Hey there, college kids! Did you know that every time you save money by eating ramen noodles you’re actually immersing yourself in Chinese culture? Okay, probably not. But ramen really is legitimately a stable in China, at least the real kind. But egg rolls, lo mein, General Tso’s chicken, and chow mein, on the other hand, are not at all authentic Chinese dishes. Having lived in China for nearly 6 months, I’ve had my share of really good dishes that make it all worthwhile. When you move to China (cause you’re totally thinking about it), check out these 10 dishes.
1. Mutton Stew
Known locally as Pào mó, the Xi’an people were the ones who came up with this dish. Aside from mutton, it can alternatively be served with beef or pork instead. The most unique feature of Pào mó is that rather than using noodles, it is comprised of little pieces of unleavened bread, which is perfect for soaking up the rich flavors of the stew. It includes pickled garlic and chili sauce that you’re technically supposed to eat separately, but whatever. Rebel against the system and just mix it all together, guys.
2. BBQ Meat
If there is one thing that China isn’t lacking, it’s street carts that serve BBQ meat. You’ll also discover plenty of restaurants that offer this fare as well. Take any meat imaginable – chicken, pork, lamb, calamari, octopus – cooked over burning coal and chow down like the classy lady/gentleman that you are! Bonus points if you allow an octopus tentacle to dangle from your mouth for a bit.
3. Yak Dumplings
Okay, so this isn’t all that traditional on mainland China itself. It’s more of a Tibetan dish. However, since I technically ate these in the People’s Republic of China, it counts, okay? It is impossible to properly describe how delicious yak meat is in a way that does it justice. I will simply say that the juicy, tender meat explodes in your mouth like a catastrophe done right.
4. Sweet and Sour Eggplant
To be honest, I’m fairly neutral towards eggplant when I’m back home, but in China it’s something I willingly eat several times a week. For whatever reason, they manage to make it almost taste like pork! Add some chili and fish sauce to this bad boy and you’re set!
5. Spinach Noodles
So here’s sort of the deal with noodles in China: every restaurant worth its weight in salt knows that nothing less than made-from-scratch will do. And when the noodles are made from spinach, we can all agree that there’s nothing that non-spinach noodles can do to compete for your affection. You can top it off with whatever ingredients you wish, even spicy tomato sauce as if you were in Italy! I personally like to add chicken, although you shouldn’t be ashamed to try it with pork and beef.
6. Peking Roast Duck
You can’t visit Beijing without trying their world famous Peking duck at least once, although more than likely you’ll eat it several times. I’m not at all a fan of chicken skin, but the thin, crispiness of the duck variety is somehow really satisfying. There are a few ways that the slices of Peking duck are eaten. Some pair it up with pancakes. Others like it with sweet red bean paste, although I personally do not care for this. Duck with soy and mashed garlic is how I roll.
7. Chinese Hamburgers
Look. We aren’t going to get into a debate about the name, are we clear? There is nothing about this that even remotely resembles what we in the West would regard as a hamburger. In fact, it’s made of pork and not beef, so that ought to be a disqualifier. But my goodness, these are good! It starts with a bun that is baked in a stone oven coupled with pork that is simmered overnight in a large pot of spices. When the cock crows in the morning, you end up with meat so tender it falls apart. That’s the very definition of good eating!
8. Fried Mashi
No matter where you travel on this planet, you’re not going to have any difficulty finding fried rice and fried noodles. But fried mashi – which is similar to gnocchi – now that’s a completely different story altogether. This is uniquely Chinese through and through. It is slightly sweet, but with a bit of spicy. It’s also very filling. The best way to eat this is by adding crunchy vegetables to the mix because it provides a satisfying contrast with the thick, soft mashi.
9. Cold Vegetable and Tofu Dish
This is exactly how it sounds. You’re served a plate full of an assortment of different vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, and water chestnuts. They also throw in peanuts (also served cold) for good measure.
10. Beef Noodles
Of all the traditional cuisine in China, this is definitely the traditional…est! You’re bound to find it at any dinner table. The beauty of beef noodles is that you can eat it everyday and somehow never eat the same thing twice because every restaurant prepares it in their own special way!