on during your trip to China. They also make for a great quick lunch should you be in a hurry.
There are also so many different fillings you can enjoy making dumplings something you can eat over and over during your trip without getting tired of them.
Believe me, the list of different dumpling fillings can go on and on. So I’d bring a dictionary and potentially a good Chinese phrasebook to help you order when visiting a dumpling house.
Yunnan Rice Noodles | 过桥米线 Guò Qiáo Mǐxiàn
After visiting Yunnan, this dish immediately became one of my favorite things to eat for lunch. As a big fan of noodles, the variety of food items to customize the dish make it even more compelling to eat.
How eating this dish works is you receive a tray with your noodles in broth (or sometimes the broth and the noodles are delivered separately) and then pour the remaining ingredients into the soup however you like.
The number of ingredients that come with the meal can vary from restaurant to restaurant, but typically you will have at a minimum some eggs, lettuce, beef or chicken, and other items to improve the soup’s flavor.
Lanzhou Beef Noodles | 兰州牛肉面 Lánzhōu Niúròu Miàn
Thankfully, you don’t need to travel all the way to Lanzhou (in the Gansu province) to enjoy their popular beef noodles. You’ll find restaurants selling this dish all over China.
This dish tends to be pretty simple, but don’t let that fool you!
The hand-pulled noodles and thinly sliced beef soaked in a rich broth with a splash of chili oil is among China’s most popular dishes.
While I consider this primarily a lunch item, you can enjoy these noodles for any meal of the day.
Lanzhou beef noodles are also among the most affordable meals you can purchase in China, which will also help you save money on your trip.
Xinjiang Langman | 新疆拌面 Xīnjiāng Bànmiàn
Should your trip to China bring you to Xinjiang, you’ll be lucky enough to enjoy some of the best foods in China. Among them is a dish known by two different names by two different people groups: Laghman (Uyghur) and Banmian (Hui).
The idea behind this dish is simple. You have noodles and top it with a mix of beef, vegetables, and oil.
Sounds simple, but you have to be seriously skilled at pulling noodles and mastering the secret sauce that covers the dish.
What also makes this a great meal for lunch is the many different mixes of vegetables you can choose from. Having it for lunch also gives you time to work off the sheer amount of carbs you take in from the noodles throughout the afternoon.
Mutton Soup | 羊肉泡馍 Yángròu Pào Mó
While you can get yángròu pàomó in many places across China, it’s most popular (and most authentic) in the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’an.
It’s also worth noting that this dish is available in a beef version (牛肉泡馍) if the idea of lamb meat makes you queasy.
This dish combines vermicelli noodles with soft mutton and mini chunks of bread in a hot broth. Not only is this dish tasty, but it’s incredibly filling.
If the small bits of bread don’t make you full, the large portion size definitely will.
Apart from its rich flavor, this dish also reflects Xian’s historical past as the eastern terminus of the Ancient Silk Road. Through the Silk Road trades, Xian experienced a convergence in Central Asian and Chinese culture.
Much of this convergence is reflected in Xian’s cuisine and yángròu pào mó is no exception.
Thanks to high speed trains, it’s incredibly easy to travel between Beijing to Xi’an (or other cities), so you should definitely make this part of your itinerary.
Best Chinese Dishes to Eat for Dinner
Whenever I travel, dinner is similar to the grand finale for my day’s events.
So to make the grand finale of each day of your trip to China special, keep an eye out for these dishes.
Chinese Hot Pot | 火锅 Huǒguō
If you’ve never heard of hot pot, think of it as the Eastern version of fondue (although this is an over-simplification).
When you eat hot pot, you have a simmering pot of soup stock and place ingredients of all different types into the soup until cooked and ready to eat.
Practically anything is fair game to toss into your hot pot with my top choices being sliced beef, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms, quail eggs, wontons, vegetable greens, and many others.
Each region in China also has its unique flavor of hot pot, but the most famous type is Chongqing Hot Pot.
If you have a high spice tolerance, I strongly recommend giving Chongqing Hot Pot a try. The spicy flavors and soup are unparalleled by any other form of hot pot out there.
Just remember to have some cool drinks with you to help with the spice!
Chongqing Fried Fish | 重庆烤鱼 Chóngqìng Kǎo Yú
Sticking with popular Chinese dishes that originate from Chongqing, you should really try their fried fish.
It may be hard to see in the photo above, but there are two fried fish side-by-side soaking in a tasty broth and covered with extra ingredients.
