Find out what Chinese foods to try when traveling in China and what authentic Chinese foods are still eaten by the Chinese. Easy recipes of 40 traditional Chinese foods and dishes are found below.
History of Chinese Foods
China is the country with not only the largest population, but also largest and one of the most impressive cuisines in the entire world.
Chinese cuisine is one of the oldest in entire world. It reaches all the way back to the first millennia BC, managing to survive, evolve and grow into the behemoth it is today using countless techniques provided not only by cooks, but also fashion trend setters and traditional herbal medicine.
Their great attention to food can today be attributed to several factors that enabled Chinese cooks to create the most diverse and interesting cuisine in the world. Quick expansion of the Han culture from Yellow River across entire territory of China that covers many climate zones that have their own indigenous ingredients and cooking traditions. Constant absorption of foreign cuisine traditions via trading connection or expansions.
Lately the very popularized movement that infused herbal medicine with cooking making meal preparation very balanced and healthy, and finally never-ending cooking fashion changes that were forced by imperial courts and Chinese elites.
Modern Chinese cuisine can be separated using two different schools of food. “Four Schools” refer to the cooking traditions of Shandong, Su, Cnatonese and Sitchuan, while the four additional cuisines developed in the territories of Hunan, Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang. They all produce incredible variety of food based on rice, noodles, wheat, soybeans, herbs, seasonings and vegetables.
Interesting Facts about Traditional Chinese Foods
▶ The most important foods and ingredients that are used in Chinese dishes and Filipino dishes are rice, noodles, wheat, soybeans, vegetables, sauces, herbs and seasonings.
▶ “Dim sum” is Cantonese for “touch your heart”. This term represents all bite-size portioned Cantonese foods.
▶ The staggering variety of Chinese food recipes was created because of the large size of Chinese territories.
▶ In addition to foods, Chinese also took great care in creation of their drinks – Teas, herbal drinks and liquor.
▶ Chinese foods can be separated into eight culinary traditions – Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan, and Zhejiang cuisines.
▶ Chinese foods can also be separated by the regions they are made from –Cantonese, Szechuan, Anhui, Shandong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Hunan, Zhejiang, Mongolian, Tibetan and several others.
▶ Chinese cuisine spread all around the world, mostly carried with the immigrants.
▶ One of the best examples of mixture of Chinese and foreign local cuisine is Japanese Ramen, which is famous all around the world.
▶ Chinese foods arrived in North America during great migration of Chinese workers who were tasked to build railways in America.
▶ First nexus of Chinese foods in America was San Francisco. Almost all dishes were adapted to better suit local needs.
▶ Most popular and best Chinese food in America are almond chicken, sesame chicken, Chinese chicken salad, chop suey, sweet rolls, sushi, egg rolls, fried rice, and many others.
▶ Fortune Cookie was invented in California, as a variation of Japanese “omikuji senbei” fortune cookies. The main difference of Fortune Cookies is that they are much sweeter than Japanese variant.
Authentic Chinese Foods Cooking Techniques and Methods
Over the last thousand years, Chinese cooks create their own techniques that become traditional in various regions of their large country. These differences in the way food is prepared enabled Chinese to create one of the most impressive cuisines in the world, with thousands of dishes that use very innovative, unique and balanced recipes.
Wet techniques are based on water immersion-based cooking. The basic name of this technique (zhǔ) is also used to denote Chinese foods cooking in general. This wet technique is used in three very distinct ways:
- Braising (Shāo)
– Mix of both frying and cooking in liquid that is heated to the medium heat.
- Quick Boiling (Dǔn or Zhá)
– Fast technique of adding ingredients and seasonings to the boiling water. After adding these new ingredients, water will stop to boil, and entire meal needs to be put off the stove when the water is back to boiling point.
- Scalding (Chāo or Tàng)
– Mixing of cooking in boiling water and then immersing the cooked ingredients into cold water.
– One of the most common techniques of cooking Chinese foods, mixing ingredients into oiled pans that are heated by stoves.
– Even though majority of Chinese cuisine is based on dishes that are cooked in liquids, they also have rich history of food prepared in ovens or heated empty wok (traditional Chinese large saucepan):
- No Heat
– Chinese foods recipes that does not require heat to be completed.
Styles of Chinese Cuisine
Four Great Traditions
– Famous for their focus on “Dim sum”, food that uses small bite-sized dishes that are created by frying, baking, steaming and stewing.
