Why it’s impossible for you not to like chinese food

I hear it all the time in Argentina by the locals “isn’t chinese food bugs and fish?” Do they really think 1.4 billion people are eating bugs? With thousands of years of history, that bugs are the only thing they can think of? Did they forget who brought the pasta to Italy that they are so much a fan of?

Even many of my friends in the US are confused. They think of fish when they think of chinese food in China. How is that possible? Chinese take-away is popular so I would have thought the first thing would be a variation of that. I knew very little about chinese food before going to China but I definitely didn’t think fish and bugs.

Also sushi is not a thing in China. Wrong country.

The coast of China eats more fish than other parts of China and sometimes rivers throughout the country can provide fish as well. China is enormous though so food is different depending on the region. That’s really no different than how it’s like in USA.

Yu Xiang Rou Si - Pork Slivers

Yu Xiang Rou Si – Pork Slivers

You’ve been to China and still didn’t like the food? This is why that’s impossible…

If you don’t speak chinese, it’s difficult to order food. I understand that. Chances are you hardly touched what chinese food is all about. With 1.4 billion people and being the fourth largest country in the world, it would take a lifetime to order all the different dishes China has to offer.

What’s really magically about China is that every province has its own specialty and sometimes can’t be found anywhere else. The food you eat in Guangdong province will be vastly different from the food you’ll eat in Xinjiang province.

It’s a suspicious claim to make when you’ve hardly discovered their food. It’s the most broad term. Not liking chinese food is basically like saying you don’t like ANY vegetables or meat.

There’s a HUGE variety of dishes in China. Look at the menu in many of the restaurants and you’re handed a book of what they offer. The selection is more than you could possibly imagine in China. Spicy, sweet, buttery, cold, hot, crunchy, deep-fried, nutty, oily, peppery, rich, sour, toasted – you’ve got it all.

The selection is so big that really chinese food can fit anyones tastes. Every time I handed the menu to a local, they took long to order because it was difficult to decide what to get because it was too much.

It’s like someone saying “I don’t like american food.” It’s so general that it doesn’t make sense.

So where do you find the good food?

Stop eating at the hostels.

The hostels in China are super organized. They know how to cater to western tourists. They mostly cater to western tastes with menus like pizza, burgers, fries, etc. That’s not chinese food. Instead, get your hostel to recommend you a local restaurant. Get them to write down a few dishes in chinese. Tell them what kind of food you like. If you eat chicken, vegetables, meat, etc. Get them to even write down the pinyin so you can say it yourself and order again in the future if you liked the dish. Every hostel I’ve stayed in China was helpful about this.

Liang Pi (Cold Noodles) a local dish in Xi'an

Liang Pi (Cold Noodles) a local dish in Xi’an

Get recommendations online.

Art of Backpacking has several articles about chinese foods. Print it out or write it down. Walk into a restaurant and start ordering. Not that hard. If they put hand gestures that they don’t have it, then go to the next one on the list. Many of the foods I list are common throughout China. Sichuan cuisine is the most popular.

See:

Don’t be nervous to walk into random restaurants.

I found that chinese people love it when they have foreigners come into their restaurant. You’re not a burden at all to them. They’ll help you order even if neither of you can speak each others language. Chances are that the local restaurants are going to be MUCH cheaper than the tourist restaurants.

Bunch of different kinds of dishes. All vegetables on the table.

Bunch of different kinds of dishes. All vegetables on the table.

Bao Zi (Steamed Filled Buns). My favorite breakfast.

Bao Zi (Steamed Filled Buns). My favorite breakfast.

Chicken BBQ in China

BBQ Chicken in China. Yeap, even in China.

What do you think? Do you agree?

18 Comments

  1. Edna on March 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    “It’s like someone saying “I don’t like american food.” It’s so general that it doesn’t make sense.” I never thought of it that way — definitely going to start using that comparison when I hear people complain about Chinese food! Also, great advice and great photos — totally craving some liang pi now.

  2. Edna on March 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    “It’s like someone saying “I don’t like american food.” It’s so general that it doesn’t make sense.” I never thought of it that way — definitely going to start using that comparison when I hear people complain about Chinese food! Also, great advice and great photos — totally craving some liang pi now.

  3. Jeremy on March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I didn’t like restaurant food outside of Chengdu.  But street food.  Drool!

  4. Jeremy on March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I didn’t like restaurant food outside of Chengdu.  But street food.  Drool!

