China guide head eating

Skewered treats at Wangfujing snack street including scorpions, beetles, starfish, seahorse, centipedes, snakes, turtles, and tarantulas.

Chinese food is famous all over the world, but you may be shocked by its surprising range and variety of ingredients that you will not have seen in Chinese restaurants overseas. Chinese cuisine has countless dishes, and in a banquet often dishes are chosen based on history, cooking features, climate, resources, life styles, geographical origin, color and other surprising factors, rather than taste.  The Chinese eat everything with four legs, except the tables, and everything that flies, except the airplanes.

The best way to eat good & cheaply – eat at places which look busy and clean, stick to fresh, thoroughly cooked food, and you’ll have fewer problems.

Beware of food that has been precooked and kept warm for several hours. Shellfish is a potential Hepatitis A risk in China, and best avoided if not thoroughly cooked.  Be suspect of all sushi in China.  Hard shelled fruit should be avoided (often injected with tap water as it grows to make it heaver for sale) unless in a 4/5 star restaurant or hotel.   Fresh soft shelled fruit you’ve peeled yourself is generally safe; other uncooked foods may have been washed in unclean water.  The other thing to watch for is dirty chopsticks, though many restaurants provide disposable sets: if you want to be really sure, bring your own pair.

China HotpotHot pot is a kind of fondue, except they use a clear soup broth that is boiling hot. You use your chopsticks to plunge a paper-thin piece of meat or vegetable into the hot, boiling soup. The trays of meat (chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc.) are stacked high. The meat is rolled into thin rolls. It cooks within just a few seconds.

Bakeries are in general quite good, though the Chinese variety of cakes is just a farce: behind the many different cakes there are only a few kinds of dough, and the variation is not so much in taste as it is in appearance. “Real cakes” are not available, cakes consist out of cream and very soft biscuit. Special Chinese cookies you should try is the Laopobing (“Wife cookie”) and Laogongbing (“Husband cookie”).

Vegetable flavor ice creams. This is considered normal (and tasty!). Purple Yam is good. Also, you can try green pea flavor. The ice creams are only slightly sweet, so it takes some adjustment. Chinese cuisine often uses red beans and green beans to flavor dessert items.

International fast food.  At one time considered 5-star foreign dining in China, McDonald’s has over 1000 restaurants in China, followed closely by KFC. As a rule of thumb, whenever there is a McDonalds, a KFC is no more far away than 100m. There are also a fair number of Pizza Huts.

Korean restaurants are also very common. A frequent meal is the grill-it-yourself barbeque, including beef, chicken, and seafood items as well as some vegetables including greens and potatoes.

Vegan / Vegetarians be warned.  Vegetarianism is only practiced by a relatively tiny fraction of the population — mostly expats.  Chinese people generally do not understand neither the concept of veganism nor vegetarianism — particularly outside of Shanghai.  Pick 4/5 star restaurants (best in 4/5 star hotels) with an emphasis on vegetables will help.  Avoid cooked dishes, since they are typically using a fish, chicken or beef stock as its base.  Try to stick to plain noodles, white rice, tofu, and boiled vegetables (uncooked vegetables may be unclean due to tap water issues).   Focus on dishes of tofu (soft or dried bean curd), nuts and mushrooms.  Although it is hard to find vegetarian food in China on a menu if you bring along a Chinese speaker they can help explain.  Your Chinese translator needs to be very  clear and specific when telling the waiter what you don’t eat, as their understanding of vegetarian dishes will not be the same as yours. For example they may think you only don’t eat meat but things like eggs or honey are okay.  Buddhists are sometimes vegetarian or vegan.  If you find a temple in the city you are in, there’s a chance there may be vegetarians there (especially monks) — have your translator ask them for advise on where to eat.

Useful Phrases to Help You Order:

  • I am a vegetarian. (我吃素。 wor chee-soo)
  • I am a vegan (纯素食者。 chun sushi zhe)
  • I do not eat any meat. (我不吃任何肉类。wor boo-chee rnn-her roh-lay)
  • I don’t eat animal products. (我不吃荤菜。wo bu chi hun cai)
  • All animal products are unacceptable. (所有的动物的配料不行的。Suoyou de dongwu de peiliao bu xing de)
  • I do not eat fish, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, honey, chicken stock, meat broth, fish stock, fish sauce, or lard.
    (我不吃鱼、牛奶、 奶酪、黄油、鸡蛋、蜂蜜、鸡汤、肉汤、鱼汤、鱼酱、猪油。
    wor boo-chee yoo, nyoh-neye, neye-laoww, hwung-yoh, jee-dan, fnng-mee, jee-taang, roh-taang, yoo-taang, yoo-jyang, joo-yoh)

China Yang Rou ChuanFor your stay in China, you should have at least once tried the Lamb meat sticks (Yang Rou Chuan), which are barbecued sticks of lamb meat. They are sold on the street out of small street grills by local chefs.  Often, the worst looking grills offer the best taste, so be brave and try them a few days before you leave.  BUT, be aware of the dangers initially of eating street food and drinking water.  It’s very, very common for foreigners to get very sick easily in China by not being careful and prudent in what they eat/drink.

