Eating is just as much of a national pastime in China as it is in the States, with cuisine varying from province to province. Cities and towns are packed with delicious restaurants — from back-alley breakfast stands to gilded banquet halls — serving regional cuisine. Here’s a sampling of the best from all four corners of China:
Shanghainese have an enormous amount of city pride and love to argue about what’s really Shanghainese food. Picking just one quintessential dish is tough, but for this list we selected hong shao rou (red braised pork belly). Shanghainese food is quite sweet, and this dish is no exception; there’s a lot of sugar in the rich, heavy sauce. Eat it once (maybe twice) during your trip, smack your lips, and move on to lighter options like xiaolongbao (soup dumplings).
Compared to Shanghai’s super sweet dishes, food in Anhui is prepared more simply and, while flavorful, won’t give you a cavity. Try hongshao chou guiyu (red-braised fermented mandarin fish). It has a very strong odor, what with being fermented, but eating it will make you feel very tough.
You would be remiss to leave China without trying Peking duck, with its crispy, crackly skin and succulent, tender meat. The dish is widely available, but for our money, we recommend tucking into your bird at Duck de Chine.
Not for the faint of taste buds, the food in Sichuan is legendarily spicy. Mapo doufu (doufu means tofu in Mandarin) will leave you lunging for a bowl of rice to sop up the zingy sauce. We recommend you order a plate of mantou (steamed or fried bread) and use that as a mop instead. If you order the fried variety, get some condensed milk on the side for a tasty, cooling dessert.
Dairy doesn’t play a starring role in most Chinese cuisine, except in Yunnan and Inner Mongolia. Yunnan cuisine is well-known for cross-the-bridge rice noodles, which we agree are delicious, but a truly unique dish is ru bing (pan-fried goat’s milk cheese). A lightly charred, crispy exterior gives way to a firm, flavorful cheese you won’t find anywhere in the United States.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-Nikada, iStock-Matejay and Hyatt Corporation