  5. Our Oyster on March 1, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Im not gonna lie…. chinese food freaks me out. I think it’s because I don’t know what it is. Whats inside that dumpling? What part of the animal did that come from? WHAT ANIMAL IS IT? haha

  6. Our Oyster on March 1, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Im not gonna lie…. chinese food freaks me out. I think it’s because I don’t know what it is. Whats inside that dumpling? What part of the animal did that come from? WHAT ANIMAL IS IT? haha

  7. Dean Wickham on March 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I agree, it’s impossible to not like Chinese food. There are too many options!

  8. Dean Wickham on March 1, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I agree, it’s impossible to not like Chinese food. There are too many options!

  9. Anji on March 8, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Chinese food is my favorite!!! And the variety of vegetarian food you can find in the food is just amazing, it makes it easy for everyone to like. 

  10. Anji on March 8, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Chinese food is my favorite!!! And the variety of vegetarian food you can find in the food is just amazing, it makes it easy for everyone to like. 

  11. Erin De Santiago on March 9, 2012 at 4:14 am

    So glad I didn’t see this until I got back to Taipei since I have been going through serious Chinese food withdrawals while in the US.  Your post is spot on, perhaps something I didn’t even realize until moving to Taipei.  I can eat Chinese every single day for a month and not exhaust the various regions and types of food.  And throw in our Taiwanese spin on things, especially with Hakka and other local aboriginal variances here, and you open even more doors.  

    I think moving to Asia and really immersing myself in the culture and cuisine helped…something not everyone is obviously lucky enough to do.  I could never set foot in a fast food Chinese place back in the US now.  I lived in the bubble of Chinese is nothing more than noodles, rice, and sweet & sour pork.  Oh my…that is Chinese food in America…all westernized for, well, western palates. Even here, some dishes may be altered (Sichuan is not nearly as hot because Taiwanese palates surprisingly can’t take the extreme heat).

    When I leave Taiwan, the food is definitely the number one thing I will miss and something I plan to make a lot of at home when I get settled in Europe.  

    And for the record, tonight is my first night back in Taipei in over two months…first stop is for Xiaolongbao dumplings from Din Tai Fung..my little pockets of soupy heaven!!! 

    • Michael on March 27, 2012 at 7:37 am

      Really? They can’t take spicy foods? Didn’t know that.

      I’m reeallyyy missing Chinese food. It’s not easy to find in South America.

  12. Erin De Santiago on March 9, 2012 at 5:14 am

    So glad I didn’t see this until I got back to Taipei since I have been going through serious Chinese food withdrawals while in the US.  Your post is spot on, perhaps something I didn’t even realize until moving to Taipei.  I can eat Chinese every single day for a month and not exhaust the various regions and types of food.  And throw in our Taiwanese spin on things, especially with Hakka and other local aboriginal variances here, and you open even more doors.  

    I think moving to Asia and really immersing myself in the culture and cuisine helped…something not everyone is obviously lucky enough to do.  I could never set foot in a fast food Chinese place back in the US now.  I lived in the bubble of Chinese is nothing more than noodles, rice, and sweet & sour pork.  Oh my…that is Chinese food in America…all westernized for, well, western palates. Even here, some dishes may be altered (Sichuan is not nearly as hot because Taiwanese palates surprisingly can’t take the extreme heat).

    When I leave Taiwan, the food is definitely the number one thing I will miss and something I plan to make a lot of at home when I get settled in Europe.  

    And for the record, tonight is my first night back in Taipei in over two months…first stop is for Xiaolongbao dumplings from Din Tai Fung..my little pockets of soupy heaven!!! 

    • Michael on March 27, 2012 at 8:37 am

      Really? They can’t take spicy foods? Didn’t know that.

      I’m reeallyyy missing Chinese food. It’s not easy to find in South America.

  13. suki on March 21, 2012 at 1:54 am

    I could eat my mother’s Chinese food forever, but with restaurants, it’s different. I’m less concerned about what animal or part they used and more concerned about MSG and other chemicals. 

    • Michael on March 26, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s on a whole different level. I’m not too concerned with MSG but definitely with the cleanliness of the kitchen.

  14. suki on March 21, 2012 at 2:54 am

    I could eat my mother’s Chinese food forever, but with restaurants, it’s different. I’m less concerned about what animal or part they used and more concerned about MSG and other chemicals. 

    • Michael on March 26, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s on a whole different level. I’m not too concerned with MSG but definitely with the cleanliness of the kitchen.

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