Chongqing fried fish is in many ways also similar to hot pot. The fish is cooked in a spicy broth and you can order vegetables and other items to also cook with the broth.
But the additional hot pot ingredients shouldn’t distract you away from the fish, which has a sumptuous taste after being cooked from the spicy broth.
Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken | 新疆大盘鸡 Xīnjiāng Dàpán Jī
While I may be biased since I lived in Xinjiang for more than a decade, the popular dish known as Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken is by far among the top best dishes you can get in China.
I’ll also admit that the English translation for this dish is rather silly, but you’re in for a real treat should you find a restaurant with a quality version of this dish.
What’s in Big Plate Chicken?
Well, this dish has a good balance of ingredients that include spicy green peppers, potato quarters and wide-flat noodles all mixed together with the chicken and a particularly spicy red sauce.
The folks behind naming big chicken dish weren’t kidding when it comes to the size of this dish. Even a half order is enough to fill 2-4 people!
Lastly, you’re bound to find really good big chicken dish all throughout Xinjiang. But in other parts of China, you’ll have to do your homework in finding an authentic restaurant that offers this dish.
Chicken, Mushroom and Rice | 黄焖鸡米饭 | Huáng Mèn Jī Mǐfàn
If Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken is hard to find, I want to suggest an alternative favorite chicken dish of mine for you to try. After trying chicken, mushroom, and rice for the first time I was instantly hooked and today I make it almost once a week.
What makes this dish so good is that you stew the chicken and mushrooms for a while after they are fully cooked.
This allows the soy sauce, spices, and juices given off by the chicken and mushrooms to soak in and give the dish a great deal of flavor with each bite.
White rice also serves as a great compliment and staple to make you really full after eating this dish.
Popular Chinese Snack Dishes
One thing you’ll learn about China is that the Chinese are professional snackers. Be sure to fit in plenty of snacks and small meals in between breakfast, lunch, and dinner as you travel!
Sure, you might gain a few pounds, but hopefully these snacks introduced to you below will make you feel that the extra weight is totally worth gaining.
Cold Skin Noodles | 凉皮子 Liángpí Zi
Chinese Liangpizi comes with a large pile of slurp-able wheat noodles and gluten slices soaked in chili oil and topped with sliced cucumber. Just the description is enough to make my mouth water!
Originally from China’s Shaanxi Province in the northwest, you can enjoy this street food in pretty much any day- or night-market and in restaurants across China.
As a cold dish, it also makes for a great snack during a hot summer day.
These noodles are really light, making them the perfect snack in between meals.
Chinese Hamburger | 肉夹馍 Ròu Jiā Mó
Another personal favorite snack of mine is the Chinese hamburger, or “Rou Jia Mo”. The translation is pretty poor, though. Don’t expect your typical combination of lettuce, tomato, and cheese.
Instead, these hamburgers are packed with stewed and shredded beef, lamb, or pork mixed with hot green peppers, onion, and cumin stuffed in between a crispy flatbread bun.
Some markets may also mix in their own local flare.
For example, at one of my favorite places to get a Chinese hamburger, the chefs make it with diced chicken stewed in a hot red spicy sauce.
You’re also going to find these almost everywhere as its easy for street vendors to make and sell these on push carts. But I’d be careful to consider sanitation first before listening to your stomach!
Kebabs | 烤肉串 Kǎoròu Chuàn
Nothing satisfies my taste buds more than a pile of hot fresh lamb kebabs. While Xinjiang is the heartland for the best-tasting kebabs in China, you can thankfully find these kebab stands all over China.
Outside of Xinjiang, you’ll also see different varieties of kebab. In Beijing for example, I had skewers of liver and chicken heart, which were – to my surprise – pretty tasty.
They also make for a quick and easy snack should you be in a time crunch in between sightseeing.
Final Thoughts | Popular Chinese Dishes Worth Trying
Most travelers will think about China for its incredible sights like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and others. For me, though, China is ultimately a food destination.
Yes, go see the historical sights and enjoy the Chinese culture. However, I suggest you also take advantage of all the different kinds of food available to you throughout your trip.
The popular Chinese dishes I shared above are also just the tip of the iceberg on what’s out there. Start training on your chopstick skills so that you’re ready to dig into the local food scene once you land.
Further Reading & Resources
6 Tips to Avoid Massive China Crowds while Traveling
China Business Guide | Gift Giving Ideas for China Business Partners
How to Watch Chinese TV Shows in Your Home Country
Traveling or Moving to China Soon?
