China is rich in tourist attractions. Delicious foods are an attraction indispensable in a good tour. With a long history, unique features, numerous styles and exquisite cooking, Chinese cuisine is one important constituent part of Chinese culture. Chinese dishes are famous for color, aroma, taste, meaning and appearance.
The following are the eight most popular dishes among foreigners and Chinese. For customers’ convenience, we also list their Chinese character names and English pronunciations.
1. Meigancai (Dry Pickled Mustard Greens)
Wrinkled and deep brown, meigancai looks more like soft, dark tobacco than a cooking ingredient at first glance. But one sniff of its strong, beefy aroma is enough to hint at its culinary potential. The salted, fermented, dried, and aged mustard green is a specialty of China’s eastern city of Shaoxing, where it’s sold in the tiny wine shops and dry-goods stores that line Canqiao Straight Street. Thanks to its intense umami character, the pickled green is right at home in Shaoxing’s local cuisine, which is abundant with foods like fermented amaranth, stinky tofu, dried fish, and rice wine, each with its own uniquely savory flavor. I first tasted meigancai in a dish of slow-cooked pork belly—the luscious sweetness and soft texture of the belly fat contrasting with the rich saltiness and yeasty aroma of the fermented green. But it’s also a not-so-secret key ingredient in countless preparations, with wisps of its dark leaves deepening the flavor of steamed baozi and crisp flatbreads, and small handfuls adding nuance to soups and braises.
2. Shaoxing Wine
Shaoxing is known for its mist and rain, its ancient canals crossed with stone bridges, and the best traditional rice wine in China. I first tried the latter in one of the city’s old wine shops, surrounded by tall jars filled with aged wines. There, it was served from a small ceramic flask that was warmed in a bath of hot water to enhance the drink’s aroma and flavor—perfect for sipping on a cold, damp winter day.
Given its long history (we’re talking over two and a half thousand years), it’s no surprise that variations abound. The wine, made by fermenting glutinous rice with wheat and aging it in deep earthenware vessels for up to several decades, can be anywhere from light amber to deep brown in color. And, though a slight raisin-y sweetness and mellow sherry-like flavor are typical, the wine ranges from quite dry to extremely sweet. Do note that none of the legit stuff tastes a bit like the abominable liquors that pass for Shaoxing wine in supermarkets—beware the cheap, salted versions sold as “cooking wine,” and instead pay a visit to a specialty wine purveyor or a reputable Chinese market. A good bottle will have been aged for at least five years and cost a minimum of $10. Once you’ve got your hands on true Shaoxing wine, make the most of it, incorporating it into your cooking and sipping it on its own.
3. Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
Xiao long bao, those miraculous constructions of delicate dumpling wrappers encasing a big slurp of hot, savory soup and sweet, fragrant ground pork, are far and away favorite Chinese street food. The pocket of soupy stock is the dumpling’s essential element: a flavored pork aspic, typically made with pork skin, chicken bones, ginger, scallions, and Shaoxing wine, simmered for hours until the collagen-heavy ingredients have turned to gelatin, and then cooled until it sets. The dumplings arrive steaming and dangerously hot—to eat one, you have to decide whether to nibble a hole in it first, releasing the steam and risking a spill, or throw caution to the wind and pop the whole dumpling in your mouth, a burst of near-scalding broth exploding on your tongue.
Shanghai may be the recognized home of the soup dumpling, but food historians will actually point you to the neighboring ancient canal town of Nanxiang as xiao long bao’s birthplace. There, you’ll find them rustically prepared—more dumpling and less soup—and the wrappers are pressed by hand rather than rolled, for a thicker and heartier dough.
4. Siu Mei (Cantonese Barbecued Meat)
The gloss on the roast ducks and pigeons gleams under the incandescent heat lamps, amid crisp-crusted pork, goose, soy-marinated chicken, and cuttlefish. The hanging delicacies—mahogany, gold, burnished, and fragrant with five-spice powder—await the sharp thwack of the cleaver as the vendor chops your chosen meat into pieces and serves it over rice with a sticky-sweet sauce. Ignore the grubby laminated tabletops and rough chopsticks sitting in a plastic cup. If the shop is filled with locals on their lunch breaks, and if a steady stream of customers arrives for takeaway siu mei to eat at home, then you’re in the right spot. Sheung Wan district has some of the best, and its streets are great for wandering, with the enormous indoor wet market on Morrison Street and the nearby shops selling premium teas and abalone that’s often spread out in the sun to dry.
5. Mapo Tofu
This zesty Sichuan dish is an array of flavors and textures. Soft tofu acts as a buffer in a bright red sauce of ground pork, garlic, fermented black beans, green onions and fire-breathing dragons.
6.La ji zi
If you’re looking for something spicy, try la zi ji, a dish from the Sichuan province. Fried pieces of chicken breast are paired with peppercorn, chili, and sesame, making for a flavorful dish that will have your mouth on fire.
7. Century Eggs
Century eggs are a delicacy in China that originated in the Hunan province. As the name suggests, quail, duck, or chicken eggs are preserved in a mix of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for multiple weeks or months, a process that changes the smell, color, and flavor of the egg.
8.Saozi Mian (Noodles with Diced Pork)
Saozi Mian (saozi in Chinese pinyin meaning sister-in-law who originally made this specialty noodles in legendary Chinese ancient story) is a homonym of the dish’s original name, referring in Shaanxi dialect to the spicy sauce with fragments of meat that accompany the noodles. Shaanxi locals prefer to eat noodles. People in Qishan County of Baoji City like Saozi Noodles the most. Every family knows how to make it and regards it as a great delicacy during festivals. Years of innovation and refinement have transformed their preparation into an art.
The Saozi Mian is basically dry noodles with diced potatoes, pork, wood ear mushrooms, carrots, day lily, egg and beancurd which together compromise five colors, red from carrots, green from garlic bolts, black from wood ear fungus, yellow from eggs and white from beancurd, expressing people’s wishes for a better life. Black and white signifies distinct attitudes towards what’s right and what’s wrong. Yellow stands for riches and honor. Red carries wishes for a better life, and green represents vitality. All the ingredients are diced and deep-fried. The noodles must be hand-made of good wheat flour. They are thin, pliable, smooth, hot, watery, greasy, sour, spicy and savory. The taste – sour and hot but not pungent – is the essence of Qishan Saozi Mian. All of those make it unique in taste, color and smell and the local people never seem to tire of it.