Best Chinese food: 32 dishes every traveler should try – CNN

(CNN) — With one of the world’s most diverse meals scenes, China makes it nearly impossible to put together one single list that truly encompasses the “best” Chinese meals.

But with such a huge variety of flavors on offer, it’s immensely helpful to go into the country with an introductory list of essential eats that will give you a well-rounded culinary experience.

Unfortunately, the country remains closed to international tourists, in line with its strict zero-Covid policies . In the meantime, you can dream about these delicious dishes that offer a sampling of China’s many different regions.

Can’t wait till then? Some of them can surely be found in your nearest Chinatown community.

We have included both English and Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese, depending how they are more commonly known) names in this story.

Peking duck

Peking duck is one of China's greatest culinary exports.

Peking duck is one of China’s greatest culinary exports.

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One bite into this small mountain associated with crispy sweet skin, juicy meat, radish, cucumber, scallion and sweet bean sauce wrapped neatly in a thin pancake, and you’ll understand why Peking duck has been captivating stomachs — including those of ancient Chinese emperors — for centuries.

It’s said that roasted duck first started tantalizing taste buds more than 1, 500 years ago in Nanjing, when the city was the seat of ancient Chinese imperial regimes.

The capital relocated to Beijing in the 1400s, and the imperial families brought those tasty roast duck recipes — and the chefs — with them.

It was there that the current way we enjoy the sweet, wrapped in that delicate thin pancake, was invented and then popularized around the world.

Vermicelli with duck blood

Serious duck fans won't want to miss this vermicelli soup dish.

Serious duck fans won’t want to miss this vermicelli soup dish.

Govan/Adobe Stock

Many Nanjing residents will indeed tell you it’s their city — not Beijing — that’s the true sweet capital associated with China.

The city’s obsession with the bird is evident in its wide array of duck offerings, which includes salted sweet, pancakes made with duck grease and duck dumplings.

But nothing speaks to a duck lover’s heart quite like a cheap bowl of vermicelli soups with sweet blood.

Made with duck-bone broth, duck blood curds and bits of duck offal, such as liver and gizzards, this street food dish fully utilizes every part of the bird to deliver incredibly intense flavors.

Steamed fish

It may look simple, but steaming fish is a difficult art to master.

Timing is crucial. The number of minutes — or seconds — you should steam a fish is dictated by the type and size of a fish, as well as the strength of your own stove.

Undercook it by a minute, the flesh won’t detach from the bone; overcook it, the particular flesh will certainly tighten too much and the seafood will lose some of its moisture, tenderness plus flakiness.

Cantonese steamed fish is usually served in some sweetened soy sauce and scallions.

Dan dan noodles

It can nearly impossible to dislike China’s soul-comforting dan mian , or dan serta noodles. The question is: Which version to try?

Serta dan noodles are named after the way they were originally sold a lot more than 100 years ago — on a dan lalu, a carrying pole, by street hawkers.

There are many ways to serve this famous Sichuan specialty. Some think dan noodles should contain a dry mix of noodles, made with minced meat, chopped scallions, spices, crushed peanuts and various sauces. Others disagree, preferring dan serta noodles in a hot, spicy, salty plus nutty broth albeit with similar ingredients.

But most people would agree that lalu dan noodles taste better when topped with a handful of rou saozi — finely cut pork that’s been pan-fried within lard until golden brown and crispy.

Steamed fish head with sliced salted chili

Pro tip: Order a side of dumplings or noodles to dip into the juice after the fish heads have been gobbled up.

Pro tip: Order the side of dumplings or even noodles in order to dip into the juice after the fish heads have been gobbled up.

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Cuisine in the mountainous, landlocked southern province of Hunan (also known as Xiang cuisine) is often cooked with a generous portion of oil, salt and chili.

The state even has its own chili-themed folk song, with lyrics proclaiming that will “it doesn’t count as a dish if there is no soup. A touch of chili triumphs over an exquisite meal. ”

No other meal represents Hunan cuisine as well as steamed fish heads served with chopped salted soup ( duo jiao yu tou ).

Duo jiao , a staple relish in Hunanese homes, is made with chili peppers that are dried, diced then preserved in a jar of salt, ginger, garlic and baijiu (Chinese liquor) for at least a week.

The thick blanket associated with duo jiao gives the steamed fish mind a salty and hot and spicy kick. The particular leftover juice is a delicious dip for noodles or dumplings after you’ve devoured the fish.