– Cooking style from lower reaches of Huai and Yangtze rivers, usually with each dish being focused on a single main ingredient that had to be cut in a predetermined way or its perfect taste will not be achieved.
– Very popular cooking style, focused on light seafood and soups.
– Focused more on baking.
List of Popular Chinese Food Dishes
Dishes by Main Ingredient
- Chinese noodles
– One of the core pillars of Chinese cuisine and many other Asian countries – the plain old noodles. They were introduced during Han Dynasty (25-220 AD).
- Chow mein
– Stir-fried noodles that are also very popular in US, UK and many other international territories.
- Noodle soup
– Very popular food that mixes soups with noodles in a thousand different variations of ingredients.
–Stir fried mix of thick wheat noodles, ground pork and salty fermented soybean sauce paste. Many variations of this dish exist across Asia.
– Noodle dish that uses dough that is stretched in strands. This dish is has no connection to modern Spaghetti.
- White Rice
– Traditional cooked rice.
- Fried Rice
– Stir-fried steamed (cooked) rice with added ingredients (meat, vegetables, eggs…).
- Dongpo pork
– Popular dish made by pan-frying and then red cooking pork belly into small 2 inch square pieces that have both meat and fat.
- Sweet and Sour Pork
– Pork dishes that are heavily spiced with wide variety of sweet and sour sauces.
- Twice Cooked Pork
– Popular Sichuan-style dish that first simmers pork belly in spiced water until it’s half-cooked, then refrigerated, cut in smaller pieces, and then again fried in oil with additional vegetables.
- Char Siu
– Barbecued thin slices of pork that are cooked either in oven or over fire.
- Kung Pao chicken
– Popular Szechuan chicken-based dish that involves stir-frying chicken meat with vegetables, spices and other ingredients.
- Peking Duck
– Very famous dish that involves specially bred ducks that are seasoned and roasted in oven. After cooking it is seasoned with cucumber, scallion, pancakes, sweet ban sauce and sometimes other seasonings.
- Buddha’s delight
–Vegetarian Chinese drink that was traditionally enjoyed by Buddhists. It involves frying various vegetables and seasonings in soy sauce.
- Pickled vegetables
–Vegetables (or fruits) with seasonings that were fermented in salty water. Also vegetables can be pre-marinated in soy sauce or other sauces.
Chinese Dishes by Cooking Method
– Steamed bun on bread that can be filled with various ingredients, including meat and vegetables.
- Dim sum
– One of the most famous Cantonese dishes, countless types of food that is prepared in small bite-sized portions.
– Northern-Chinese type of dumplings, with fillings of port, cabbage, ginger, scallions and other ingredients.
–Chinese style of dumplings, larger than Guotie and with thicker skin.
– Steamed bred or buns (sized 4-15cm) that are popular in North china where wheat is produced more than rice.
– Small sphere-shaped dumplings that are made both by frying or boiling.
–Shangai dish, a very popular soup dumpling.
–Glutinous rice that is wrapped in leaves (usually bamboo or reed) and then cooked or boiled.
- Longevity Buns
–Celebratory meal (birthdays, special occasions) that consists from steamed buns that are filled with various ingredients. Buns are shaped like peaches.
- Cong You Bing
– Salty scallion pancakes that are made from dough (not batter).
– Pastry delicacy that is eaten during days of celebration (birthdays, festivals).
–Sweet pastry food popular in Manchu, Canton and Fujian.
–Layered flatbread that has optional stuffing or sesame on top. More popular in Northern and Central China.
– Also known as Chinese oil stick, Chinese doughnut, and fried breadstick. Basically it is lightly-salted deep-fried strip of dough, usually eaten at breakfast as an accompaniment for rice congee or soy milk.
Soups, Stews and Porridge
–Rice porridge, often served as a part of a larger meal that has meat, fish and other foods.
- Hot and Sour soup
– Regional dish of Beijing and Sichuan. It is called “hot and sour” because it uses red peppers or white pepper for providing hot feeling and vinegar for providing cold feeling.
- Hot pot
–Single name for many varieties of Chinese and Asian stews.
- Tong Sui
–Single name for large collective of sweet soup deserts that are eaten at the end of the bigger meals.
