Photo Credit: Orijit Chatterjee
Chinese cuisine has been around for thousands of years, so you can imagine that there are quite a few dishes to choose from. Here are the 10 most popular Chinese dishes that you should try in no particular order
1. Mapo Tofu
One of China’s most famous dishes, Mapo Tofu is a local dish from Sichuan Province and one of my favorites. This spicy, tender tofu dish is traditionally served over rice or noodles and it’s quite popular because it contains just about every ingredient you can imagine: spicy chili peppers, cilantro, onions, and soy sauce are among some of the ingredients. The recipe calls for ground beef but chicken will work as well. Just be sure to add plenty of bean sprouts to up your vegetable intake! It’s best eaten with chopsticks but fingers will do in a pinch. Oh, before you dig in—make sure to inhale deeply through your nose because that will actually cool off your mouth while you eat!
2. Stinky Tofu
Stinky tofu, or chou doufu in Mandarin, is a famous snack in southern China and Taiwan. It’s made by deep-frying tofu that’s fermented in a mixture of water and soybeans for months. The result is something akin to cheese: chewy on top and firm on the bottom with a strong smell somewhere between mildew and rotten eggs. Stinky tofu is often served with hot sauce as an accompaniment, which helps hide its scent. But it also pairs well with savory dishes such as congee (rice porridge), where it adds its umami flavor without being overpowering. It’s even delicious when prepared alongside certain desserts!
3. Scallion Pancakes
Scallion pancakes are similar to siopao, with a thin layer of meat and scallions sandwiched between a thin, light bread. Scallion pancakes can be eaten on their own or served as an accompaniment to other dishes. These savory treats are a common sight in dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong and China, where they are often eaten alongside congee or other rice-based main courses. Scallion pancakes come in different varieties with varying fillings, but most people prefer them plain with just pork filling inside.
4. Dan Dan Noodles
The Dan Dan Noodles dish is a standard dish throughout China and a famous dish in Xi’an. It consists of thick noodles served in an oily sauce with shredded pork, seasoned with garlic and sesame oil. The word Dan means toothpick or chopsticks (and comes from two words: dan-dan meaning chopsticks) and refers to how meat, vegetables, or other foods are eaten with chopsticks; you pick them up and eat them like a toothpick or skewer.
Fried rice is widely popular in North America and it’s simple to see why. It’s quick, easy, nutritious, and can easily be altered with whatever ingredients you have lying around. Fried rice is usually made with basmati or jasmine rice, garlic and/or ginger, frozen vegetables (like peas or corn), egg, and soy sauce—and that’s pretty much it! Just scramble an egg or two before cooking your rice (by sprinkling some eggs into cold water before adding them to a hot pan) for extra protein. Topped with some green onions, sesame oil, and chili flakes for heat and you’ve got a complete meal in just minutes.
6. Fried Rice
Think of fried rice as a wonderful blank canvas. It’s easy to flavor with just about anything you have in your refrigerator, and it makes for a great last-minute meal. If you feel like something spicy, throw in some minced chili peppers; if you want something more traditional, add some frozen peas. As long as you have a few basic ingredients on hand (think eggs, oil, and soy sauce), fried rice can be a quick and easy side dish or an entire meal itself. Even better: Fried rice freezes wonderfully for up to six months! So take advantage of leftovers by storing some away for another night. Just reheat it in a skillet and voila –– perfectly homemade fried rice is ready to eat!
7. Chicken in Chili Sauce
It’s hard to believe that a dish with just two ingredients—chicken and chili sauce—can be so tasty. But when it’s as simple as frying up some chicken and adding homemade chili sauce, that’s exactly what happens. And in China, families will make a version of it every week! Although you can easily buy bottled chili sauce at most grocery stores, nothing beats making your own. Making homemade chili sauce is easy: Add some crushed red pepper flakes, white vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar to a pan over medium heat until simmering. Stir in 2 tablespoons cornstarch until dissolved and remove from heat.
8. Egg Fried Rice
A dish of rice fried with eggs, soy sauce, and spices; is a staple in any Chinese household. It is considered one of China’s comfort foods because it is simple, quick to prepare, and tasty. Egg Fried Rice varies from household to household according to the region of origin. Here are some popular egg-fried rice dishes: Yangzhou Fried Rice, Mushroom Fried Rice, Singaporean-Style Hokkien Fried Rice.
9. Beef Chow Mein
Chewy noodles in a savory sauce with hints of soy, ginger, and scallions are topped with lean beef and crisp vegetables. One bite will give you all of your daily recommended servings of vegetables while also packing a wallop of protein thanks to chicken breast. Chow mein is available in most takeout restaurants and can be served vegetarian if ordered without meat. Although it’s considered an American-Chinese dish, chow mein originates from northern China where it was originally made by stir-frying raw ingredients over high heat—sometimes resulting in a bit of charring or singeing.
Dumplings are a very popular dish in China. They are filled with meat, seafood, or vegetables and can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or deep-fried. Dumplings that contain hot liquid when served are generally called soup dumplings or xiao long bao. These are filled with broth inside and have a thick dough skin outside. They originated in Nanjing and Shanghai but spread to other parts of China as well as to Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia (with a different name). Steamed meat dumplings are typically eaten for breakfast; dim sum style restaurants serve many kinds of steamed dumplings all day long.