Roasted goose

Warning: Once you’ve tried a Cantonese-style, woodfire oven-roasted goose, there’s no going back. No other goose dish may please your palate within quite the same way.

Upon hitting your mouth, the particular goose magically falls apart, offering an explosion of combined flavors from the crispy skin, melted fat plus tender meat.

Some restaurants will use special types of wood, such as camphor wood or lychee wood, to give the bird a special smoky taste.

Chaozhou cold fish/crab

Seaside Chaozhou is known for no-frills seafood dishes that function one purpose — to maximize the fresh ingredients’ original umami flavors.

Among the best meals showcasing this particular style will be Chaozhou-style cold fish or even cold crab.

To preserve the freshness of the seafood, fish and crabs are lightly seasoned in sodium before they’re steamed. They’re then cooled and offered at room temperature.

The fish is often dipped inside a special me llaman bean paste from Poling, while the crabs are served with a garlic and vinegar sauce.

Cross-the-bridge rice noodles

Legend has it that cross-the-bridge grain noodles were invented many years ago with a loving wife. Her husband studied on an island, so the wife would travel across a bridge to deliver him his daily lunches.

As the foods would be chilly after the journey, the disheartened wife decided to bring the pot associated with scalding hot chicken broth, along with the rice noodles plus raw components.

It was an ingenious plan, really. The particular chicken essential oil on the surface from the soup might keep the liquid warm. When the husband has been ready to eat, she’d cook all the elements by pouring them in to the hot soup.

Today, many noodle shops offer their own style of cross-the-bridge rice noodles, offering a choice of different substances and soups bases.

Kungpao chicken

A flavorful partnership of chicken and peanuts.

A flavorful partnership of chicken and peanuts.

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One of the most internationally popular Chinese dishes, Kungpao chicken is made simply by stir-frying diced chicken pieces with scallions, ginger, peppercorns, chili plus deep-fried nuts.

There are different origin stories, but many believe the dish had been inspired by a former Sichuan governor within the 1800s called Ding Baozeng, whose nickname was Ding Gongbao — alternatively romanized as Kungpao.

Is actually said that Ding loved a sour and salty fried chicken dish from China’s Shandong province. After he was moved to Sichuan, he asked his chef to add some local soup and peanuts to the meal — and the rest is usually history.

Sweet plus sour pork / Lychee pork

Deep-fried pig can feel a bit heavy, especially in unforgiving summer weather. Thankfully, we have sweet and sour chicken.

The pineapple in the dish and a sauce made with sugar, vinegar plus soy spices add some quality to the crispy pork.

If you’re a fan of fairly sweet and sour pork, you should also try the particular Fujian edition of the meal — lychee pork. By incising the surfaces of the pork items, they resemble lychees’ uneven skins after being deep-fried.

There is no lychee in the dish traditionally — the particular sweetness comes from sugar, but some restaurants add lychee or use lychee sauce to match its name.

Bonus: The rugged surfaces on the pork hold more sauce and have a more tender texture.


Who needs French fries when you have dumplings?

Whether you love them steamed, boiled or even pan-fried, jiaozi pack a full punch associated with carbs, proteins and vegetables in one mouthful.

Vinegar and chili oil are some of the best condiments to go with Chinese language dumplings.

Rouyan pig dumplings

One of the most interesting styles of dumplings is Fujian’s rouyan version — tasty enough to earn their very own spot on this list.

The mini pork dumplings have an extra chewiness to them as their wrappers are made of chicken and some flour.

Wenchang poultry rice

While Hainanese chicken grain isn’t actually from China’s Hainan state (it was first served in Malaysia), the dish was inspired by the tropical island province and its famous Wenchang chicken.

Made with an unique breed of poultry from the island’s eponymous city, Wenchang poultry is prized for its slim skin, soft meat and sweet flavor.

The most common way to prepare a Wenchang chicken is definitely by blanching and air drying it. Similar to Hainanese chicken rice, the Wenchang version is usually served along with yellow chicken fat grain and poultry soup.

Hainan locals usually prefer garlic plus ginger insert, chili sauce and the juice of little tangerines as condiments.

Mapo tofu

Mapo tofu is one of Sichuan's most popular dishes.

Mapo tofu is one of Sichuan’s most popular meals.

Jiang/Adobe Stock

A memorable mapo tofu packs a boatload of zing — salty, peppery and spicy tastes should all hit the taste buds in a single spoonful thanks to the different types of spices, peppers and soup used in the particular dish.

Discerning local gourmets insist that the greatest m apo tofu should be created using Hanyuan peppercorns and broad bean chili paste from Sichuan’s Pidu district.