10 Popular Authentic Chinese Appetizers and Snacks
1. Cantonese Spring Rolls – Chinese Foods
I think cabbage and carrots are a must in any spring roll, but you can change things up from there. I’ve made them with pork, shrimp, mushrooms, or just loaded with veggies.
Once you get them nice and crisp, they’ll fly off the plate no matter what filling you choose. Serve with a selection of dipping sauces.
2. Sticky Baked Chinese Chicken Wings – Authentic Chinese Foods
Not only do these babies get a flavorful marinade, but they’re also coated in the perfect sticky glaze. They’re garlicky, spicy, sweet, and everything you want in a plate of wings.
So when it says baste – be sure to baste! These wings need a solid 45-50 minutes in the oven, and you should be basting at least twice to get the best finish.
3. Crab Rangoon – Traditional Chinese Foods
You’ll need to mix the cream cheese with the garlic and Worcestershire sauce until smooth before adding the crab meat. That way, it will stay chunky. I prefer to use fresh crab meat from the deli, but most recipes use imitation crab meat. I’ve also made this with cooked shrimp, and it came out great.
4. Soft Fluffy Chinese Steamed Buns – Easy Recipes
To get the smoothest finish, be sure to leave the buns in the steamer for a few minutes after you switch the heat off. This will allow them to gently cool down, rather than shocking them by taking the lid straight off.
5. Chinese Style Potato Salad – Chinese Foods
When cutting your potatoes, be sure to cut them as evenly as you can, so they will all cook together. And try not to overcook the potato, or it will turn to mush.
6. Egg Rolls – Authentic Chinese Foods
7. Chinese Cabbage Salad – Traditional Chinese Foods
If you’re a fan of coleslaw, you’ll probably really enjoy this simple salad. Chopped peanuts will add a different kind of crunch, and the toasted seeds and noodles will give some lovely crisp texture.
8. Sachima – Easy Recipes
This ancient Chinese snack is mainly made of flour and eggs. Fried in hot honey, melted sugar and cream, Sachima has a golden crispy crust and tastes sweet and fluffy.
9. Stinky Tofu – Chinese Foods
Screw up your courage to take one bite and you will be certain to feel surprised by its special texture. The fried bean curd is crunchy outside and soft inside, and spicy sauce poured on its surface brings a little more flavor to the snack.
10. Youtiao (Chinese Fried Dough) – Authentic Chinese Foods
These Chinese crullers are really good alone when made fresh with some dipping sauce made with some soy sauce, hot chili oil and a splash of vinegar.
What Traditional Chinese Foods Dishes Do Chinese Eat For Dinner?
Main dishes are usually chicken, duck, fish, pork, beef and lamb. Some dishes considered by Chinese to be delicious may be thought unpalatable for consumption by westerners, for example: chicken feet, duck tongues, pig’s trotters, and beef entrails.
A typical Chinese meal will have two things – a carbohydrate or starch like noodles, rice or buns, and accompanying stir fries or dishes of veggies, fish and meat. They use a lot of fresh vegetables like mushroom, water chestnuts, bamboo and even tofu.
Ordinary home-made meals usually consist of meat dishes and vegetable dishes. Soup may or may not be served. In northern parts of China, the staple food is wheat-based products including noodles, and steamed buns. However, in the southern part of China, rice is the dominant staple.
Chinese people like to host dinner at home for family and friends. As a matter of fact, the tastiest dishes are often encountered in the private kitchen. A dinner party at home has many advantages over one at the restaurant. It makes the host and guests more relaxed and there is greater leisure in the repast.
10 Popular Authentic Chinese Foods for Dinner
1. Fried Rice – Chinese Foods
Rice is a staple in Chinese cuisine. Chinese fried rice is a complete meal that feeds the entire family.
The combination of ingredients can be anything from protein (chicken, pork, shrimp) to vegetables (carrots, mixed vegetables). It’s a wholesome meal for dinner. It also happens to be simple and quick to make at home.
2. Chow Mein – Authentic Chinese Foods
Other than rice, noodles are a mainstay in Chinese cooking. Just like with fried rice, there are endless variations on chow mein. For busy parents, this is an easy dish to make for the entire family. And if you can’t find traditional Chinese egg noodles or chow mein noodles, you can use cooked spaghetti to make the dish instead.
3. Congee (Rice Porridge) – Traditional Chinese Foods
It can be savory or sweet, topped with meat, tofu, vegetables, ginger, boiled eggs and soy sauce, or mung beans and sugar. And since it’s ultra-comforting, congee is also considered food therapy for when you’re sick.