Download "44 Tips You MUST Know Before Traveling to China". These simple but often overlooked tips could make or break your trip!
Download the Tips Here
What dish does everyone need to try in China? ›
1. Peking Roasted Duck. Peking duck (北京烤鸭 Běijīng kǎoyā) is a famous dish from Beijing, enjoying world fame, and considered as one of China national dishes. Peking duck is savored for its thin and crispy skin.How many types of Chinese dishes are there? ›
These eight culinary cuisines are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang.What are 3 traditional foods in China? ›
If you're lucky, they'll be prepared and served by a chef who's stayed true to tradition. Five best-known, traditional Chinese dishes are Peking duck, biang biang noodles, dim sum, xiaolongbao, and Sichuan hot pot.What are the four main Chinese dishes? ›
First up are those termed the Four Major Cuisines: Lu cuisine from Shandong province; Chuan cuisine from Sichuan; Yue cuisine from Guangdong; and Su cuisine from Jiangsu.What is a traditional Chinese dinner? ›
Ordinary home-made meals usually consist of meat dishes and vegetable dishes. Soup may or may not be served. In northern parts of China, the staple food is wheat-based products including noodles, and steamed buns. However, in the southern part of China, rice is the dominant staple.What is the national dish of China? ›
Peking Duck (The National Dish of China) 北京烤鸭 | Recipe | National dish, Peking duck, Recipes.What do Chinese people eat for dinner? ›
Dinner has become the most important meal for many Chinese. The dishes usually include soup, a variety of meats and vegetables, and rice. Because dinner is a meal to enjoy with the family the food is very hearty.What is the oldest Chinese dish? ›
Noodles are one of the oldest traditional Chinese foods. Chinese people have started eating noodles about 4,000 years ago.
Well known dishes include Mapo Tofu, Dan Dan Mian, Chao Shou Dumpling Soup and Hot Pot. Shanghai – Sugar is commonly used in Shanghai cuisine, especially with soy sauce. Common dishes include Sweet and Sour Ribs, Beggar's Chicken and Lion's Head Pork Meatballs.What are the 10 basic ingredients of Chinese cuisine? ›
- Light soy sauce. Soy sauce is probably the first ingredient most people think of when it comes to Chinese food. ...
- Dark soy sauce. ...
- Oyster sauce. ...
- Dried mushrooms. ...
- Sichuan peppercorns. ...
- Sesame oil. ...
- Chinese five spice. ...
- Chilli bean sauce.
What are traditional Chinese desserts? ›
Desserts in China are quite different from in the West. The best Chinese desserts are red bean buns, dragon's beard candy, egg tarts, candied fruit, pumpkin pancakes, sweet egg buns, deep fried durians, sweet soup balls, almond jelly, and grass jelly.What are the 3 main ingredients in Chinese food? ›
- RICE. An obvious one but Chinese cannot go without rice, even boiled rice. ...
- NOODLES. Some days you feel like rice and some days you feel like noodles. ...
- SOY SAUCE. Used for seasoning as well as to colour and brown your dishes. ...
- SPRING ONIONS. ...
- GARLIC. ...
- FROZEN MEAT. ...
- CORNFLOUR. ...
Healthier choices include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, or soups like egg drop soup or hot and sour soup. Veggie-based items like edamame, lettuce wraps, braised bamboo shoots, or cucumber salad are a few other great options you can try.What do Chinese people eat everyday? ›
Chinese daily meals consist of four food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, and meat. Because of lactose intolerance, Chinese do not consume large amounts of dairy products. Instead, Chinese substitute these with soymilk and tofu, which also contain large amounts of protein and calcium.Which Chinese food is tasty? ›
It is an authentic Chinese food and tastes like heaven. In the list of 'spicy Chinese dishes' chow mein comes for sure and it consists of noodles, onion, celery, and meat (usually chicken, shrimp, pork, or beef).
A survey conducted in China revealed that lunch is generally considered the biggest meal of the day, as stated by a narrow majority of almost 56 percent of respondents.What do China people eat? ›
In China, rice is usually the staple food for people living in the south of China, while food made of wheat flour such as steamed bread, bread, and buns is the staple for people living in the north (Fig.What animals do Chinese eat? ›
Most were species that are traditionally eaten as delicacies in China, including civets, raccoon dogs, badgers, bamboo rats, and porcupines.Why is China dish called China? ›
That's why it gradually replaced pottery in the ceramic history. It is called china in English because it was first made in China, which fully explains that the delicate porcelain can be the representative of China.What vegetables do Chinese eat? ›
Chinese vegetables include Chinese cabbage, bok choy, mustard greens, winter radish, snow peas, yard-long beans, and varieties of melons, eggplant and cucumbers, among others.
