I often get questions about food in China: “What do you eat in China?” “Do you like Chinese food?” “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten in China?”
Before I came to China I had no idea what I would be eating. Rice? (of course) Fortune Cookies? (no) Frog, bugs, and cow stomach? (sometimes).
No lie, China does have lots of strange food. But Chinese food is also so good and so different than American Chinese food, so I’d like to show you some of what I eat here.
China is known for having eight different kinds of cuisines, named for different provinces in China – Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong (Cantonese), Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Hunan.
Located in the Hunan province, Hengyang food is notoriously spicy and hot. It’s diverse. Sometimes it’s really oily. And it’s so delicious.
When I first came to China everything was too spicy! My fellow American teachers and I always had to say “wei la” or “buyao la” to let the waitress know we wanted just a little or no spice added. But now I am a local people (Chinglish phrase our students love to use). I love spice, I welcome it, food without spice is bland!
Here’s some of my favorite food in Hengyang.
小炒肉 xiǎo chǎoròu (pork and peppers)
红烧鲫鱼 (Hóngshāo jìyú) – Fish
空心菜 (Kōngxīncài) – Chinese spinach
牛肉炒辣椒 (Niúròu chǎo làjiāo) – Spicy fried beef
土豆丝 (Tǔdòu sī) – Shredded potatoes
花菜 Huācài (Cauliflower)
西红柿炒蛋 (Xīhóngshì chǎo dàn) – Tomato and fried egg
蒜末茄子 (Suàn mò qiézi) – Garlic Eggplant
鱼汤 (Yú tāng) – Fish soup
So many kinds of noodles
I love these: 蒜苔鸡肉拌面 (suàntái jīròu bàn miàn – garlic shoots chicken noodles)
This barely scratches the surface of Chinese food in Hunan, let alone in all of China. There are so many variations and kinds of food so I couldn’t include everything here. They have Chinese BBQ (nothing like American BBQ), Chinese hamburgers, and a million types of noodles with millions of more ways to cook them. I never knew it could be so diverse.
To show some of these foods and more, I made a video about Hunan food featuring some of my Chinese friends!
CHINESE FOOD FAQ
- Chinese people don’t typically eat raw vegetables. As you can see, Chinese people cook everything. The city water here is not safe unless it’s boiled or bottled, so raw vegetables aren’t normally eaten.
- When you go out to dinner the host will order many dishes for the table to share. The general rule is one dish is ordered per person, so you order 5 dishes for 5 people to share and so on. The host or guest of honor sits in the seat opposite of the door. If you’re just with friends this is more casual and doesn’t matter.
- Yes, Chinese people do eat rice everyday. In the south especially. In the north people eat noodles more. (“This is why northern people are so tall,” my students tell me. “Because they eat noodles more. You’re supposed to eat noodles on your birthday to grow more.”
- Chinese people don’t drink cold water. Even in the summer time it’s simply not done. I’ve gotten so many stares and questions when I ask for “bing shui“. Hot water is the key to China and can solve any problem. Thirsty? Drink hot water. Sick? Drink hot water. Dying? Drink hot water.
- There are even more rules and traditions surrounding Chinese food culture – too many to list here! Maybe another blog post.
HOW DO YOU ORDER FOOD AS A FOREIGNER IN CHINA?
Sometimes it can be a little difficult to go to restaurants in China as a foreigner. My students are always asking me how I can eat and talk to people. When I first came to China I could barely count to 10 let alone figure out how to order food. We didn’t even know what food we could order in China…. “Um excuse me do you have Kung Pao chicken?” Hahaha.
We learned how to communicate with the waitresses using Chinese translation apps like Pleco. We’d also look for restaurants with pictures. More often than not though, restaurants will have a menu like this with just a few photos.
Once you meet Chinese friends it’s much easier because they can show you new restaurants and teach you the names of dishes you like. Since I’ve been in Hengyang for awhile I can order food in Chinese and recognize a few characters, so it’s much better now. (Also there are some foreigners who speak and read Chinese very well so this is no problem for them! They are #chinagoals).
If all else fails you can also try just pointing to a random item on the menu and seeing if you like it – we’ve all done this before!
As foreigners who can’t read Chinese, my friends and I will make up our own names for restaurants: we have Chuckie Cheese (because of the music playing there), Chicken Stand, That Restaurant Next To The NanHua Hotel, The Muslim Noodle Restaurant, That Place With The Ready Made Food, and so on.
When you come to China here’s the number one rule: don’t ask what the food is until after you try it 😉
Even if the food looks strange or sounds weird, try everything! You’ll be surprised by the kinds of food you’ll find here.
Come to Hunan!!! 来来来 (lai lai lai – come come come)
Special thanks to my friends Emily and Rita who helped me translate the Chinese names to the best of their abilities and wrote the Chinese characters for me. Sorry if there are any mistakes! 🙂 🙂 🙂