Eating One’s Way Through China: A Favorite Five

China has truly an incredible diverse assortment of culinary styles. Depending on the region, even the city, the food your taste buds will encounter can vary greatly. We at HelloChinese wish to present to you five tasty morsels that we believe one must experience while you’re in China. Enjoy, and if you aren’t hungry now, prepare to be at the end of this article!

1. 小笼包 (Xiǎolóngbāo)    This seemingly simple soup dumplings may seem unassuming, but the many variations and combinations you can eat this with transform something basic into an incredibly delectable meal. Popular in Shanghai and in particular the Jiangnan region,  小笼包 are oftentimes prepared within round, steaming bamboo baskets. Traditionally, these morsels are filled with pork, but nowadays they are served with a vast selection of fillings. Yes, vegetarians, you can eat 小笼包! Other variations range from minced crab meat and roe, seafood, and solid meat aspic to vegetables and other seafood. Eat up!

2. 煎饼 (Jiānbǐng) Pancakes are delicious, and a common breakfast dish in the West. Well, China has its own variation on pancakes, and it is delicious! Literally translated to ‘fried pancake’, appearance-wise it is most similar to crepes. A seriously well-liked street breakfast in China, 煎饼 can be comprised of a number of savory and mouth-watering ingredients. Depending on how you feel, you can order sauces like chili sauce or hoisin sauce, and add flavors like coriander, scallions, mustard pickles, lettuce, peanuts, black beans, mung beans, soybeans, green garlic, etc. This is an affordable option for travelers or people who want a tasty breakfast without breaking the bank.

3. 瓷饭团 (Cífàntuán) This is massively popular for many in Shanghai. Sticky rice balls that are filled with surprises. The outer layer is sweet-smelling sticky rice. Within, vendors oftentimes include 油条 (Yóu Tiáo), which is a mouthwatering fried breadstick, a salted duck egg, sweet-dried pork floss, and diced pickles. Depending on your preference, you can flavor the inside with granulated white sugar or a savory sauce like pork sauce. So many textures and flavors make up this dish. You’re welcome in advance for informing you about this memorable culinary experience.

4. 麻辣烫 (Málàtàng) For those of you adventurous eaters or spice-lovers, this is a dish for you. Originating from Sichuan, this is a favorite for many around China. Essentially, it’s a bowl of spicy soup and you choose what goes inside. Ingredient choices often include noodles, fish balls, vegetables, meatballs, tofu, lotus root, sheep bowels, mushrooms, and beef chunks. Before serving, vendors typically season it even more with loads of Sichuan peppercorn, chili pepper, black pepper, garlic, sesame paste, and crushed peanuts. We at HelloChinese advise preparing for this dish with plenty of water and tissues nearby. Tears and flushed faces are commonplace for first-timers.

5. 八宝饭 (Bābǎofàn) Translated as ‘eight-treasure rice pudding’, this dessert has special meaning. This is because in Chinese culture eight is considered a very lucky number. This dish is a steamed pudding delectably soaked in butter and sugar. The top of the dish holds the eight different ‘treasures’. These include lard, red bean paste, lotus seeds, dates, kumquat, dried longan, red jujubes, and other varieties of dried, candied fruits. Served on special occasions such as Chinese New Year’s, this is a traditional dessert worth trying!