Must-Try Authentic Chinese Dishes 

 July 21, 2021

By  Ellen

Chinese food (中国菜) is also known as “Chinese Food Culture (中华食文化)”, which is one of the “Three Main Cooking Styles (Chinese, French, Turkish)” in the world. 

Chinese cuisines originated from the central area, which could be divided into “Eight cuisine Systems (八大菜系)”, forming an important component of Chinese culture. Here we are to introduce some of the most delicious dishes which are highly popular among foreigners.

包子 (bāo zi)  Steamed Buns

Steamed buns are a kind of staple food, which is often eaten for breakfast and makes people feel full easily. According to the legends, 包子 was invented by Zhu Geliang (诸葛亮), who was a politician and militarist in the Three Kingdoms Period (三国时期). Because he felt that steamed bread (馒头) was nonnutritive, he invented this new kind of buns with fillings inside. 

Buns are made of flour and meat or vegetable stuffing, there could be many flavors, such as seafood buns (海鲜包), soy sauce pork buns (酱肉包) and vegetable buns (素包子). Varieties include fried buns (煎包), mini-buns (小笼包), and soup buns (灌汤包).

Steamed Buns

via Pixabay

饺子 (jiǎo zi)  Dumplings

Dumplings have a history of over 1800 years, which evolved from wonton (馄饨/云吞). Wonton is made with a thin layer of dough to wrap meat stuffing, then boil in a pot, which is often eaten with soup. Dumplings are also dough-wrapped-fillings, often shaped like a crescent, boiled and then eaten after dipping soy sauce and vinegar. 

There could be boiled dumplings (水饺), steamed dumplings (蒸饺) or fried dumplings (煎饺); and fillings could be meat or vegetable, sweet or salty, whatever your choice. Dumplings are often eaten on the Chinese New Year (春节), and the Winter Solstice Festival (冬至). 


via Pixabay

春卷 (chūn juǎn)  Spring Rolls

Also known as 春饼 (spring pancake), spring rolls are a kind of traditional Chinese food often eaten in festivals, such as the Chinese New Year (in southern China) and the Beginning of Spring (立春). 

Spring rolls are made using a round layer dough to wrap sliced vegetables or meat, rolled up and then fried until it’s golden brown. The cooks could be quite creative with the materials, and some popular ingredients include pork, beef, mutton, cabbage, vermicelli, celery, and shredded tofu

Spring Rolls

via Pixabay

凉皮 (liáng pí)  Cold Rice Noodles

This is a traditional dish originated in Shaanxi (陕西) area, which is said to date back to the Qin Dynasty (秦朝). This means ithas been around for more than 2,000 years. 

凉皮 is made of rice or flour, chopped into thin strips and stirred with sauce, made into different flavors such as spicy or sour & sweet. 凉皮 is usually eaten cold in the summertime to help people relieve the heat and increase their appetite. It should be chewy, thin and soft.

麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fu)  Mapo Tofu/Beancurd

Another translation being “sauteed tofu in hot and spicy sauce”, Mapo Tofu is a famous dish of the “Sichuan cuisine (川菜)”; which is known for spicy and hot food. This dish is named after its creator’s nickname 陈麻婆 (chén má pó). The main ingredients are bean sauce, tofu, ground beef (or pork), chilli and pepper. 

The cooking technique is to fry a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan, then add a handful of crushed chilli, then beef, and add bean sauce when the pan is nearly dry. Then tofu blocks are to be added, with a bit of water. Stir evenly, cover the pot and use low heat to dry the soup, then sprinkle pepper powder before the fire is turned off.

Mapo TofuBeancurd

via Pixabay

大盘鸡 (xīn jiāng dà pán jī)  Saute Spicy Chicken

Literally translated, this means “a big (大) plate (盘) of chicken (鸡)”; which originated from Xin Jiang (新疆). This is a relatively new dish which was invented in the 1980s, originally named “Fried Chicken with Chilli (辣子炒鸡)”. 

It is often made with chicken, potatoes, peppers, onions; and an additional bowl of wide noodles is often served as a side dish, for the customers to dip sauce and eat as the staple food. Some restaurants would also offer “Small Plate Chicken (小盘鸡)”, which is in less quantity. 

宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng)  Kung Pao Chicken

The sweet and spicy Kung Pao Chicken is one of the most popular dishes among foreigners, which is a must-have dish of all Chinese restaurants worldwide. It is included in several “cuisine systems (菜系)”, such as “Sichuan cuisine (川菜)”, “Shandong cuisine (鲁菜)” and “Beijing royal cuisine (北京宫廷菜)”. 

Made from chicken, peanuts, diced cucumber, dried red pepper, and other ingredients; Kung Pao Chicken is “red but not spicy”, “spicy but not fierce”, “tasteful and crispy”. 

水煮牛肉 (shuǐ zhǔ niú ròu)  Poached Sliced Beef in Hot Chili Oil

Judging from the name, “water (水) boiled (煮) beef (牛) meat (肉)”, some might think this is a light dish. On the contrary, “Boiled Beef” is one of the hottest and spicy dishes of the “Sichuan cuisine (川菜)”. 

The main ingredients include lean beef, bean sprouts, duck blood curds, lettuce or other vegetables. This dish is spicy and tasteful, smooth and soft, which has a strong smell. It also has the hemp (麻), spicy (辣) and hot (烫) characteristics of Sichuan Hotpot. 