Really most commonly prepared with minced pork or beef — and tofu, of course. But as the Sichuan dish is so wildly popular nowadays, restaurants often assist creative versions of mapo tofu with different forms of meats.

Pork belly with dry, pickled Chinese mustard

Tender, well-braised pork belly is naturally irresistible — but the star of this Hakka dish is actually mei cai , the dry, pickled Chinese mustard that gives the hearty stew its bitter and salty taste.

They have said that every Hakka family, a traditionally nomadic tribe in The far east, pickle their own mei cai .

When they make too much of this, they will whip up a mei cai relish that’s a great topping with regard to plain rice and noodles.

Fried rice

Whether it’s an elevated version made out of diced abalone and truffles, or a leftover medley of soon-to-spoil ingredients from your fridge, every good version associated with classic deep-fried rice shares two important ingredients — dry but succulent grain and wok hei (also known as the breath from the wok) .

Jian bing guozi

Probably the most welcome sights on a cold morning within Tianjin in northern coastal China is a jian msn stand, with its sizzling very hot pan.

Jian bing guozi is composed of two elements: Jian msn (crepes) plus guozi (deep-fried crisps).

To make a jian bing guozi , first, the mung bean mixture can be fanned out with a ladle onto a flat-iron pan. Eggs and scallions are usually then spread out on the crepe.

After the pancake is certainly flipped more than, a dollop of veggie paste, sheets of guozi crisps (or, sometimes, deep-fried breadsticks plus vegetables) are added before the vendor — usually a good elderly man — folds the stuffed and toasted pancake and hands it to you within a paper bag.


Use a spoon to catch the spilled soup from a xiaolongbao.

Use a spoon to catch the spilled soup from a xiaolongbao.

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Wondering whether the xiaolongbao wrapper can break on the long trip between the sizzling basket and your mouth is one of the most suspenseful moments that can take place at a dining table.

Amassing a huge following in plus outside Tiongkok, xiaolongbao , also called xiaolong tangbao (translated as “small basket soup bun”), is really a mix of soups and pork packed inside a thin dumpling wrapper.

In addition to pig, the soupy dumplings can also be filled with crab meat and crab roe.

Chen cun rice noodles

If you’re one of those people who thinks the real celebrity of beef chow fun is the noodles and not the particular beef, you should try Chen cun fen (Chen village flat rice noodles).

Chewier, wider plus thinner than the usual flat grain noodles, Chen cun fen is a specialty from Chen village, the town within Shunde district in the Pearl River Delta.

In addition to being stir-fried in the noodle dish, the semi-translucent and smooth Chen cun fen make a great base layer regarding dishes like steamed spareribs and sea food as the noodles absorb all the flavors from your other components.

Dongpo chicken

Named after well-known poet, painter and statesman Su Dongpo (who lived about 1, 000 years ago), Dongpo rou is made up of braised pork belly, rock sugar, soy sauce, yellow wine and other seasonings.

The result is a richly flavored and extremely tender pig slab that may easily be pried aside with chopsticks.

It’s a delicious meal that goes well with steamed white rice.

Hot and sour soup

Surprisingly, China’s famed hot plus sour soups isn’t just great at warming up your body in winter.

Local Sichuanese believe that the soup can also expel excessive humidity and hotness through one’s body within summer as well.

A plate of hot plus sour soup should have a balance of sourness (from vinegar) and spiciness (from peppers) — but not hotness from chili.

Shreds of tofu, Chinese language mushrooms, wooden ears and bamboo shoots are some of the common elements found in the particular thick soups.

Dim sum

Small baskets, big flavors.

Small baskets, big flavors.

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Dim sum refers a lot more to a style of serving food — it’s a type of food in Cantonese food culture — rather than a specific dish.

From the cunning way to include many different varieties of small plates — from pan-fried radish cake to prawn dumplings in order to siu mai — in one meal.

At the same time, dining on a combination of these dishes during a dim sum session is far more enjoyable than eating just one version on its own.

Beef/fish poached in soup oil broth

Don’t be fooled by its bland-sounding Chinese title — shui zhu , which translates literally to “water boil. ”

Shui zhu is a cooking technique that was 1st developed in Sichuan cuisine. The word water ( shui ) refers to the hot, spicy chili oil broth that is used to poach thinly sliced beef ( shui zhu niu ), pork ( shui zhu roupian ) or seafood ( shui zhu yu ).

