Want to find out what the top foods in China are?

From delicate dumplings to spicy hotpot, Chinese cuisine is known for being both delicious and diverse.

In this list, you’ll find dishes that are popular in most corners of China.

While some may be more prevalent or unique to certain Chinese regions and provinces, they’re still well-known around the country.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already starting to salivate!

So let’s dive right in.

1. Fried rice

Fried rice

Rice is one of the most popular foods in China. Image by Juno Kwon on Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 炒饭 (chao fan)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

Steamed rice is one of the staple foods in China. It’s always eaten with something else.

Fried rice, however, is a dish that can be eaten all on its own. And it can feed the whole family too, which is one reason why it’s popular in China.

While ingredients do vary across the country depending on availability and local preferences, you can be sure to find some sort of protein in it, like pork or chicken, along with diced vegetables.

Some people think the best fried rice in all of China is found in a city called Yangzhou, in eastern Jiangsu province, hence the variety called ‘Yangzhou fried rice’.

2. Hotpot


Hotpot is best enjoyed with friends. Image by Leacky Chen on Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 火锅 (huo guo)
  • Region: Sichuan and southwestern China

Hotpot is popular in China not just because it suits different taste buds but because it’s eaten in a very social setting.

You place your ingredients in the simmering pot and as you wait for it to cook, you chat with your friends around you.

You can put practically anything in the pot, which starts with soup stock. Typical ingredients include all kinds of sliced meats, seafood, tofu and vegetables.

If you’re lucky enough to try hotpot in Sichuan province, where it originates from, keep an eye on the chili. The Sichuanese like it hot!

Hotpot is so popular in China that it features in numerous Chinese Lays flavors.

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3. Fried noodles (chow mein)

Fried noodles - typical food from China

Noodles are another staple Chinese food. Image by Christian Wilmsen.

  • Chinese name: 炒面 (chao mian)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

Along with rice, noodles are a mainstay in Chinese cooking.

There are endless variations of chow mein, which got its name from the Mandarin pronunciation, ‘chao mian’.

I like my noodles fried and oily. Luckily for me, that seems to be fairly common throughout China, especially in the northern provinces where oil is splashed around like nobody’s business.

And, there’s nothing better than washing down your fried noodles with a famous Chinese drink like Tsingtao beer.

4. Lanzhou hand-pulled beef noodles

Lanzhou hand-pulled beef noodles

Tasty soup noodles from Lanzhou. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 兰州手拉牛肉面 (lanzhou shou la niurou mian)
  • Region: Western China

Still on the theme of noodles, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles are a common dish in China.

They originated in the city of Lanzhou, in western China, but have spread across the country, especially in Muslim communities.

The fresh noodles are served in a boiling hot broth with tender, thin pieces of beef. This dish is simple, fragrant, and to die for!

If you travel to China and would like to try Lanzhou noodles, keep your eyes peeled for Muslim restaurants, or even a Muslim quarter in one of the bigger cities.

And it’s easy to order without knowing a word of Mandarin – restaurants that sell these noodles often have big photos in the menu or even on the wall.

Read more about traveling to China without speaking Chinese.

5. Peking duck

Peking duck in wrap

Delicious Peking duck in a wrap. Image by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.

  • Chinese name: 北京烤鸭 (beijing kaoya)
  • Region: Beijing

Okay, this one is a little touristy. But no list of the top foods from China would be complete without this fan favorite!

Beijing – which used to be known as Peking – is the home of this classic Chinese dish.

The duck is cooked until the skin turns golden and crispy and the meat becomes succulent and a little bit sweet.

The duck is carefully served in delicate pancake wraps (like crêpes), and often topped with sliced cucumber.

When you’re in Beijing, make sure you visit one of the famous Peking duck restaurants. The best ones fill up quickly, so book ahead.

Find out the best time to visit Beijing.

6. Char Siu

Char siu is a typical food from China

This dish is popular in southern China. Image by TY Lim on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 叉烧 (cha shao)
  • Region: Southern China, especially Guangdong

Char siu means fork roasted.