If made by pork, then it would be called 水煮肉片 (water boiled sliced meat); if made with fish, then it would be named 水煮鱼 (water boiled fish).

糖醋里脊 (táng cù lǐ jǐ)  Sweet and Sour Pork Fillet

This is a traditional dish included in many “cuisine systems (菜系)” as well, such as “Zhejiang cuisine (浙江菜)”, “Shandong cuisine (鲁菜)”, and “Guangdong cuisine (粤菜)”. The main ingredient is griskin, which would be wrapped in starch (淀粉) and then fried twice. 

Its sweet and sour taste could increase people’s appetite, also to enhance blood circulation. This is also rated as one of the favorites of foreigners.

Sweet and Sour Pork Fillet

via Pixabay

腰果虾仁 (yāo guǒ xiā rén)  Fried Shrimp with Cashews

Being from “Guangdong cuisine (粤菜)”, and as its name suggests, the main ingredients are peeled shrimps/prawns and cashew nuts. Supplementary ingredients include eggs, water starch (水淀粉), chopped green onion, garlic slices, and ginger. 

Shrimps are nutritious, soft and easy to digest, making them the ideal food for people who are in poor health and in need of recuperation after illness. Cashews are beneficial in protecting blood vessels and preventing cardiovascular diseases.

重庆烤鱼 (zhòng qìng kǎo yú)  Chongqing Grilled Fish

This dish originated in the late Qing Dynasty (清朝), which was created by a woman from a family of well-known chefs, and belongs to the “Sichuan cuisine (川菜)” or “Chongqing cuisine (重庆菜)”. 

It combines three cooking techniques: marinating, baking and stewing; also borrowing characteristics from traditional Sichuan cuisines and hotpot, in creating a “tender but crispy” taste. 

Subsidiary vegetables such as bean sprouts, lettuce, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes could be added according to your requirements. Qingjiang fish (清江鱼) is the “public choice” as it has fewer spines and more meat. 

Grass carps (草鱼) are also often chosen as it absorbs flavors better. Popular flavors include hot and spicy (香辣), fermented soya beans (豆豉), garlic (蒜香), and tomato (番茄).

红烧狮子头 (hóng shāo shī zǐ tóu)  Braised Pork Balls in Brown Sauce

If translated word-by-word, it could mean “braised (红烧) lion (狮子) heads (头)”, which is actually made of pork. Also known as 四喜丸子 (Four-Joy Meatballs), this is a “Huaiyang cuisine (淮扬菜)”, which originated in southern China. 

Chopped meat (both fat and thin) added with water chestnuts (荸荠), mushrooms, or lotus root is made into balls, first fried then braised with low fire using casseroles (砂锅). These “lion heads” are elastic, soft and smooth, also representing “reunion and happiness 团团圆圆 (ball & round)”. 

炸酱面 (zhá jiàng miàn)  Noodles with Soy Bean Paste

This “fried (炸) sauce (酱) noodles (面)” originated in Beijing and belongs to the “Shandong cuisine (鲁菜)”, which is widely popular in Northern China. 

Boiled noodles will be run through cold water, drained, and then mixed with soybean sauce or sweet flour paste with diced meat. Also adding shredded vegetables such as cucumbers, bean sprouts, and carrots. The taste is salty, sour and hot, fresh and refreshing, also very chewy. 

Noodles are easy to digest and absorb, and have the effects of improving anemia, increasing immunity and balancing nutrition absorption.

Noodles with Soy Bean Paste

via Pixabay

北京烤鸭 (běi jīng kǎo yā)  Beijing Roast Duck

Roast duck is a famous Beijing dish with a worldwide reputation that originated in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (南北朝) of China. It was an imperial food then. Nowadays, 挂炉烤鸭 (hanging oven) and 焖炉烤鸭 (braised oven) are the two main genres of Beijing roast duck. 

A duck will be sliced by the waiter and you will be served with lotus leaf-shaped pancakes (荷叶饼), sweet soybean sauce (甜面酱), green onion strips, cucumber strips, and radish strips. You could dip some sauce on a pancake, place a piece of roast duck, some vegetable strips, and then wrap up the pancake to have a bite. The duck is crispy on the outside and juicy in the inside.

Beijing Roast Duck

via Pixabay

火锅 (huǒ guō)  Hotpot

According to research, hotpot originated in the Warring States Period (战国, 475 BC-221 BC) when people used pottery pots. 火 (fire) indicates the way that this dish is cooked, and 锅 (pot) indicates the appliance used. 

The feature of hotpot is to eat while the pot is boiling, there are different “soup bases (锅底)” such as two-flavored (鸳鸯),hot and spicy (麻辣) and light-flavored (清淡). 

People would put ingredients in the boiling pot, fetch them out with chopsticks and dip in various sauces. Some restaurants even allow customers to mix and modulate their own sauce. Typical hot pot ingredients include various meat, seafood, vegetables, soybean products, mushrooms, egg products, and silk noodles.


via Pixabay

These are some of the most tasteful dishes which we would recommend, and there’s always more waiting for you to discover. But please note that the Chinese food in China will be significantly different from the ones than one would find in Chinatowns abroad. We hope that you would be able to find some of your own favorites in both.


Ellen is a language specialist from China. She grew up in the US and received a master’s degree from the St Andrews University of UK. The multicultural experiences attributes to her understanding of the differences and similarities between the English and Chinese language. She currently works as an editor specialized in Language learning books.

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