Today, the photogenic crowd-pleaser is frequently served along with sliced celtuce (a type of lettuce) plus flat mung bean noodles in the broth, too.

Barbecue chicken

The best barbecue pork should be slightly charred on the outside and contain just the right amount of sweetness and saltiness from the maltose, wine plus soy spices.

A Cantonese roast shop will let you choose the level of fattiness you want in your char siu, Cantonese intended for barbecue pork.

Half lean, half fatty char siu is the go-to option if you are a newbie.

Barbecue pork is a highly versatile ingredient served in many delicious meals — through char siu macaroni soup for breakfast in order to char siu bao — steamed buns – at dim amount .


Bao — a steamed bread roll filled with a variety of substances including meats or veggies — come in many shapes and sizes.

It could be a plain bao having a glossy and smooth exterior ( mantou ), or even an oversized steamed volcano-shaped bao stuffed with an entire meal’s worth associated with food ( da bao , or translated as “big bao”).

Yet one of the best baos is undoubtedly sheng jian bao .

The pan-fried bao is filled with pig and broth, while scallions and white-colored sesame seeds are sprinkled on top.

Rou jia mo

The particular Mausoleum of Terracotta Warriors is usually the reason travelers visit Xi’an, yet this western Chinese city’s delicious plus similarly historical rou jia mo is another great reason to head there.

The ubiquitous road eat consists of a grilled mo (flat bread) and an overflowing amount of shredded pulled pork stomach that has been braised in me llaman sauce, rock and roll sugar and spices for example cinnamon, superstar anise, cloves and peppercorns for hours.

Undercooked mo is really a big no-no. A common saying in Shaanxi province will go “tie quan hu bei juhua xin, ” which means “iron ring, tiger’s back and chrysanthemum’s heart ” — the perfect patterns you should look for on the well done mo .

Cantonese herbal soups

Cantonese parents are the real experts when it comes to therapeutic herbal soups, which are simmered for hours to infuse the water with healing qualities plus deliciousness.

Various seasonal ingredients offer different cooling or warming qualities to restore balance in the body.

For example , apple, snow fungus and lily petal soup will hydrate your body, whereas winter melon and barley soup will cool you down within hot weather.

Preserved sausages

Chinese preserved sausages are usually steamed before serving.

Chinese preserved sausages are usually steamed before serving.

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The Chinese language version associated with salami is often categorized in to two main types: Laap cheung and yun cheung (in Cantonese).

Laap cheung will be preserved meat sausage that has a slightly nice taste. Yun cheung , on the other hand, is mostly made with offal from chicken, giving it the stronger plus gamier taste.

Unlike their own European counterparts, Chinese maintained sausages must be steamed before eaten.

You can find them wrapped in buns, stir-fried with sticky rice or steamed in a clay pot.

Sweet taro paste

The secret to some delicious Fujian-style taro paste is binlang yu , a special breed of yam from Fujian’s Fuding county. The particular white and purple flesh of a binlang yu offers vibrant fragrances and a good earthy, nutty and lovely taste.

To make the dessert, the taro is usually cooked plus mashed prior to it’s mixed with sugar and lard.

The solid, silky taro mash will then be garnished with special toppings such as dates, candied cherries plus gingko.


When it comes to nourishing your digestive system, in sickness and in health, it’s all about congee (porridge, commonly constructed with rice).

A popular breakfast item in many parts of China, the particular versatile cheap eat can be served plain with a drizzle of soy sauce and scallions, or even stewed with savory ingredients such as chicken or fish.

Lean pork floss and century egg congee is one of the classics served within the south of China. Congee made with millet instead of rice and flavored with pumpkin is well-known in the north.

Those who are additional hungry may order a side associated with soy sauce-fried noodles, deep-fried breadsticks ( youtiao ) or me llaman milk. These can be enjoyed on the side, or you can tear up the breadsticks or add some noodles to the congee.

Chaozhou meat balls

Most people who visit Chaozhou can’t resist picking up a family-sized bag of super bouncy and flavorsome meat balls made of beef beaten by hand to bring home with them.

Highly praised for their understanding of meat, Chaozhou people are also famous for other dishes such as beef hot container.

Sweet rice tennis balls

One of the most loved desserts in Cina, sweet grain balls, or even tangyuan , can be found in numerous regions.

Ningbo is among the best places to sample these round mochi-like sweets.

The soft, pillowy exterior is made with sticky rice while the filling is made of black sesame, sugars and lard.

The particular lard gives the filling an extra fragrance plus sheen.

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