6 Must-Try Chinese Dishes for International Students in China

China is a country rich in history, culture, and cuisine. For international students studying in China, exploring the local cuisine is an essential (and extremely enjoyable!) part of the experience. Chinese cuisine is known for its variety, unique flavors, and use of fresh ingredients. We recommend finding out where the locals eat so that you can sample some truly traditional Chinese dishes. It’s a rewarding way to immerse yourself in the culture and gain a deeper understanding of the local way of life.

In this article, we’ll explore six of China’s most popular dishes amongst international students and locals alike, delving into the history and significance of each dish. Keep in mind that while you may have tried these dishes in your home country, it’s likely to be adapted to suit your tastes, and may not taste the same in various parts of China, so approach these with an open mind… and an empty stomach!

READ MORE: 12 Unique Facts About Chinese Food That Will Surprise You
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Peking DuckPeking Duck

Peking duck is a classic Chinese dish that is known around the world for its crispy skin and tender, flavorful meat. The dish is believed to have originated Beijing, also known as Peking, and has been served for centuries at high-end banquets and special occasions.

Peking duck is typically made from a specific breed of duck, known as the Pekin duck, which is raised for 65 days before being prepared. The duck is seasoned with a blend of spices, such as ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, and then roasted in a wood-fired oven until the skin is crispy and the meat is juicy and tender.

Peking DuckOne of the unique features of this dish is the way it is served. The duck is typically brought to the table whole, and then carved in front of the diners by a skilled chef. The meat is usually served with thin pancakes, scallions, and a sweet bean sauce, which diners can use to assemble their own duck wraps.

For international students studying in China, trying Peking duck should certainly be on your foodie bucket list. While the dish can be found in many restaurants throughout China, the best place to try it is in Beijing, where it originated. Some of the most famous places to try Peking duck in Beijing include Quanjude, Bianyifang, and Da Dong. When ordering Peking duck, we suggest asking the restaurant for their recommended preparation and serving style, as each chef and restaurant may have their own unique approach to the dish.

Soup Dumplings (Xiaolongbao)

Xiaolongbao, also known as soup dumplings, is a type of steamed dumpling filled with savory soup broth and meat filling. Originally from the Jiangnan region of China, xiaolongbao has gained immense popularity throughout the country and is now considered a staple in Chinese cuisine.

The significance of xiaolongbao in Chinese cuisine lies in its unique combination of flavors and textures. The delicate, thin skin of the dumpling contrasts with the rich, savory broth and meat filling, creating a burst of flavor with each bite.

Soup Dumplings

To try xiaolongbao in China, head to a local dumpling restaurant or chain such as Din Tai Fung, famous for their xiaolongbao. When ordering, be sure to specify the number of dumplings you want (usually in increments of six) and any preferred dipping sauces, such as soy sauce or vinegar.

Mapo Tofu
Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu is a spicy and flavorful Sichuan dish made with tofu, minced meat (usually pork), chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorns. Its name translates to “pockmarked old woman’s tofu,” referring to the dish’s creator who had smallpox scars on her face.

Mapo tofu is a significant dish in Chinese cuisine as it represents the bold and complex flavors of Sichuan cuisine, which is known for its use of spicy and numbing seasonings.

To try Mapo tofu in China, head to a local Sichuan restaurant or chain such as Chuan Chuan Xiang. When ordering, be sure to specify your preferred level of spiciness and any additional ingredients you want, such as extra pork or vegetables. Mapo tofu is typically served with steamed rice.

Hot Pot (Huo Guo)

Hot pot

Hot pot is a traditional Chinese dish that is popular in many regions of China, especially during the winter months. It consists of a simmering pot of broth placed on a portable stove on the dining table. Diners then cook a variety of raw ingredients such as thinly sliced meats, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, and noodles in the hot broth, and dip the cooked ingredients in a variety of sauces before eating.

Hot pot is significant in Chinese cuisine because it represents the communal and interactive nature of Chinese dining culture. It’s a social activity that brings people together around a shared meal, and allows everyone to cook and eat at their own pace.

To find hot pot in China, look for local hot pot restaurants or chains such as Haidilao or Xiabu Xiabu. Most hot pot restaurants offer a range of broth flavors to choose from, including spicy Sichuan-style, mild herbal, or tomato-based broths. You can also choose the ingredients you want to cook in the hot pot, and the sauces you want to dip them in. Some restaurants may also offer all-you-can-eat options for a fixed price.

Traditional Chinese Hot Pot

When ordering, be sure to specify the level of spiciness you want for the broth, and any additional ingredients you want to add. It’s also worth noting that hot pot can be quite filling, so it’s best to go with a group to share the experience and try a wider variety of ingredients.

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken Kung Pao chicken is a popular Chinese dish that originated from the Sichuan province. It is a spicy stir-fry dish made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers. The dish is known for its complex and bold flavors, which come from the combination of Sichuan peppercorns, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic.

Kung Pao chicken is significant in Chinese cuisine as it is a classic example of Sichuan cuisine, known for its bold and spicy flavors. It has become a popular dish not just in China but also in Chinese restaurants around the world.

Kung Pao chicken can be found in many restaurants throughout China, especially in the Sichuan province. It is often listed under the “Stir-fry” section of the menu. When ordering Kung Pao chicken, it’s important to specify the level of spiciness you prefer as the dish can be quite spicy. You can choose between “not spicy” (bu la), “mildly spicy” (wei la), “moderately spicy” (zhong la), and “very spicy” (la).

Kung Pao ChickenTo order Kung Pao chicken in a restaurant, you can say “Qing gei wo yi wan Gong Bao ji ding” which means “Please give me a bowl of Kung Pao chicken.” It is usually served with rice or noodles and can be shared with a group. A photo of Kung Pao chicken can be included in the blog post to give readers an idea of what the dish looks like.

Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Chinese Dumplings

Dumplings, or jiaozi in Chinese, are a staple of Chinese cuisine and a must-try for international students studying in China. These small, bite-sized pockets of deliciousness come in a variety of flavors and are a beloved dish throughout the country. In this section, we will explore the significance of dumplings in Chinese culture and provide information on where to find them and how to order them.

Dumplings are a traditional Chinese food that have been enjoyed for centuries. They consist of a thin dough wrapper filled with various types of meat, vegetables, or other fillings, and are often served steamed or boiled. Dumplings are significant in Chinese cuisine as they represent wealth and good fortune, and are often eaten during the Chinese New Year as a symbol of luck and prosperity.

Dumplings can be found in restaurants and food stalls all over China, from street vendors to high-end restaurants. Some famous places to find dumplings in China include Din Tai Fung in Shanghai and Beijing, and Qing Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop in Nanjing. When ordering dumplings, you can choose from various fillings such as pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetables. You can also choose how you want them cooked – boiled, steamed, or fried. It is recommended to dip the dumplings in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil for extra flavor.

The Perfect Study Abroad Destination for Foodies

From the savory taste of Peking duck to the spicy kick of Mapo tofu, the unique tastes of Chinese cuisine never fail to delight students who are food enthusiasts. With plenty of variation in cuisine between different regions in China, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Exploring local cuisine is also one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the country’s culture and traditions, which can make you feel more at home while studying at university.

What are you waiting for? Browse our platform to find universities in China and to apply to your programs of choice. We offer free calls with our student advisors and a free service to guide you through the process. 

Kay is a marketing assistant at China Admissions. A "third-culture kid" based in Thailand, she has had lifelong exposure to international communities and has worked with top global brands. Having studied abroad herself, she encourages young minds to invest in their self-development and foster an appreciation for new countries and cultures.
Kay Marlowe

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