The Ultimate Foodie’s Guide to the 12 Must-Try Chinese Street Foods
If you haven’t explored Chinese street food yet, you’re in for a real treat.
One of the best things about Chinese street food is that it’s affordable and easily accessible.
You’ll find street vendors and food carts on almost every corner in Chinese cities. Let’s not forget about the night markets, with vendors selling almost any snack you can think of—from spicy northern dishes to sweet and sticky glutinous rice balls filled with fragrant black sesame paste.
In no particular order, we will guide you on the top 12 must-try Chinese street food.
1. Soup dumplings
Soup Dumplings, Delish
Let’s start the list with one of the most iconic foods–soup dumplings. Also known as “Xiaolongbao” (小笼包), they are little steamed buns bound to give you an orgasmic culinary experience.
These small steamed buns are filled with savory minced pork, Shaoxing rice wine to get rid of the gamey taste, ground white pepper, and Chinese scallions or cabbage. They are often served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, rice vinegar, and fresh ginger.
Be careful when eating them, or they can slash over your face.
Not intersted in this savory dish? We got the perfect food for you: Chinese dessert soup!
2. Stinky tofu
Stinky Tofu, Atlas Obscura
臭豆腐, or stinky tofu, is a popular street food known for its strong smell and pungent flavor.
It is deep-fried and served with spicy or sweet and sour sauce. The fermentation process allows the tofu to ferment in a mixture of vegetables, meat, and spices for weeks, giving it its distinct smell and flavor.
If the smell doesn’t put you off, then the taste might. Similar to oysters, stinky tofu also has an acquired taste. Something about the pungent yet flavourful tofu makes the entire experience amazing.
3. Tea egg
Chinese Tea Eggs, Omnivore’s Cookbook
Tea eggs, also known as “Cha Ye Dan” (茶葉蛋), are the ultimate street food snack!
These eggs are hard-boiled and cracked before being steeped in a flavorful mixture of tea, soy sauce, and spices. A marble pattern will appear because of the cracked outer shell; when you eat it, there’s a hint of tea flavor.
Next time you’re craving a yummy yet healthy snack, don’t settle for a plain old boring hard-boiled egg; grab a tea egg instead!
4. Chicken and duck feet
Chicken and duck feet, Sohu
Chicken and duck feet, also known as “JiZhao” (鸡爪 / 鸭爪) in Chinese culture, are typically deep-fried or steamed and then served with a spicy sauce made from chili oil, soy sauce, and rice wine.
The result is a savory and slightly spicy snack that will tickle your taste buds. They also contain collagen and other beneficial nutrients.
5. Street barbecue
One of my personal favorites is the street barbecue called “Chuanr” (串儿), which is skewered meat (made with beef, chicken, pork, or lamb) that’s been marinated in spices and grilled to perfection.
You can often find them at street stalls or carts, especially late at night. It is hard to miss them since the wafting savory smell is bound to make you drool from miles away. Not to mention that you could get vegetable skewers, too, with ingredients such as lotus root slices and potatoes.
Pair these barbecue sticks with some canned beer, and you’d be in for a fulling supper that will leave you wanting more.
6. Cold noodles
Homemade cold noodles, 凉皮 Liangpi
Visiting Chinese cities during the hot summer?
Don’t worry. There are street foods that can help cool off the heat. One of them is cold noodles, also known as “Liangpi” (凉皮), which are the ultimate summertime treat.
Originating from the Shan Xi province, these delicious noodles are made from wheat flour and served with toppings such as diced vegetables, sliced meat, and a spicy sauce made from chili oil and vinegar.
Not only are they refreshing and tasty, but they are also easy to make at home, so you can enjoy a little slice of Chinese culture even when you’re not traveling.
The next time you need to beat the heat, skip the boring old ice cream cone and grab a plate of cold noodles instead!
Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.
7. Chinese crepes
Chinese pancake on a grill, Douguo
Jianbing (煎饼), commonly known as pan-fried Chinese pancakes or Chinese crepes, is a snack filled with eggs, vegetables, and meat. The crepe is often topped with sesame seeds and chili sauce; some vendors may also offer a spicy sauce.
Some might also call these Chinese pancakes “Jian bing guo zi” (煎饼果子). It is made with wheat flour and mung bean flour and is particularly popular in Northern China.
