I’ve been saving tons of vegan recipes on Pinterest lately to try out in my new kitchen (AHHH!!), but I can’t help but reminisce about what I used to eat while I was living in China. Here is a list of 10 things I think every foodie should try while visiting China! Putting this together made me really hungry…
1. Stone Bowl Cauliflower
There’s something magical about the green-stemmed super-crunchy cauliflower commonly found in China, and this dish maximizes it’s potential. We ordered ganguo huacai (干锅花菜) almost every time we saw it on the menu. Crunchy cauliflower florets are mixed with green onions, chili peppers, and Chinese bacon in a heavy stone bowl, par-cooked in the kitchen, and finished up by a blue flame at your dining table.
2. Jian Bing
Jian bing (煎饼) is so popular in China that it’s spreading to the west! I’ve heard about food trucks in Portland, NYC, and LA selling the popular Chinese street food. The traditional Beijing jian bing is a giant buckwheat crepe with an egg cracked on top, brushed with a sweet-savory sauce and filled with fragrant veg like cilantro and green onion, crispy thin fried bread, black sesame seeds, and your choice of meat. It’s a textural explosion that’s best eaten hot off the grill.
3. Lotus Root
This root vegetable was entirely new to me when I arrived in China, and I fell in love at my first bite. Lotus root (蓮藕) can be breaded, fried, boiled, sauteed, or eaten fresh, and no matter how you do it it literally always stays crispy. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, but the texture is perfection.
4. Hong Shao Rou (Fatty Pork)
Oh fatty pork, how I love thee. Let me count the ways… you’re crispy and oh-so-savory, you melt in my mouth, you’re well-seasoned with traditional Chinese spices, and no matter where I eat you, I’m never disappointed. If you like bacon, you’re going to die when you try hong shao rou (红烧肉)!!! “Hong Shao” is a traditional way to cook and season a product in Chinese cooking, and when you do it to “rou” – AKA meat, AKA they almost always mean pork when they say meat – the results are so delicious that I almost typed a swear word.
5. Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
Even though I love me some pork belly, xiao long bao (小笼包) is my all-time favorite Chinese dish. It’s a traditional Chinese dumpling recipe, but with a cube of aspic (meat jelly) inside. When steamed, the innards produce this kind of soup that stays trapped inside the wrapper. The result will burn your mouth in a heartbeat if you’re unfamiliar with how to eat them, but trust me – it’s worth the pain.
6. Beef Noodle Soup
I never thought I would say this, but when I think of beef noodle soup (红烧牛肉面) I think of breakfast. This soup is a humble, comforting blend of beef bits (including bone), hand-pulled noodles, and fragrant veggies. I think it’s amazing when you add just the right amount of la jiao, AKA hot chili sauce.
7. Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)
I’ve eaten a lot of Americanized versions of Kung Pao Chicken, but the traditional Chinese version, gong bao ji ding (宫保鸡丁), tasted like a whole new dish to me. It’s almost an equal amount of peanuts and chicken pieces, fried in oil alongside plenty of Szechuan peppercorns (I still don’t understand how Chinese people can just bite down on those!!) and chili peppers. It’s spicy, crunchy, and crazy filling.
I ate a LOT of dumplings, AKA jiao zi (餃子) during my 10 months in China. Towards the end, I only bought them fresh from local people who handcrafted them right in front of their customers, and I was always ordering a combo of chicken with mushroom and pork with leek. Dip them in just the right combo of brown vinegar, soy sauce, and hot chili sauce for best results.
9. Fish Head Tofu Soup
I realize the name of this dish sounds highly unappealing to westerners, but bear with me!! Fish head tofu soup (魚頭豆腐湯) is the most heart warming Chinese food I’ve ever had. The process is long and tedious, and the result is a giant bowl of healthy, hearty, creamy dairy-free stew. The flavor is pure umami.
10. Peking Duck
Having lived in San Francisco for 3 years, I had seen plenty of bright red ducks hanging from shop windows in Chinatown, but I had no idea what the actual dining process was like until I sat down for traditional Peking duck (北京烤鸭) in Nanjing! The roast duck is hand-cut in thin slices in front of you and served with thinly cut cucumber and spring onion, a traditional Chinese roast duck sauce, and these small thin pancake things that I can only describe as a Chinese tortilla. Basically you throw all of that together in whatever ratio you like, wrap it up in the tortilla, and enjoy. The veggies are bright, the duck meat is tender with crispy skin, and the thick sauce is both sweet and savory. It’s a delicious explosion of traditional Chinese textures and flavors.
What’s your favorite Chinese dish?
Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon 🙂