Chinese cuisine is one of the most diverse and delicious in the world, with a long history and rich culture behind it. From the spicy and numbing flavours of Sichuan, to the delicate and refined dishes of Cantonese, to the hearty and comforting food of northern China, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
However, if you are tired of the same old takeout menu that offers the same dishes over and over again, you might be missing out on some of the most authentic, unique and mouth watering dishes that China has to offer. In this blog post, we will introduce you to 10 must-try Chinese dishes that go beyond the usual takeout menu, and show you how to appreciate the diversity and complexity of Chinese cuisine.
Dan Dan Noodles (Sichuan)
Dan dan noodles are a classic Sichuan dish that features thin wheat noodles tossed in a spicy sauce made with minced pork, chilli oil, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame paste. The noodles are topped with chopped peanuts, scallions and cilantro for extra crunch and freshness. The dish is named after the street vendors who used to carry it on a pole over their shoulders (dan dan), and it is a perfect balance of hot, sour, sweet and savoury flavours. Dan dan noodles are not your typical noodle dish. They are fiery, tangy and rich, with a complex layering of flavours that will make your mouth water. Unlike some other Sichuan dishes that are numbingly spicy, dan dan noodles have a subtle sweetness that balances out the heat. They are also easy to make at home with simple ingredients and a few minutes of cooking time.
Peking Duck (Beijing)
Peking duck is one of the most famous and elegant dishes in Chinese cuisine. It is a whole duck that is roasted until the skin is crispy and golden, and the meat is tender and juicy. The duck is sliced and served with thin pancakes, hoisin sauce, scallions and cucumbers. The diners wrap the duck slices and the condiments in the pancakes and enjoy them with their hands. Peking duck is a dish that showcases the artistry and skill of Chinese cooking. It takes hours of preparation and careful attention to achieve the perfect result. The duck skin is crispy and flavourful, while the meat is moist and succulent. The pancakes are soft and delicate, and the hoisin sauce adds a sweet and savoury touch. Peking duck is a dish that you will never forget once you try it.
Soup Dumplings (Shanghai)
Soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, are one of the most popular snacks in Shanghai. They are small steamed buns that contain a savoury filling of pork and a broth that bursts in your mouth when you bite into them. The dumplings are served with vinegar and ginger slices to enhance their flavour. Soup dumplings are a marvel of Chinese culinary engineering. They are made by wrapping a thin dough around a gelatinized broth that melts when steamed, creating a liquid-filled pocket of deliciousness. The dumplings are delicate and fragrant, and the broth is rich and satisfying. Soup dumplings are best eaten hot and fresh, with caution to avoid burning your tongue.
Hot Pot (Chongqing)
Hot pot is a communal dish that originated in Chongqing, a city in south western China known for its spicy food. Hot pot consists of a simmering pot of broth that is placed on a table, along with various ingredients such as meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, noodles and more. The diners cook their own food in the broth, and dip them in sauces of their choice. Hot pot is a fun and interactive way to enjoy Chinese food with friends and family. You can customize your own hot pot experience by choosing your preferred broth (spicy, mild, sour, etc.), ingredients (beef, lamb, fish balls, mushrooms, etc.) and sauces (sesame paste, peanut butter, vinegar, etc.). Hot pot is also a great way to warm up on a cold day, as the broth keeps boiling throughout the meal.
Mapo Tofu (Sichuan)
Mapo tofu is another iconic Sichuan dish that combines soft tofu cubes with minced pork or beef in a fiery red sauce made with chilli bean paste, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns and other spices. The dish is usually served over rice or noodles, and garnished with scallions or cilantro. Mapo tofu is a dish that will make you sweat and smile at the same time. It has a bold and intense flavour that tingles your tongue and numbs your lips. The tofu cubes are silky and smooth, while the meat adds some texture and protein. Mapo tofu is a dish that will satisfy your cravings for spice and comfort.
Scallion Pancakes (Taiwan)
Scallion pancakes are a popular street food in Taiwan that can be eaten as breakfast, snack or side dish. They are thin and crispy flatbreads that are made with flour, water, oil and scallions. They are cooked on a griddle until golden brown on both sides, then cut into wedges and served hot. Scallion pancakes are simple but delicious. They have a flaky and crunchy texture that contrasts with the soft and fragrant scallions inside. They can be eaten plain or dipped in soy sauce or vinegar for some extra flavour. Scallion pancakes are also easy to make at home with just a few ingredients and some basic techniques.
Dim Sum (Hong Kong)
Dim sum is a Cantonese tradition that involves eating small portions of various dishes that are served in bamboo steamer baskets or small plates. Dim sum can include dumplings, buns, rolls, pastries, cakes and more. They are usually eaten with tea and shared among the diners. Dim sum is a delightful and diverse way to enjoy Chinese food. You can find dim sum dishes that are savoury, sweet, spicy, crunchy, chewy, steamed, fried and more. You can also try different types of fillings and flavours, such as shrimp, pork, chicken, mushroom, lotus seed, custard and more. Dim sum is a feast for the eyes and the palate.
Red Bean Pancakes (Jiangsu)
Red bean pancakes are a sweet dessert that originated in Jiangsu province in eastern China. They are thin and crispy pancakes that are filled with red bean paste, a smooth and sweet paste made from cooked and mashed azuki beans. The pancakes are folded into triangles or rectangles and fried until golden and crisp. Red bean pancakes are a treat for the sweet tooth. They have a crunchy and flaky texture that melts in your mouth, along with a rich and creamy filling that is not too sweet. Red bean pancakes are often eaten as a snack or after a meal, and can be paired with some green tea or milk.
Lion’s Head Meatballs (Shandong)
Lion’s head meatballs are a traditional dish from Shandong province in northern China. They are large meatballs made from minced pork, scallions, ginger, soy sauce and other seasonings. They are braised in a broth with cabbage or bok choy, which resemble the mane of a lion. The dish is served with rice or noodles, and sometimes with vinegar or sugar as a dipping sauce. Lion’s head meatballs are a hearty and satisfying dish that will fill you up. They have a soft and juicy texture that contrasts with the crunchy and tender cabbage. They also have a savoury and aromatic flavour that comes from the pork and the spices. Lion’s head meatballs are a dish that will make you feel cozy and happy.
Kung Pao Chicken (Sichuan)
Kung pao chicken is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in the world. It is a stir-fried dish that consists of chicken pieces, peanuts, dried chilli peppers, scallions and a sauce made with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, cornstarch and Sichuan peppercorns. The dish is spicy, sweet and sour, with a crunchy and nutty texture. Kung pao chicken is a dish that will make you crave for more. It has a complex and addictive flavour that hits all the right notes on your tongue. It also has a nice contrast of textures between the tender chicken, the crunchy peanuts and the chewy peppers. Kung pao chicken is a dish that you can never go wrong with.
Chinese food is more than just the usual takeout dishes that you might be familiar with. It is a rich and diverse cuisine that reflects the history, culture and geography of China. In this blog post, we have introduced you to 10 amazing Chinese dishes that are not commonly found in Western restaurants, but are worth trying for their unique flavours, textures and ingredients. From spicy Sichuan noodles to crispy Peking duck, from savoury soup dumplings to sweet red bean pancakes, these dishes will take your taste buds on a culinary adventure across China’s different regions and cuisines. So what are you waiting for? Next time you crave some Chinese food, skip the usual takeout menu and try one of these 10 must-try dishes that go beyond the ordinary. You might just find your new favourite dish or fall in love with a new cuisine