Dec 12, 2022

Best Chinese Dishes: a Foodie’s Guide to Authentic Chinese Cuisine

If you think the world’s most beloved dishes only come from places like France, Spain, or Japan, think again. Chinese people are absolutely obsessed with their cuisine. In this article, we’ll introduce some of the best Chinese dishes so you know exactly what to eat in China.

Beijing Roast Duck 北京烤鴨/北京烤鸭 (běijīng kǎoyā)

We’ll start with a traditional Chinese food item, the Beijing Roast Duck. Beijing Roast Duck (北京烤鸭) isn’t your typical Chinese food, but rather a special dish you consume at special events and ceremonies. Particularly popular in Beijing (but served in most cities), ordering Beijing Roast Duck usually signifies a special occasion: a visitor from out of town, a wedding, or the start of a new business.

Beijing Roast duck starts with a slice of perfectly roasted, skin-removed duck, dipped into very sweet plum sauce, and then placed into the center of a very thin pancake. More slices of duck, cucumber, and green onion can be added according to your taste, before the thin pancake is rolled up like a mini burrito (but much smaller). The result? A few bites of the most delectable bites of Chinese food you can get.

While many high-end Chinese restaurants serve Beijing Roast duck, the most well-known restaurant that specializes in it is called Quanjude.

Hot Pot 火鍋/火锅 (huǒ guō)

While sharing dishes is a big part of Chinese culture, hot pot takes community eating up a notch.

To eat hot pot, a large pot of broth is brought to a boil in the center of the table. Guests take turns adding raw ingredients (like vegetables and meat) to the broth. When ready, items are removed and eaten straight away.

What makes hot pot special is the variety of broths, ingredients, and sauces that can modify this meal to suit anyone’s palate. If you’re brave enough, try Sichuan style hotpot, with a fiery-red broth that hints at the heat that will come to anyone brave enough to try. 

Hot pot is hard to beat on a cold winter day, especially with several friends and several pints of cold beer to wash it down. According to many foreigners living in China, hot pot is one of the best Chinese foods, so don’t miss it!

Dim Sum 點心/点心 (diǎn xīn)

Traditional Dim Sum is equally as fun to experience as it is delicious to eat.

In a dim sum restaurant, small tapas-style Chinese dishes are pushed around on carts for seated guests to see. When something looks appealing, guests can ask for those small dishes to be given to them directly.

I like to think of Dim Sum as something like the modern west’s idea of “brunch”: you come for an extended meal with a few friends to have deep conversation over a lot of food, spaced out over at least an hour. Despite each dishe being served immediately after you order it, Dim Sum is anything but “fast food”!

If you’re really new to Chinese cuisine, dim sum can also be a great way to get a whirlwind tour of the different types of food in China. Because each dish is small, you can be much more adventurous with what you order. Don’t love it? No worries. Order something else!

Soup Dumplings 小籠包/小笼包 (xiǎolóngbāo)

Particularly popular (and a must-try if you’re there!) in Shanghai, Shanghai soup dumplings (or 小笼包) will put your chopstick skills to the test. If you succeed in picking up these delicate, oil-and-meat-filled dumplings, you’ll be rewarded with one of Shanghais’ most distinctive flavors and one of the most unique pieces of food in the world. 

If you fail, you’ll spill the delicious (but piping hot) oil onto the table or your mouth. You’ve been warned! 

Note: shanghai soup dumplings are usually talked about by their Chinese name, even with people who don’t speak Chinese. Unless you are learning Chinese words, pronunciation can be tricky. Here’s how you do it:

Xiao Long Bao:

Xiao: Start with the hiss of a snake (sss), then add the ‘hh’ from “shh!”, then end with ‘ow’ (like the beginning of ‘ouch!’): Ssshhhow

Long: Just as it looks: “long”

Bao: “Bow” (as in “bow down”, not as in “bow and arrow”).

So there we have it. The best Chinese dishes cover a wide range of choices, from community-style eating with hot pot, to explode-in-your-mouth Shanghai soup dumplings. If you’re interested in learning about more Chinese food names, check out this vocabulary list of Chinese dishes.

By Daniel Nalesnik | A Super Chineasian

Daniel moved to China in 2009 for a year of full-time Mandarin immersion at Peking University (in Beijing) and Fudan University (in Shanghai). In the years since he has worked with teachers throughout China to discover what learning methods are most impactful for Mandarin Chinese learners. This experience inspired Daniel to found Hack Chinese, a spaced-repetition platform for learning Mandarin Chinese.

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