The street food smells great, looks interesting and is tempting, however, it is the most frequent reason foreigners get sick.  Take some time to build up your immunities – at least 3 weeks, before you consider tasting.  Make sure you know what you’re eating and how well it’s been cooked. In places like WangFuJing market in Beijing, sometimes many of the snacks aren’t cooked thoroughly.

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For the less adventurous, use this phrase:

I am allergic to seafood, please ensure there is no seafood in my meal.

Similarly, NEVER ever eat runny eggs, watery salad, pink chicken or other semi cooked items until your bodies get adjusted — weeks and weeks).

Initially, while you body adjusts and acclimatizes to the different smells, beds, sleep cycles, jet lag and other unique China conditions, we strongly suggest creating a stable diet of western style food – even McDonalds and KFC are great options to ensure you are eating safely and well.

Hotels will often not have suitable western style food available.  Depending on location of theatre venues or hotels, there may not be western food easily accessible to you.  Some hotels have regulation banning the use of portable stoves and microwave ovens in rooms, so you may be left with one option for obtaining the food your body needs as a dancer, singer or crew member – ordering from a delivery service.

Drink beer whenever you’re in doubt about the kinds of foods you have eaten – it will help digest whatever is not appropriate in your stomach… but don’t overdo it.

guide watermelonRemember, many things in China, including food, can be fake. Be wary of hard shelled fruits such as watermelon or cantaloupe, since these are often sold to markets by weight and growers routinely inject river water into the fruit as it’s growing to make them heavier and plumper for sale.

So I strongly suggest building a relationship with the Chinese management, translators or hotel concierge to assist with ordering.  It may be even smarter to get a bunch of the company together and do large group ordering of food, often selecting different cuisines each day, and all choosing from a single menu.

Western Food

Major cities have web based and various iPhone app delivery services that will allow you to choose from a wide range of menus, and their service will go to the restaurant, pickup and and delivery to you such as (Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou).

Major Food Delivery Services

restaurant delivery from many western style restaurants in English
restaurant delivery from many Chinese restaurants
restaurant delivery from a few western style restaurants
24 hour delivery, English ordering
restaurant delivery from many western style restaurants in English
Good Delivery
24 hour home cooked style western food in English
Dominos Pizza
pizza delivery, order in English
24 hour delivery, English ordering
delivery, order in English
restaurant delivery from a few western style restaurants
Papa Johns Pizza
pizza delivery, order in English

Local Food

China has a long history of food and its Chinese cuisines culture is the most famous. Chinese cuisines have a number of different genres, but the most influential and typical known by the public are the “Eight Cuisines”:

guide food ShandongJiaoziDumplings

Shandong Jiaozi Dumplings

Shandong Cuisine 鲁菜: also called Lu Cuisine, originated from Shandong Province. Salty and crispy, favoring braising and seafood. Shandong was one of the first civilized areas, and it set the pattern for northern styles of cooking. With a long coast, seafood is its forte. They preserve the original taste of the seafood by using simple ingredients and braising, and they like vinegar and salt. Unlike southern cuisines, they serve much more wheat food, including their noodles.
It is the most distinct cuisine in China, popular through out Beijing, Tianjin and Northeast China. Seafood is the most notable ingredient, as Shandong is a costal province, including scallops, prawns, clams, sea cucumbers, and squid, which are all local ingredients.

guide food GuangdongBaiQieChicken

Guangdong Bai Qie Chicken

Guangdong Cuisine 粤菜: also known as Cantonese Cuisine or Yue Cuisine, is in Guangdong Province (Canton). Sweeter, favoring braising and stewing, adding various mild sauces. Cantonese food is the most popular style internationally. Guangdong Province and Hong Kong are noted for fine seafood dishes and rice dishes. The dishes they serve don’t have strong flavors since it is lightly seasoned, and they often tend to be a little sweet. It emphasizes flavor. The sauteed dishes always rely upon presentation involving cutting and carving skills. Guangdong people prefer to braise, stew and sauté their food to preserve the flavor of the dishes, which are typically based on seafood.

guide food SichuanMapoTofu

Sichuan Mapo Tofu

Sichuan Cuisine 川菜: Spicy and bold, often mouth-numbing, using lots of chili, garlic, ginger, and peanuts. Their dishes are famous for their hot-spicy taste and the numbing flavor of Sichuan peppercorn that is rare in other regional cuisines. This combines the cuisines from Chengdu and Chongqing and is the most widely served cuisine in China. The dishes are famous for their hot and spicy flavor. The ingredients used are great in variety, including poultry, pork, beef, fish, vegetables and tofu.