But in everyday language, it means barbecue meat, usually pork. The pork is marinated in a sweet and savory sauce, and cut into thin strips.

The dish can be found in southern China, where you’ll typically find sweeter foods than elsewhere in the country.

Char siu is one of those foods from China that instantly has you drooling.

You can make it at home but I personally think the best Chinese food can only be found in China!

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7. Braised pork belly (red braised pork)

Hongshao rou is one of the classic foods from China

Red braised pork is one of the classic foods from China. Image by Yuda Chen on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 红烧肉 (hongshao rou)
  • Region: Everywhere in China, especially Shanghai

This is a classic dish from mainland China.

The pork belly is cut into cubes and cooked for a long time to make it soft and tender. Ingredients like ginger, garlic, sugar and spices are added for flavor and color.

This much-loved dish is often served with a few simple vegetables and steamed rice.

Hunan province has its own variation of this much-loved dish. It’s called ‘Mao’s family-style red braised pork’ (in Mandarin, 毛氏红烧肉), after communist leader Mao Zedong.

It’s said that the Hunan version of this dish was one of Mao’s favorite foods.

Braised pork belly is a little too fatty for my liking, but millions would disagree with me!

8. Fried cabbage and vinegar

Cooked Chinese cabbage

Cabbage is cheap and commonly available. Image by Operation Shooting on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 醋溜白菜 (cu liu baicai)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

This healthy and nutritious dish is cooked at home but also found in restaurants.

The leaves of the cabbage are simply fried with vinegar or chili, making it a great accompaniment to any meal.

You’ll find many restaurants and families use potato instead of cabbage. This dish is called ‘tudou si’ (土豆絲) and is another good choice if you’re avoiding meat or watching your calories.

If you want to try making it at home, it only takes about 20 minutes.

9. Steamed bun

Steamed pork buns

Yummy pork buns. Image by Juno Kwon on Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 包子 (baozi)
  • Region: Everywhere in China, especially the north

Mmmm, steamed buns!

On a cold wintery day in Beijing, there’s nothing better than grabbing a fresh, steamed bun from a roadside food stall.

You can find steamed buns with all sorts of fillings such as pork and pickled vegetables.

Steamed buns are fairly doughy so best avoid them if your stomach can’t handle an overload of gluten.

Read more about Chinese street food.

10. Pancake

Chinese street food vendor making pancakes

Street vendor making fresh pancakes. Image by Ian Hitchcock on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 煎饼 (jianbing)
  • Region: Northern China

Another Chinese street food favorite, this is not your usual pancake that you might top with maple syrup or ice-cream.

Chinese pancakes (‘jianbing’) are an oily, savoury street food, enjoyed at breakfast or anytime you feel like a snack.

While bubbling away on the hotplate, the pancake is topped with egg, pickled vegetables, sauce and fluffy, crunchy wonton sticks.

Many street vendors will try to supersize your bing with extra fillings like Chinese sausage and roast vegetables. Yum!

11. Dumplings

Xiao long bao

Fresh, hot dumplings. Image by Kanghee Han on Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 水饺 (jiaozi)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

China is synonymous with dumplings.

These delicious little treasures are served boiled, fried or in soups.

My all-time favorite Chinese dumpling is ‘xiao long bao’ (小笼包), pictured above. They’re pork dumplings filled with soup.

There’s an art to eating them – bite too soon and you’ll burn your lips; bite too late and the soup has gone cold. The locals’ technique involves puncturing a hole in the dumpling with your teeth and then slurping the soup out.

For all the different kinds of dumplings you can find in China, check out this amazing guide. The photos alone will whet your appetite!

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12. Century eggs

Chinese century eggs

Chinese century eggs. Image from Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 皮蛋 (pidan)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

The Chinese love their eggs. In fact, the average Chinese person eats roughly 300 eggs per year.

Eggs are added to a range of dishes in China like stir-fried noodles as well as desserts such as tarts and sweet buns.

One such classic egg dish is the century egg. The egg is preserved for up to 12 months – not a century – until the yolk turns green and the egg white resembles a brown jelly.

