Chinese food is without a doubt one of my favorite things about living in China. With so many different cuisines, regional dishes, and local variations, the options are endless. Even if you’re vegetarian or vegan, China has so many foods that can fit your palate.
But when it comes to ordering, if you don’t speak or read Chinese it can be difficult to know what and how to order. Hopefully when you walk into a restaurant they will hand you a big photo book, or they will have pictures on the wall. But other times, you may not be so lucky.
Here’s a short cheat sheet of 12 popular dishes to order in China, with the Chinese characters, pinyin pronunciation, and English translation. These are favorites Chinese dishes that I have ordered since I moved to China in 2015, and still order to this day! And most restaurants across China will have some variations of these popular Chinese foods.
While not the most adventurous Chinese food choices (hey, there is always time for trying the other strange foods in China), these are classic and crowd pleasing dishes that will feed a hungry traveler. And this is by no means a huge guide into food in China – that would take forever! This is just a short list to check when you’re in a bind and not sure how or what to order. And if you’re not in China, these are great dishes to learn how to cook at home!
Check out these 12 top Chinese dishes and how to order them in Chinese (Scroll to the bottom for a photo list of all the dishes together).
1. Cucumber Salad (pāihuángguā 拍黄瓜)
Cucumber salad (or smashed cucumber) is the perfect starter dish! Whether you’re eating at a BBQ place outdoors, inside at a restaurant, or want an easy snack at home, this a refreshing and slightly spicy appetizer.
2. Rice (mǐfàn 米饭)
Rice is a staple in China! Filling and perfect pair with any other dishes.
3. Fried rice / noodles (chǎofàn/chǎomiàn 炒饭/炒面）
Fried noodles and fried rice are a classic, both in restaurants and from street vendors outside.
4. Stir fried Cauliflower (gān guō cài huā 干锅菜花)
One of my top favorites – Chinese cooking knows how to make vegetables so flavorful and cauliflower is divine!
5. Dumpling (jiǎozi 饺子)
Fried, boiled, or steamed, dumplings are always a solid choice!
6. Kung Pao Chicken (gōngbǎojīdīng 宫保鸡丁）
Sweet, savory, and full of peanut-y flavor, Kung Pao Chicken a foreigner favorite.
7. Ma Po Tofu (mápódòufu 麻婆豆腐）
Hailing from the Sichuan region, ma po tofu is a spicy concoction popping with flavor.
8. Spring rolls (chūnjuǎn 春卷)
Usually eaten around spring festival time, spring rolls are a crunchy classic.
9. Fried eggs with tomatoes (fānqiéchǎodàn 番茄炒蛋)
I love fried eggs and tomatoes when I’m hungry, but not wanting a heavy meat dish. The combination of eggs with rick tomatoes is so good!
10. Sautéed eggplant with potatoes and green peppers (dìsānxiān 地三鲜)
When I travel I always find myself ordering this – so many good veggies rolled into one dish.
11. Shredded potatoes (cùliūtǔdòusī 醋溜土豆丝)
Shredded potatoes are the perfect side dish for a meal in China.
12. Sweet and Sour Pork Fillet （tángcùpáigǔ 糖醋里脊）
And a classic, sweet and sour pork strips are great for sharing and hearty after a big day.
Top Chinese Foods in China
There are so many others I haven’t mentioned here, including chuanr (lamb BBQ), hot pot, and more! What are you favorite Chinese dishes? Let me know in the comments!
Save this photo for an easy reference of these Chinese foods!