One of the biggest culture shockers for Westerners when they set foot in China is how different the food is. If you arrive in China and are expecting to find your old favorite standbys from your local Chinese restaurant, you’re going to be disappointed. Even the fried rice is vastly different. But open your mind and you’ll discover new flavors you’ll fall in love with, if you know what to look out for.
1. Get a taste of the region
Every part of China has a specialty dish so wherever you visit, make sure to seek it out. In Beijing, it’s roasted duck while in Shanghai, you better not leave without eating soup dumplings (xiaolong bao). Every place has something unique to taste so don’t miss it.
2. Hot pot is a meal and an experience in one
No matter what region you find yourself exploring in China, you will always find hot pot restaurants. They set a boiling pot in the center of the table and you drop in meats and vegetables to cook it in. There’s a peanut butter-based sauce for dipping it in too. It’s meant to be a leisurely meal so don’t be any hurry. Enjoy it with friends and plenty of beer.
3. Eat on the street
Chinese street food is full of tasty and cheap options that will rock your world. Just watch out for dirty vendors. You can avoid that pitfall by watching where the longest lines are as those tend to be the freshest foods. Some popular selections include barbecued meat skewers (chuan’r), stuffed bread buns of pork (baozi), and Chinese crepes (jianbing).
4. Don’t forget dessert
Your local Chinese restaurant would lead you to believe that there are no desserts in China except for ice cream. And while ice cream is really popular there (they call it bing qi lin), you’ll want to make sure you get some Chinese egg tarts while you wander around, or go for something sugary-sweet like the sticks of hawthorns coated in melted sugar (bing tanghulu).
Eating your way around China is one of the best ways to get to know this big country, so grab your chopsticks and dig in!