guide food HunanSpicyBeef

Hunan Spicy Beef

Hunan Cuisine 湘菜: also called Xiang Cuisine, with a hot and sour taste, favoring sautéing, stir-frying, steaming and smoking. If you like Sichuan food, you’ll probably like Hunan food too since it is even hotter. Stewed fins, fried fresh cabbage with chestnuts, Dong Anzi chicken, immortal chicken with five elements, are of the highest reputation.

guide food JiangsuRedBraisedPorkRibs

Jiangsu Red Braised Pork Ribs

Jiangsu Cuisine 苏菜: called Su Cuisine for short – fresh, moderately salty and sweet, precise cooking techniques, favoring seafood, soups and artistic, colorful presentation Jiangsu Province and China’s biggest city, Shanghai, have a very refined gourmet cuisine that is often served at government banquets. What makes it special is the exquisite cooking techniques that produce richly aromatic and visually artistic dishes.
Known for its cooking methods such as stewing, simmering, and baking over a slow fire, warming, steaming, sautéing, stir-frying, and braising in mud and baking on forks.

guide food ZheJiangBeggarsChicken

ZheJiang Beggars Chicken

Zhejiang Cuisine 浙菜: called Zhe Cuisine for short – mellow, using fresh seafood, freshwater fish, and bamboo shoots, and a wide variety of cooking methods. Zhejiang Province is the province south of Jiangsu, and it borders on Shanghai too, the styles are similar, but it is less elaborately prepared. They focus more on serving fresh food. The food is often served raw or almost raw and is fresh and crispy and seasonal. It is more like Japanese food. Ningbo cuisine is very salty.
Emphasis is on the techniques of cooking in methods such as frying, quick-fry, stir-fry, braising, and steaming. Some of it’s most famous dishes are Hangzhou west-lake braised fish in vinegar. Shelled shrimps cooked in Longjing tea, and Beggars Chicken cooked in mud.

guide food FujianFriedRice

Fujian Fried Rice

Fujian Cuisine 闽菜: also called Min Cuisine – lighter, with a mild sweet and sour taste, using ingredients from the sea and the mountains, known for great seafood and soups and the precise use of scintillating but not tongue numbing spices. By combining ingredients from the sea and mountains makes their dishes have unusual flavors.
The cooking techniques are: pan-frying, deep-frying, boiling, baking, stewing, mixing, sautéing with wine, stewing in gravy, grilling, cooking with red rice wine, simmering, stir-frying, smoking, braising and salting.

guide food AnhuiEggDumplingSoup

Anhui Egg Dumpling Soup

Anhui Cuisine 徽菜: also called Hui Cuisine or Wan Cuisine is mainly composed of local flavors of Huizhou and other areas along the Yangtze River and the Huai River. Uses many wild plants and animals as ingredients, favoring stewing and more oil. Anhui cuisine is even wilder than Fujian cuisine. It is inland, and big mountains such as the Yellow Mountains are the source of lots of different wild foods and herbs. It is basically a hearty mountain peasant food. Some of the best dishes incorporate wild food for an unusual taste.  Dishes are often sweet from added sugar.
Some famous dishes: Stir-Fried Frog with Log Flower Mushrooms; Phoenix-Tailed Shrimp Steak; Li Hongzhang Hotchpotch; Bagong Mountain Bean Curd; Grape Fish, Mountain Bamboo Shoots, Assorted Meats; Phoenix-Tailed Shrimp in a Bird’s Nest and Red Tato in Honey.

Chinese Fortune Cookies are not from ChinaTipping is not very popular in regular Chinese restaurants and is officially discouraged.  However, as a foreigner, you will be expected to leave coins or change or round up in restaurants if paying by cash.  If using a credit card, no tipping, since, unlike the USA, the credit card will be charged in full before you sign.

CNY pick a hongbao Instead of tips, if you eat regularly in a local restaurant, consider give some Hongbao to your regular wait staff (and chef’s / busboys / cleaners / doorman and manager) at CNY or before you leave China.  You will be amazed at appreciate they will be.  I often make it fun but loading a bunch of different amounts in different envelopes and let them lucky draw.

The essential factors that establish these difference are complex and include history, cooking features, geography, climate, resources, color and life styles.

Fortune cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom. They were invented in 1920 by a worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco.

Cockroaches are served fried in China.

Every year, nearly four million cats are eaten in China as a delicacy.

According to popular legend, tea was discovered by the Chinese emperor Shennong in 2737 B.C. when a tea leaf fell into his boiling water. The Chinese consider tea to be a necessity of life.

guide eatingLiveCrabsNanjingVendingMachine

Vending machine selling live crabs in a subway station in Nanjing.
The machine sells an average of 200 live crabs a day, with prices from 15 to 50RMB

You can also try the Chinese human Hot Pot

Chinese Human Hot Pot
Chinese Human Hot Pot
Chinese Human Hot Pot
Chinese Human Hot Pot
Human Hotpot

Toby Simkin’s Broadway Entertainment, LLC
dba within China as: 沈途彬商务咨询(上海)有限公司

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