For me, street food and traveling go hand in hand. I love eating what the locals eat, where the locals eat, and being among the locals when they eat it. If you too are a lover of street food, you’re sure to find yourself in street food heaven when you arrive in China. If you’re not so into it, I can almost guarantee you’ll leave craving some delicious snack you picked up from a roadside somewhere. To help you in your street food sampling journey, I’ve put together a small list of some of my favorite street food in China.
Beijing bugs – many people fly into China’s capital city Beijing. There’s so much to see and do in Beijing, I suggest spending at least a few days taking in the sights. While you’re there, you simply cannot miss seeing (and sampling if you’re brave enough) the food at Donghuamen Night Market (北京东华门夜市). On offer are skewers of barbecued scorpions, seahorses, centipedes, starfish and much more! Don’t worry, if you’re not into street food of the creepy crawly variety, there’s plenty of other delicious (more Chinese/Western looking) food to sample here too.
Sugar coated fruits – Chinese people love, love, love fruit. Where we westerners might take packaged snacks on outings, more often than not Chinese people take fresh fruit. But fear not, if you haven’t packed fruit with you, you can try some tanghulu (tung-hoo-loo 糖葫芦), which is the Chinese version of a toffee apple. Instead of one apple, you’ll get a skewer of several Chinese hawthorn that have been dipped in liquid sugar and dried. If you’re not a fan of hawthorn, many other skewers of delicious sugary fruit can be found around the place too (such as kiwi, strawberry and grape).
BBQ meat – this is my favorite street food. Perhaps it’s because I’m Australian and barbecuing meat regularly is a big part of our culture, or maybe it’s just because it tastes so darn good! Whatever the reason, come summertime in China you can barely drive a few blocks without seeing chuan er (chwar 串儿) stalls on the sidewalks. Here you can choose skewers of a range of vegetables, tofu, meats, seafood and animal parts (like heads, feet, and livers) to be freshly barbecued right in front of you. Be sure to ask for bu la 不辣 (not spicy) if you can’t handle heat, as most barbecue stalls add a pretty spicy rub to all their fare.
Savory pancakes – who doesn’t love a pancake? Here in China you can pick up a savory pancake, or jianbing (煎饼), at almost any time of day – and they’re not to be missed! The most common type available is more like a crêpe fried on a hot, flat metal plate and topped with a thick sauce, egg, scallions or onions, and cilantro, then rolled up like a burrito and served in a plastic bag. You’ll usually find these in street stalls in the morning as it’s a favorite breakfast dish among locals. I highly recommend trying the big round crispy cracker (baocui 薄脆) or savory thick breadstick/long doughnut looking thing (youtiao 油条) wrapped in the pancake too.
Fried noodles – most Chinese people will list noodles in their top three favorite foods, and with so many and delicious types on offer, it’s easy to see why. Fried noodles from a street vendor are just fabulous (especially as a late night bite after a few píjiŭ/beers). Usually there’s a range of noodles (egg or rice, round or flat) to choose from, and a range of vegetables (cabbage, onion, carrot), with an egg thrown in the pan for good measure. Some oil, spices and sauces complete your meal (or midnight snack!).
Roasted sweet potatoes – Winter in China can be brutally cold (depending on where you are of course), so if you’re looking for the perfect snack to warm-up, look no further than a roasted sweet potato (kǎo hóng shǔ 烤红薯). You can usually smell these vendors before you see them (commonly by subway stations) roasting this delicious, creamy vegetable over hot coals. When you buy one, the vendor will weigh it and put it in a plastic bag for you. All you have to do is peel back the skin and dig in!
Street food in China is not only delicious, but it’s also incredibly cheap. Most of the things listed here, you can pick up for 5-10 CNY (a little more or less than $1 USD). If you need a hand with ordering, check out our article on Chinese for Beginners. Then go forth and try some of these tasty treats (but remember to go easy at first, or you might wind up spending a little more time in the bathroom than you’d like!).
Have you tried any of this street food in China? What are your favorites? Tell us below!