What are the 5 Chinese flavors? ›
Before understanding food flavours in China, we must first learn a bit about the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) culture. According to TCM, it is important to have a balance of the five flavours: salty, spicy, sour, sweet and bitter.What is the red Chinese sauce called? ›
Sweet and Sour Sauce is as easy as bringing a few ingredients including pineapple juice, brown sugar, and soy sauce to a boil before adding a cornstarch slurry to the mixture to thicken it. The classic red color from sweet and sour sauce comes from red food coloring (which is completely optional).What are 5 things that China invented? ›
- Paper Making 105 A.C.
- Movable Type Printing 960-1279 AD.
- Gunpowder 1000 A.D.
- Compass 1100 A.D.
- Alcohol 2000 BC－1600 BC.
- Mechanical Clock 725 A.D.
- Tea Production 2,737 BC.
- Silk 6,000 years ago.
That being said, Chinese food, when ordered consciously and intentionally, can actually be filled with muscle-building protein and filling, fiber-rich vegetables.” What's more, she says, it can actually be a healthier alternative to a lot of other fast food (like burgers and fries).What food did China invent? ›
The Chinese are credited with inventing chicken noodle soup, pasta and ketchup. According to one story Marco Polo brought noodles back from China and invented spaghetti (See Noodles, Different Foods).Do Chinese eat eggs? ›
One thing you'll notice anywhere you go in China is the number of people who eat boiled eggs as a portable snack. Boiled, pickled, preserved, fried or stir-fried, the egg takes so many forms that it's unsurprising it is just about everywhere you look.Why do Chinese eat eggs? ›
Eggs are one of the things eaten by the Chinese on their birthdays. Given that a birthday is the anniversary of the day that a person was born, the symbolism of the egg is obvious. The shape of an egg also represents fullness and completeness, qualities that you cannot have too much of in your life.Do the Chinese eat salad? ›
Chinese people don't eat raw salad. While raw food has a higher concentration of vitamins than cooked food, Clissold says the research ignores that lightly cooking food makes its nutrients easier for the body to take on.What is China's most popular drink? ›
Well, Baijiu has been made in China for more than 5,000 years. The country's national drink, it outsells the likes of gin, vodka, rum and even whisky.What is the secret ingredient in Chinese food? ›
Lu sauce is the 'secret sauce" of Chinese cuisine : Goats and Soda It's called Lu sauce. It dates back 1,500 years (at least) and for chef Peter in Beijing, it's new as the brew of soy sauce, ginger, garlic he cooks up each night — with a special touch from his mom.
What are the hard white things in Chinese food? ›
What are those crunchy things in your stir-fry? They're water chestnuts, and they're surprisingly good for you! You probably already know a few things about water chestnuts. They're white and crunchy, and you'll find them in a ton of Asian-style stir fry dishes.What is the best meal from a Chinese takeaway? ›
- Steamed dumplings. Dumplings offered at a Chinese restaurant are pockets of dough filled with seasoned meat and vegetables, usually pork and cabbage. ...
- Hot and sour soup or egg drop soup. ...
- Moo goo gai pan. ...
- Beef and broccoli. ...
- Chop suey. ...
- Chicken and broccoli. ...
- Baked salmon. ...
- Happy family.
General Tso Chicken – According to Grubhub, this sweet fried chicken dish is the most popular Chinese food in America. It's also unhealthy, considering that it is deep-fried and the recipe demands tons of sugar.What is the healthiest food on a Chinese menu? ›
Steamed fish or seafood with ginger, scallions and soy sauce. Steamed fish and veggies are packed with fiber and protein. One of the healthiest places you can choose an entree on a Chinese restaurant menu from is the seafood section, according to Amy Yiu, RD, a registered dietitian with Health Stand Nutrition.What is the most popular chicken Chinese dish? ›
General Tso's Chicken, America's Most Popular Chinese Takeout Dish. General Tso's Chicken, with its battered chicken in a sweet and sour sauce, laced with chilli, is apparently, America's favourite Chinese takeout dish.What is in Chinese food that makes it taste so good? ›
A blend of cinnamon, cloves, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel and star anise, these five spices give the sour, bitter, pungent, sweet and salty flavors found in Chinese cooking.