When most Americans think of Chinese food, they think of buffets or of takeout. While there’s nothing wrong with either of those, they’re nonetheless heavily redone to cater to Western tastes. Authentic Mainland Chinese cuisine focuses on small, savory dishes that are easy to share amongst a group. So get a bunch of people together and try some of them! More specifically, try these ten authentic Chinese foods that you must have once before you die.
Bao (collectively known as baozi) are essentially steamed buns but they’re farther from what you’d imagine a Chinese bun is like. Bao can be filled with a variety of things from barbecued (cha siu) pork to lotus seed paste to dark chocolate! The pork ones are extremely unique though because the dough used for them generates a much fluffier dumpling than usual. The larger the bao, the more can be put inside it. Larger varieties can contain, among other things, egg custard, red bean paste and even mushrooms! In short, don’t forget the bao; they are an essential part of your Chinese food experience. This is one of the best and authentic Chinese foods to try!
2. Rice Noodle Rolls
Th e rice noodle roll is less well-known compared to the spring roll. However, they’re hardly comparable. While spring rolls tend to be filled mostly with vegetables, rice noodle rolls function more as dumplings, allowing them to be filled with, among other things, shrimp, chicken, fish or even fried dough (zhailang)! This dish is mostly found in Hong Kong and is a staple of the local cuisine. Try this if you go there.
3. Sai Mai Lou
Sai mai lou, or sago soup, resembles more a drink than an actual meal. It’s a cold soup containing coconut, milk and tapioca flavors. You can see the tapioca itself in the form of tiny, starchy “pearls” which float around in the broth. These are its most recognisable feature and one of its tastiest components. Sai mai lou is, like rice noodle rolls, also a staple in Hong Kong, which makes sense as the weather there can reach up to 100 degrees in the summertime. At night too! Turn on the air conditioning and grab a bowl of this soup and you’ll feel as cool as you can be in that tropical climate area.
4. Cong You Bing
Also known as scallion pancakes, these crispy, buttery snacks can be eaten in slices similar to pizza or as a whole, especially if they’re small enough to be handheld. In Hong Kong, they make a popular street snack. In other places, they are served in restaurants as a share-able dish. Either way, it’s a must-eat.
5. Hot and Sour Soup
Sour flavors are not that uncommon in Chinese cuisine and hot and sour soup is just one example of that. It often contains meat or tofu but it can also be vegetable based. One of the best ways to serve this soup is with a side of something crispy and scrumptious fried wontons. Speaking of which…
6. Red Oil Wontons
Wontons aren’t unique to China; they’re present in Chinese-American cuisine as well. What is unique is how they are eaten and in the Sichuan region of Southwest China, they are eaten with a gracious coating of chili oil sauce. It’s just as spicy as it sounds. In some recipes, the oil is so graciously put on that it forms a sort of “broth” below the wontons. If you’re particularly daring, you can slurp this. Enjoy!
7. Peking Duck
Coming right out of the country’s capital, peking duck is distinguished from other duck preparations by its long cooking time, crispy skin and vegetable sides. These sides are usually hoisin sauce, cucumbers, onions or even a set of tortilla-like pancakes that you can use to form peking duck “burritos” of sorts. All of this makes the dish one of the most coveted (and expensive) in Chinese cuisine. Nonetheless, there are plenty of hole-in-the-wall places where you can get a cheap meal. They often display the duck on a skewer in the windows near the entrance so be sure to look out for those.
8. Sea Cucumber
The sea cucumber is not one of the most thought-about animals in the West, especially as a source of food. But in Southern China, there are plenty of recipes making use of this bizarre creature. Whether it be in soups, rice noodle rolls or just plated and covered in sauce, the sea cucumber is a delight to eat. It’s tough and chewy but has a unique flavor profile and soft, slippery surface like no other seafood has.
Think of this as DIY cooking. A hotpot is, at its simplest, a pot full of boiling soup stock served with plates of raw food. Your job is to cook these foods which vary from tripe to prawns to peppers to potatoes. It may seem uninteresting but with a fun group, the hotpot can become a fun, new way to cook your next dinner, especially for kids! This is one of the best and authentic Chinese foods to try!
10. Fish Balls
Continuing with another unique seafood option, fish balls are exactly what the name says they are. They are often made with pike or milkfish and can be served with a variety of sauces from curry sauce to thousand island dressing! They are a quintessential street dish in Hong Kong cuisine so be sure to pick some up if you go there! This is one of the best and authentic Chinese foods to try!
If you have an experience with any of these authentic Chinese foods that you’d like to share with us, leave it in the comments section down below!
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Hi! I'm Tyler and I'm a sophomore student at the University of Vermont. I'm an English major and I'm minoring in French and Linguistics. I'm particularly interested in reading, writing, philosophy and the natural world (although the Internet is somewhere I hang out often too).