4. Rou Jia Mo (Chinese Hamburger) – Easy Recipes
The street food originates from Shaanxi in northwest China, the meat contains over 20 spices and seasonings and since it’s been around since the Qin dynasty (circa 221 B.C. to 207 B.C.), some would argue that it’s the original hamburger.
5. Kung Pao Chicken – Chinese Foods
This is probably the most well-known Chinese chicken dish outside of China. It’s also an authentic and traditional dish that you can find in many restaurants in China.
The spicy stir-fried chicken dish originates from the Sichuan province of southwestern China, and while you’ve probably had the Westernized version, the real thing is fragrant, spicy and a little bit mouth-numbing, thanks to Sichuan peppercorns. If you want to avoid the gloppy version, its actually quite easy to re-create at home.
6. Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork) – Authentic Chinese Foods
Whether it’s pork loin, belly or butt, the seasoning almost always contains honey, five-spice powder, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and red fermented bean curd, which give it its signature red hue.
If you’re not already drooling, char siu can be served alone, with noodles or inside baozi (steamed bread-like dumpling).
7. Zha Jiang Mian (Beijing Fried Sauce Noodles) – Traditional Chinese Foods
A dish of perfectly chewy noodles with a rich, meaty sauce, Zha Jiang Mian is just another one of those perfect dishes that you don’t really mess with too much.
8. Wonton Soup – Easy Recipes
Wontons are one of the most authentic Chinese dumplings. The wontons themselves are made with a thin, square dumpling wrapper and can be filled with protein such as shrimp, pork, fish or a combination, depending on the region.
The broth is a rich concoction of pork, chicken, Chinese ham and aromatics, and you’ll often find cabbage and noodles mingling with the wontons.
9. Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) – Chinese Foods
Soup dumplings are dumplings with the soup inside. The filling is made with a pork stock that’s so packed with collagen, it solidifies as it cools. Then it gets folded into a delicate wrapper that’s pleated into a neat little packet and steamed, melting the broth. To eat, simply bite the top off and slurp out the broth before popping the rest in your mouth.
10. Chinese Hot Pot At Home – Authentic Chinese Foods
Less a dish and more an experience, hot pot is a cooking method where raw ingredients are cooked tableside in a giant pot of simmering broth. There’s a lot of room for variation: different broths, meats, veggies, seafood, noodles and toppings. It’s also meant to be a communal event where everyone sits down together and cooks their food in the same vessel.
What Traditional Chinese Dishes Do Chinese Eat For Desserts
Chinese people do eat dessert – the fruit plate. Yes, Chinese people don’t usually order dessert, but restaurants do serve fruit platters, mostly comprising fruits that are in-season, such as watermelons, tomatoes, apples and oranges.
The most popular deserts in Chinese cuisine are seasonal fruits, sweet cakes, bakery products, rice-based steamed snacks, ice cream, shaved ice with sweet syrup, jellies. In global, all Chinese desserts are less sugary than deserts from the western hemisphere.
East Asians do not like extremely sweet desserts. For example, chocolate cakes, brownies, macarons are considered to contain way too much sugar to their liking. A small piece makes them sick of it. On the other hand, many Japanese and Chinese (southern) love spongy/sticky food.
Steamed New Year cake is China’s most famous and most popular New Year dessert. Some of the most common Chinese bakery products include mooncakes, sun cakes (Beijing and Taiwan varieties), egg tarts, and wife cakes.
20 Traditional Chinese Desserts
1. Almond Jelly (Chinese Almond Tofu) – Chinese Foods
Almond jelly is a breeze to make and only calls for combining milk, ground almonds, water, and gelatin or agar.
It is then sliced into its signature diamond shape and served with fruit salad from a can.
2. Egg Tarts – Authentic Chinese Foods
You’re not supposed to eat them in bulk, but I couldn’t help it. They were just so addictive! Fortunately, egg tarts are very easy to make and only take 15 minutes of prep time.
3. Soy Milk Pudding – Traditional Chinese Foods
I find a new combination of soy milk and soy bean flour, a smooth and soft dessert firmed with Gelatine. This dessert can be made from Agar Agar too. I will introduce the two options here. In summer, all kinds of desserts and cold dishes are always the most popular and I love to introduce a lovely combination – soy milk with soy bean flour.
