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10 Top Foods to Try When Traveling in China

Hairy Crab 大閘蟹 in Xibao Shanghai China
Hairy crab in Xibao.
So you’re traveling to China.  You’re probably wondering, what do people eat in China?  They can’t possibly eat the same items I pick up from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant in those cute little take out boxes.  It is true that many of the foods in China are very different from what we are used to getting at home.  (Though surprisingly, orange chicken is actually an authentic Chinese dish, but so much better in China than that gooey sweet stuff we have at home.)  Through a lot of research, some great food tours in China, and a little bit of happenstance, we ate the following 10 top foods to try when traveling in China. 

Xiaolongbao Soup Dumplings (笼包)

Xiaolongbao Soup Dumplings 小笼包 Shanghai China
Delicate soup dumplings with a splash of vinegar.
Xiaolongbao are the Shanghai version of soup dumplings.  Xiaolongbao are smaller and more delicate than other varieties of soup dumplings and are enjoyed for breakfast.  Soup dumplings are made by wrapping a cube of solidified meat stock and meat into a thin delicate dumpling wrapper, pinching the top, and then steaming them in traditional bamboo steam baskets.  Soup dumplings can be purchased at multiple places along the streets of Shanghai.  To eat soup dumplings, take a small bite of the bottom, cool it down by blowing into the hole you created, dip into or pour vinegar over the top, pop into your mouth, and enjoy.  Dumplings in China are served with the vinegar that tastes best with that particular type of dumpling.

Jianbing 煎饼 China
Breakfast of jianbing.

Jianbing (饼)

Jianbing is both a popular breakfast treat and evening snack.  The first time I saw jianbing being made it looked far too rich and filling for my taste.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Luckily, during our Shanghai breakfast food tour our guide convinced us to try this burrito looking treat.  Jianbing is a typical snack found in the western regions such as the Hunan province.  The making of jianbing is a multi-step process.  First batter is poured on a hot surface to create a large thin crepe.  An egg is cracked onto the crepe while it is still cooking, quickly scrambled, and spread over the crepe.  Pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and green onions are sprinkled over the top, after which the crepe is loosened from the hot cooking surface and folded in half.  Fermented bean paste is spread over the top followed by a sprinkling of dried chilis.  A fried wonton sheet is broken in half and placed on top, and then the jianbing is rolled up and cut in half.  For having so many ingredients, jianbing is surprisingly light and the flavor combination is not to be missed.  (Check out my YouTube video of jianbing being made in China.)

Peking Duck (北京烤鸭)

Peking Duck 北京烤鸭 at Quanjude Beijing China
Peking duck at Quanjude in Beijing.
Beijingis the capital of China and sometimes called Peking.  Beijing or Peking is where the famous Peking duck originates.  You simply haven’t experienced Beijing unless you have partaken in a Peking duck dinner.  Peking duck in some form has been a staple in imperial cuisine since the 1300s and became what it is today during the Ming Dynasty.  A meal of Peking duck is very ritualistic.  The crispy roasted whole duck is presented to diners before being expertly carved and sliced tableside.  The thin slices of meat, always with the crisp skin, are placed onto round thin pancakes along with julienned cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin sauce, rolled up, and eaten.  One of the most famous places to dine on Peking duck in Beijing is Quanjude, a restaurant that is over 150 years old.  The flagship restaurant is near Qianmen Square, but while hiking the Great Wall of China our guide suggested the Hepingman location (reached by taking metro line 2 to the Hepingman station and exiting at C2).  While dining at Quanjude does not require formal attire, it is a very formal experience.  Our waitress helped us choose our accompaniments and side dishes and demonstrated for us how to properly assemble and eat our Peking duck.