I don’t mind eating the odd century egg, though it’s not the nicest smelling dish out there. And it’s definitely an acquired taste.

If century eggs aren’t up your alley, try a tea egg. It’s another street food favorite in China – you’ll see them simmering away in big, warm pots.

Read more about eggs in China.

13. Kung Pao chicken

Kung Pao chicken and other foods from China

Ducking into some Kung Pao chicken. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 宫保鸡丁 (gong bao ji ding)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

This is one dish that you’ll find in restaurants across China as well as Chinese restaurants in your own country.

Also known as spicy chicken with peanuts, Kung Pao chicken is served up in tiny pieces.

So, if you’re a chopstick novice and you’re headed to China, I recommend asking for a spoon (shaozi or 勺子) to help you devour this tasty dish.

The ‘real’ Kung Pao chicken is probably going to be hotter than what you’re used to, thanks to the generous serve of Sichuan peppercorns.

Be prepared for a mouth-numbing experience!

14. Scrambled egg and tomato

Scrambled eggs and tomato - one of the classic foods from China

Egg and tomato dish. Image by M-Eakkarin on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 西红柿炒鸡蛋 (xihongshi chao jidan)
  • Region: Everywhere in China

I love this Chinese dish! It’s so simple, so tasty and available everywhere in China.

The eggs and sliced tomato are quickly fried in a wok. A pinch of salt and sugar, and sometimes onion, is also added to give it a flavor boost.

If you’re a vegetarian and you’re going to China, this is a great option.

Read more about being vegetarian in China.

15. Ma Po tofu

Ma Po Tofu

Bowl of Ma Po tofu. Image by momo2050 on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 麻婆豆腐 (ma po dofu)
  • Region: Everywhere in China but especially Sichuan

A lot of vegans trip up on this dish, thinking it’s just tofu cubes with chili and peppers.

But this fiery dish from Sichuan province is full of tiny pieces of ground beef or pork.

Can’t stomach spicy Chinese food? Even if you ask your waiter for less chili, chances are this dish will still burn your insides.

I’m personally not a big fan of Ma Po tofu but it is a much-loved food in China.

Read more about being vegan in China.

16. Big plate chicken

big plate chicken Xinjiang

This chicken stew is insanely popular in Xinjiang. Image by Robert Way on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 大盘鸡 (dàpán jī)
  • Region: West China, especially Xinjiang

This dish is insanely popular in Xinjiang, China’s far-flung western province. And it’s caught on in other parts of the country too.

I’m yet to try big plate chicken because I’m not a fan of gnawing on bones. But when I get the chance to visit Xinjiang, trying this local delicacy is definitely one of the things on my to-do list.

There’s a host of other tasty food from Western China including Uyghur and Kazakh styles. While horse meat is still relatively unique to this region, you can find lamb skewers all over the country.

17. Fish balls

fish balls soup

Fuzhou’s famous fish balls soup. Image by Air Elegant on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 鱼蛋 (yú dàn)
  • Region: Southern China

Amazing seafood dishes can be found all along the country’s east coast.

Fish balls are especially popular in southern cities like Fuzhou, where they’re practically a staple.

Families in most parts of China enjoy eating fish during Chinese New Year. This is because the Chinese word for fish (‘yú’) is very close to the Chinese word for surplus.

It’s said that you’re more likely to enjoy a surplus of money and luck if you eat fish at this auspicious time of year.

Amazing China travel resources

If China is on your travel bucket list, here are some things to help you:

  • Refer to my China packing list for a full rundown on everything that needs to get thrown in your suitcase
  • If you want to do a Mandarin course, I recommend LTL where you can enjoy a 20% discount
  • Don’t forget your China travel insurance which is super-important in China where medical costs can be very high
  • Download a VPN to access all your favorite websites and apps on Wi-Fi, which would otherwise be blocked.

What’s your favorite food from China?

Foods from China are unique and special. Each region has its own favorites, and then there are others which the whole country loves.

What’s your favorite food from China? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Next, check out the Chinese food that might gross you out.