4. Pineapple Tarts – Easy Recipes
Traditional pineapple tarts with flaky, crispy pastry that melts in the mouth and topped with delicious pineapple jam are sold abundantly during the festive seasons, especially Chinese New Year.
5. Red Bean Cakes – Chinese Foods
They’re mildly crisp on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. These cakes create a beautiful harmony in your mouth. Apart from red bean paste, these cakes can also be stuffed with pudding or savory fillings.
6. Chinese Sweet Potato Ginger Dessert Soup – Authentic Chinese Foods
The sweet potato and dates provide wonderful textures, while the combo of sugar and ginger gives it such a yummy flavor. Plus, this soup is also easy to prepare. All it takes is to toss the ingredients in a pot and mix!
7. Bubble Tea – Traditional Chinese Foods
It’s a cold concoction made with milk and tea, and loaded with soft and chewy tapioca balls called pearls. Mildly sweet and creamy, boba is the perfect way to cool you down on a hot summer day.
8. Fried Milk – Easy Recipes
Wondering how on earth it’s possible to fry milk? The trick is to thicken milk with cornstarch and let it firm up in the fridge.
Once solid, it is sliced into strips, dipped in bread crumbs, and fried until golden. I have a strong feeling this is going to be your new favorite snack.
9. Chinese Almond Cookies – Chinese Foods
They’re also a snap to make. It’s just a matter of mixing the ingredients together and baking them for 15 minutes.
10. Chocolate Chinese Five-Spice Cake – Authentic Chinese Foods
This unique cake is sweet and moist with a little hint of warmth and spice. The heat from the pepper adds such a slight zing that will make you want to take another bite.
It’s perfect for people who find chocolate cake to be way too rich. The spices give the chocolate an earthy contrast and balance out the flavors really well.
11. Chinese Egg Cake – Traditional Chinese Foods
It calls from basic pantry ingredients – eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder, oil, and salt. It also comes together in just under an hour! But don’t be fooled by its simplicity, because this cake will absolutely knock your socks off.
12. Pineapple Buns – Easy Recipes
It may need a bit of imagination, but if you look closely, the lined edges make them look like pineapples. The bread is ultra soft and tender, and the cracked surface adds a crisp and crumbly contrast.
13. Chinese Raspberry Snowflake Cake – Chinese Foods
This drool-worthy dessert is named such not after its appearance, but after the cooling effect it gives anyone who devours it. Served cold, it’s a fantastic way to cool you down on a hot summer day.
14. Chinese Walnut Cookies – Authentic Chinese Foods
Fortunately, they don’t contain as many calories as other cookies, so go right ahead. Apart from the flavor, these cookies also smell amazing. Walnuts give off such an appetizing aroma, making them impossible to resist.
15. Fa Gao – Traditional Chinese Foods
Just like the Chinese egg cake, fa gao is steamed, not baked. Mini-sized cakes are cooked at high heat, causing the surface to crack into four segments. The resulting appearance is said to look like a smile, although if I’m being honest, it doesn’t look like one at all! I still think it looks awesome, though.
16. Chinese Sesame Cookies – Easy Recipes
Sesame cookies, like almond cookies and other types of Chinese cookies, were traditionally made with lard. Using butter or shortening (or a combination of both, as in this recipe) gives us a healthier cookie with just over 75 calories. For extra flavor, try incorporating a few tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds into the cookie dough before baking.
17. Mango Pudding – Chinese Foods
Plus, you can’t go wrong with the combination of cream and mangoes. These two ingredients complement each other beautifully, yielding one spectacular dessert.
18. Sesame Seed Balls – Authentic Chinese Foods
They are completely covered with sesame seeds for that added crunch and to avoid them from sticking to your hands. Apart from sesame seed, other popular fillings include red bean paste and peanut paste.
19. Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding – Traditional Chinese Foods
To top it off, it is drizzled with a fragrant chrysanthemum syrup that makes it smell heavenly. Wondering why it’s called eight treasures? “8” refers to the number of toppings added to the dish. Very precious, indeed.
20. Fortune Cookies – Easy Recipes
Sure, they require a bit of effort, but just imagine how much fun it is for family and friends! Fill these Homemade Fortune Cookies with your own personal fortunes for a fun and delicious crafty treat!
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Chinese cuisine information thanks to Chinese Food History.