Top 10 Most Popular Dishes in China

Top 10 Most Popular Dishes in China
By Leon Long
China Expert

China, with its vast territory, an ancient civilization of more than five thousand years, Chinese cuisine plays an important part in Chinese culture. Listed as one of the top three cuisines in the world (the other two are French and Turkish), Chinese cuisine has influenced many other cuisines in Asia.

In China, Chinese cuisine is traditionally distinguished by its regions: Northern – salty, wheat-based such as noodles and dumplings; Western – hearty halal food; Central – spicy, with many seasonings; Eastern – sweet and light; and Southern – sour, and the minorities in the region will use a lot of chilies. However, there are 8 main types of Chinese cuisine known as the Eight Cuisines (八大菜系 Bādà càixì), and these are Anhui (徽菜 Huīcài), Cantonese (粤菜; Yuècài), Fujian (闽菜; Mǐncài), Hunan (湘菜; Xiāngcài), Jiangsu (苏菜; Sūcài), Shandong (鲁菜; Lǔcài), Sichuan (川菜; Chuāncài), and Zhejiang (浙菜; Zhècài) cuisines.

With such a distinct and wide variety of Chinese cuisine across the country, it is difficult to decide the top 10 most popular dishes in China. Based on major online ordering platforms and a public survey, we listed the 10 most popular dishes in China. We hope this article will help you to order and try these dishes during your China adventure.

1. Fish with Sichuan Pickles (酸菜鱼 suāncàiyú)

Ingredients:grass carp/catfish, pickled mustard greens and chili peppers

The term ‘suāncàiyú’ translates to hot and sour fish with pickled mustard greens”. It’s a classic dish, made with a whole grass-carp or catfish that is thinly sliced then poached in a rich broth made from chicken stock, fish stock, and ‘Sichuan pickles’, which is the main ingredients and fundamental to Sichuan cooking. The pickled vegetables were originally prepared when there were no vegetables available. They were the main dish for poor families in the old days. Nowadays, they are normally used as appetizers or an ingredient.

If you cannot eat chili peppers, you can tell the restaurant and they will omit them from the dish.

Fish with Sichuan Pickles

2. Mapo Tofu/Tofu with Chili and Sichuan Peppers (麻婆豆腐 mápódòufǔ)

Ingredients: soft tofu, scallions, ground pork (or beef)

The name “MaPo Tofu” translates to “pockmarked grandma’s beancurd”, and is a classic dish from Sichuan Province. It is one of the popular dishes on many restaurant menus that can be found throughout China. The dish is spicy, numbing, hot, aromatic and tender, and best served with a bowl of steamed rice. The essential ingredients of the dish are fermented black beans, broad bean and chili paste, Sichuan peppercorn powder, ground meat, and soft tofu. The tofu is braised in the spicy meat sauce. A recommended dish, not to be missed during your travels.

Tofu with Chili and Sichuan Peppers

3. Kung Pao Chicken /Spicy Diced Chicken with Peanuts (宫保鸡丁 gōngbǎojīdīng)

Ingredients: chicken breast, dried chili peppers, peanuts, and green onions

Another Sichuan classic, this dish is popular among westerners and is made with diced chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers.

The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen, a governor of Sichuan in the late Qing dynasty (1876-1886). He often asked his chef to cook a dish that included chicken, peanuts, leeks, and chili peppers. Ding, a benevolent official worked very hard to improve the livelihood of the people. After his death, in honor of his work, the Qing government gave him the honorary title "Taizi Shaobao" (太子少保 "Crown Prince's Tutor"), in short-form, was known as Gongbao (or Kung Pao). Hence the name of Kung Pao Chicken.

Kung Pao Chicken

4. Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce/Chinese Sichuan-style Pork (鱼香肉丝 yúxiāngròusī)

Ingredients: pork, pickled chilis, white scallion, ginger and garlic

Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce known as “Yú Xiāng Ròu Sī”or Yu-Shiang Shredded Pork is another classic dish from Sichuan. Yu Xiang (鱼香) literally translates to “fish fragrance” or “fish flavor”, which is a seasoning that is made of pickled chili peppers, white scallion, salt, soy, ginger, and garlic, there is no fish involved in the dish. It is believed that the seasoning used in the dish was inspired by the way fish was traditionally prepared in Sichuan. Other popular dishes like Yu Xiang Eggplant (鱼香茄子), Yu Xiang Tofu (鱼香豆腐) also use the same seasonings.

Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce

5. Sichuan Poached Fish filets in Hot Chili Oil (水煮鱼 shuǐzhǔyú)

Ingredients: grass carp/ catfish/silver carp, Sichuan peppers, dried red chili peppers, and soybean sprouts

The name means "water boiled fish". The marinated fish slices used are fresh grass carp or catfish that is gently poached in water seasoned with chili peppers and Sichuan peppers, giving the dish a tender, succulent, and packed with hot spicy flavor sensation to your taste bud.

Sichuan Poached Fish filets in Hot Chili Oil

6. Braised Pork in Brown Sauce (红烧肉 hóngshāoròu)

Ingredients: pork belly, sugar, soy sauce

Chinese people love braised pork belly. It’s a very popular dish, and many versions depending on where you are traveling in China. In Shanghai, the taste of the dish is sweet (made with rock sugar), while in Chengdu, the braised pork belly is made with brown sugar, and tastes slightly spicy. However, if you happen to be in Hunan Province, you’ll find Chairman Mao’s Red Braised Pork Belly (毛氏红烧肉) dish is heavily flavored with spices, as the local people love spicy food.

Braised Pork in Brown Sauce

7. Steamed Fish Head with Diced Hot Red Peppers (剁椒鱼头 duòjiāoyútóu)

Ingredients: fish head, chili peppers, ginger, and fermented black beans

A typical Hunan cuisine known for its spicy and hot flavors. With a little vegetable oil, cooking wine, shredded ginger, and chopped pickled chilies on the fish head, it is then steamed for about 10 minutes. Those who love hot and spicy foods should not miss out on this fiery dish. The dish is popular partly because many Chinese believe that eating the fish head will make you smart!

You may have noticed that this is the third fish dish listed, Why? Not only because fish is a healthy and delicious choice, but the pronunciation of fish in Chinese is "yú,". It is a homophone for “affluence” or “abundance." This phonetic similarity has led to fish becoming a symbol of abundance and prosperity in Chinese culture.

Steamed Fish Head with Diced Hot Red Peppers

8. Roast Duck (烤鸭 kǎoyā)

Ingredients: duck, sweet soybean paste, shallots, cucumbers, and pancakes.

There are many versions of roast duck in China, but the most famous one is Peking Roast Duck in Beijing. Since the founding of the People’s Republic, the dish has become one of China’s national icons, favored by tourists and diplomats. The ducks are cooked slowly over a woodfire. This method produces the duck’s crispy skin that has a reddish-brown hue. Many authentic eateries will serve more of the succulent thin crispy skin than meat, which is accompanied by a sweet soybean paste, thinly sliced shallots, cucumbers, and thin steamed pancakes. It is eaten with your hands like a burrito.

Another type of roast duck can be found in the southern part of China. It is the Cantonese-style roast duck. It, too, has the crackling-crisp skin that comes from air drying the duck before roasting it. The meat is moist and juicy that comes from the marinade poured into the cavity and sealed, so the marinade does not leak out. The roast duck is chopped into small portions and is usually served with plum sauce or a sweet soy sauce.

No visit to Beijing is complete without a Peking Roast Duck meal. The most famous Peking Roast Duck restaurants are Da Dong Roast Duck (大董烤鸭店), Bian Yi Fang (便宜坊) and Quanjude (全聚德). They all have many branches in the city. You can choose one that is close to your hotel. Warning: The price for a roast duck in these brand restaurants will cost about US$50 which is not cheap compared to other duck dishes.

Roast Duck

9. Stir-Fried Tomatoes and Eggs (番茄炒蛋 fānqiéchǎodàn)

Ingredients: eggs, tomatoes, scallions

This is the most popular home-style dish in China— great comfort food and easy to make. The tangy tomatoes, mixed with scrambled eggs and seasonings, creates a very satisfying dish that is served nice on a bed of rice. This is a good choice if you don’t eat any spicy food.

Stir-Fried Tomatoes and Eggs

10. Twice-cooked pork slices in hot sauce (回锅肉 huíguōròu)

Ingredients: pork belly, chili been paste and garlic sprouts

The Twice Cooked Pork, is a Sichuan dish of spicy seared pork belly, that is unequivocally delicious and a must-try. The tender pork belly is cooked in a rich sauce made with chili bean paste and fermented broad beans, giving it savory, slightly sweet, and spicy flavor. It is amazingly decadent and addictive, once you start you can’t stop eating it.

Twice cooked pork slices in hot sauce

As the Chinese saying goes, 民以食为天 min yi shiweitian (To the people, food is heaven). The 10 most popular dishes are just small introduction to Chinese cuisine. If you want to know more about the 8 main regional cuisines in China, please click HERE.

If we have whet your appetite and you want an authentic taste of China and its highlights, pleae check our food tours below.

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