Culinary Odyssey In China: Top Popular Dishes To Savor

Dec 20, 2023

Chinese food culture has a long history and it’s the result of centuries of refinement and experimenting with various methods of cooking, many of them unique to China. At the same time, Chinese cuisine is also regional and it is influenced by the natural geography, climatic conditions, resources, specialties, and eating habits of each Chinese region.

Included were 10 of the most popular dishes in China, dishes that are enjoyed and eaten across the country and have now been shared and experienced around the world.

Steamed fish head with chopped salted chili

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

The thick blanket of duo jiao yu tou gives the steamed fish head a salty and spicy kick.

And no other dish represents Hunan cuisine as well as steamed fish heads served with chopped salted chili (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 of duo jiao gives the steamed fish head a salty and spicy kick. The leftover juice is a delicious dip for noodles or dumplings after you’ve devoured the fish.

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Kungpao chicken

Being one of the most internationally famous Chinese dishes, Kungpao chicken is made by stir-frying diced chicken pieces with scallions, ginger, peppercorns, chili and deep-fried peanuts.

Kung Pao Chicken is highly addictive stir-fried chicken with the perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy flavour.

There are different origin stories, but many believe the dish was inspired by a former Sichuan governor in the 1800s called Ding Baozeng, whose nickname was Ding Gongbao – alternatively romanized as Kungpao. It’s said that Ding loved a sour and salty fried chicken dish from China’s Shandong province. After he was relocated to Sichuan, he asked his chef to add some local chili and peanuts to the dish – and the rest is history.

Sweet and sour pork / Lychee pork

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

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

If you’re a fan of sweet and sour pork, you should also try the Fujian version of the dish – lychee pork. By incising the surfaces of the pork pieces, they resemble lychees’ uneven skins after being deep-fried.

There is no lychee in the dish traditionally – the 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.

Dumplings

Dumplings are a prevalent and traditional food that originated in Northern China. The dish usually includes minced meat or chopped veggies and is wrapped in a thin dough skin. Options typically include pork, shrimp, chicken, beef, or vegetables.

Hot Pot

Also known as a steamboat, a hot pot is known globally because of its preparation method. You begin the process by simmering a soup stock with other ingredients, making it cook at the table instead of in the back kitchen. It’s common throughout the notion and is usually done as a communal meal.

Char Siu

Bringing the most popular dishes in China list to an end is this mouth-watering Cantonese-styled barbeque pork. Cooked in five-spiced powder, honey, and red yeast, Char Siu can be fire-roasted to perfection, allowing for a sweet and savory experience with each bite.

This special dish is very popular for barbeque enthusiasts since and tasty on levels that can even indulge you.

Mapo tofu

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

Discerning local gourmets insist that the best mapo tofu should be made with Hanyuan peppercorns and broad bean chili paste from Sichuan’s Pidu district.

It’s most commonly cooked with minced pork or beef – and tofu, of course. But as the Sichuan dish is so wildly popular nowadays, restaurants often serve creative versions of mapo tofu with different types of meats.

Wenchang chicken rice

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

Made with a special breed of poultry from the island’s eponymous city, Wenchang chicken is prized for its thin skin, tender meat and sweet flavor.

The most common way to cook a Wenchang chicken is by blanching and air drying it. Similar to Hainanese chicken rice, the Wenchang version is often served with yellow chicken fat rice and chicken soup.Hainan locals usually prefer garlic and ginger paste, chili sauce and the juice of small tangerines as condiments.

Dim Sum

Dim sum refers more to a style of serving food – it’s a type of meal in Cantonese food culture – rather than a specific dish. It’s a cunning way to include many different varieties of small plates – from pan-fried radish cake to prawn dumplings 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.

Cantonese Spring Rolls

Not to be confused with egg rolls, Cantonese spring rolls are known worldwide as the perfect side dish, and it makes sense why. Although initially used as a seasonal snack at Chinese New Year festivals, these rolls are eaten all year round and are filled with veggies, cabbage, and other meat fillings.

Fried spring rolls in China.

In Asia Vacation Group, we provide different China tours with unique culinary experiences so you can get to know about the immense food scene of one of the biggest civilization cradles in the world.