This fried pancake is often served with a brown sauce and chopped green or spring onions.
8. Steamed buns
Steamed buns, Pressure Cook Recipes
For those looking for a more substantial meal, “Baozi” (包子) are perfect for you. They are steamed buns filled with meat and/or vegetables.
Steamed buns are distinct from their very close counterparts, the steamed dumplings mentioned earlier. They tend to have thicker skin than soup dumplings’ thin dough that wraps around itself.
However, they are equally delicious.
9. Deep fried dough sticks
Fried Dough Sticks, DelightfulPlate
Youtiao (油条), or deep-fried dough stick, is another popular street food that Chinese people love.
These deep-fried dough sticks are made from wheat flour and deep-fried to a crispy golden brown. They might be crispy on the outside, but they have a soft and fluffy interior.
My grandmother often bought these sticks as a breakfast item when the street cart came by each morning when I was young. Even now, I still have cravings for this comfort food.
10. Soy milk
Soy Milk cooked in a pot, HapaMama
Now we’re moving on to the dessert section!
Soy Milk, also known as “Dou Jiang” (豆浆), is a street food frequently paired with fried dough sticks. They are made fresh daily by grinding soaked soybeans and then boiling them. It is usually consumed while hot.
Together, they are the ultimate street food breakfast duo! This combination of dipping savory fried dough sticks in the slightly sweet, nutritious, and nutty milk is a traditional breakfast that Chinese people have enjoyed for centuries.
Fun fact: the famous Chinese singer JJ Lin even sang a song called “Dou Jiang You Tiao” (豆浆油条) which reflects this traditional breakfast and how it reminds him of his childhood.
11. Roasted sweet potatoes
Street food vendor in China with roasted sweet potato and corn, Vagabond Journey
Roasted sweet potatoes, also known as “kǎo dì guā” (烤地瓜) in Chinese culture, are the ultimate street food treat!
These sweet potatoes are peeled, skewered, and then roasted over hot coals, giving them a deliciously smoky flavor. The result is a sweet and savory snack that will warm you up on a chilly evening.
Moreover, these sweet little snacks are low in calories and are said to be good for your health, as sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, vitamin A, and minerals.
12. Chinese candied fruit
Candied Hawthorn Stick, The Hong Kong Cookery
Tanghulu is different from your typical Chinese street food. You might even be bewildered by this particular street food when you first come across it.
This snack is made by pouring sugar syrup and allowing it to harden into a crunchy shell around the fruit. Mountain hawthorn is the most common Chinese fruit in Tanghulu because of its sour taste, an excellent complement to the sweet, crunchy sugar.
However, you might also see this candy made with strawberries, grapes, or tangerine.
Frequently asked questions
How is xiaolongbao different from jiaozi?
Jiǎozi or Chinese dumpling is typically filled with a mixture of meats and vegetables. It can be fried or steamed. The xiaolongbao (小笼包) has a similar filling with soup. Usually, xiaolongbao is streamed.
What are some street foods in China?
Some Chinese street food is stunky tofu, tea egg, Chinese pancakes, steam buns, and deep fried dough sticks. You can find food stalls sell one of these items.
You might be thinking, "Everythings sounds great, but I'm still not sure what to try." That's where the video comes in:
Street Food in China | Chinese Food Tour in Shanghai:
While that video does not cover all the Chinese street food listed in our list, it gives an insight of the vast amount of Chinese food to try out!
Chinese street food is a delicious and affordable way to experience Chinese food culture. From savory dumplings to sweet treats, there's something for everyone when you visit Chinese street vendors.
When it comes to Chinese street food, it's about more than just the taste but also the experience. Watching the vendors prepare your food, the sounds of the market, and chatting with locals add to the overall experience.
The next time you find yourself in China, be sure to give street food a try!
Jing You is a Chinese native who grew up in the Fujian province and soaked in the Chinese culture while living with her grandparents. She later moved to Singapore to pursue further education. However, she has always been passionate about the Mandarin language despite being in an environment that speaks English predominantly. She was involved in multiple Mandarin and Chinese culture programmes in schools, and brought this passion forward by tutoring elementary school students Mandarin in her adulthood.