China, with its vast territory, an ancient civilization of more than five thousand years, Chinese cuisine plays an important part in Chinese culture. Listed as one of the top three cuisines in the world (the other two are French and Turkish), Chinese cuisine has influenced many other cuisines in Asia.
In China, Chinese cuisine is traditionally distinguished by its regions: Northern – salty, wheat-based such as noodles and dumplings; Western – hearty halal food; Central – spicy, with many seasonings; Eastern – sweet and light; and Southern – sour, and the minorities in the region will use a lot of chilies. However, there are 8 main types of Chinese cuisine known as the Eight Cuisines (八大菜系 Bādà càixì), and these are Anhui (徽菜 Huīcài), Cantonese (粤菜; Yuècài), Fujian (闽菜; Mǐncài), Hunan (湘菜; Xiāngcài), Jiangsu (苏菜; Sūcài), Shandong (鲁菜; Lǔcài), Sichuan (川菜; Chuāncài), and Zhejiang (浙菜; Zhècài) cuisines.
With such a distinct and wide variety of Chinese cuisine across the country, it is difficult to decide the top 10 most popular dishes in China. Based on major online ordering platforms and a public survey, we listed the 10 most popular dishes in China. We hope this article will help you to order and try these dishes during your China adventure.
1. Fish with Sichuan Pickles (酸菜鱼 suāncàiyú)
Ingredients：grass carp/catfish, pickled mustard greens and chili peppers
The term ‘suāncàiyú’ translates to hot and sour fish with pickled mustard greens”. It’s a classic dish, made with a whole grass-carp or catfish that is thinly sliced then poached in a rich broth made from chicken stock, fish stock, and ‘Sichuan pickles’, which is the main ingredients and fundamental to Sichuan cooking. The pickled vegetables were originally prepared when there were no vegetables available. They were the main dish for poor families in the old days. Nowadays, they are normally used as appetizers or an ingredient.
If you cannot eat chili peppers, you can tell the restaurant and they will omit them from the dish.
2. Mapo Tofu/Tofu with Chili and Sichuan Peppers (麻婆豆腐 mápódòufǔ)
Ingredients: soft tofu, scallions, ground pork (or beef)
The name “MaPo Tofu” translates to “pockmarked grandma’s beancurd”, and is a classic dish from Sichuan Province. It is one of the popular dishes on many restaurant menus that can be found throughout China. The dish is spicy, numbing, hot, aromatic and tender, and best served with a bowl of steamed rice. The essential ingredients of the dish are fermented black beans, broad bean and chili paste, Sichuan peppercorn powder, ground meat, and soft tofu. The tofu is braised in the spicy meat sauce. A recommended dish, not to be missed during your travels.
3. Kung Pao Chicken /Spicy Diced Chicken with Peanuts (宫保鸡丁 gōngbǎojīdīng)
Ingredients: chicken breast, dried chili peppers, peanuts, and green onions
Another Sichuan classic, this dish is popular among westerners and is made with diced chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers.
The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen, a governor of Sichuan in the late Qing dynasty (1876-1886). He often asked his chef to cook a dish that included chicken, peanuts, leeks, and chili peppers. Ding, a benevolent official worked very hard to improve the livelihood of the people. After his death, in honor of his work, the Qing government gave him the honorary title “Taizi Shaobao” (太子少保 “Crown Prince’s Tutor”), in short-form, was known as Gongbao (or Kung Pao). Hence the name of Kung Pao Chicken.
4. Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce/Chinese Sichuan-style Pork (鱼香肉丝 yúxiāngròusī)
Ingredients: pork, pickled chilis, white scallion, ginger and garlic
Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce known as “Yú Xiāng Ròu Sī”or Yu-Shiang Shredded Pork is another classic dish from Sichuan. Yu Xiang (鱼香) literally translates to “fish fragrance” or “fish flavor”, which is a seasoning that is made of pickled chili peppers, white scallion, salt, soy, ginger, and garlic, there is no fish involved in the dish. It is believed that the seasoning used in the dish was inspired by the way fish was traditionally prepared in Sichuan. Other popular dishes like Yu Xiang Eggplant (鱼香茄子), Yu Xiang Tofu (鱼香豆腐) also use the same seasonings.
5. Sichuan Poached Fish filets in Hot Chili Oil (水煮鱼 shuǐzhǔyú)
Ingredients: grass carp/ catfish/silver carp, Sichuan peppers, dried red chili peppers, and soybean sprouts
The name means “water boiled fish”. The marinated fish slices used are fresh grass carp or catfish that is gently poached in water seasoned with chili peppers and Sichuan peppers, giving the dish a tender, succulent, and packed with hot spicy flavor sensation to your taste bud.
6. Braised Pork in Brown Sauce (红烧肉 hóngshāoròu)
Ingredients: pork belly, sugar, soy sauce
Chinese people love braised pork belly. It’s a very popular dish, and many versions depending on where you are traveling in China. In Shanghai, the taste of the dish is sweet (made with rock sugar), while in Chengdu, the braised pork belly is made with brown sugar, and tastes slightly spicy. However, if you happen to be in Hunan Province, you’ll find Chairman Mao’s Red Braised Pork Belly (毛氏红烧肉) dish is heavily flavored with spices, as the local people love spicy food.
7. Steamed Fish Head with Diced Hot Red Peppers (剁椒鱼头 duòjiāoyútóu)
Ingredients: fish head, chili peppers, ginger, and fermented black beans
A typical Hunan cuisine known for its spicy and hot flavors. With a little vegetable oil, cooking wine, shredded ginger, and chopped pickled chilies on the fish head, it is then steamed for about 10 minutes. Those who love hot and spicy foods should not miss out on this fiery dish. The dish is popular partly because many Chinese believe that eating the fish head will make you smart!
You may have noticed that this is the third fish dish listed, Why? Not only because fish is a healthy and delicious choice, but the pronunciation of fish in Chinese is “yú,”. It is a homophone for “affluence” or “abundance.” This phonetic similarity has led to fish becoming a symbol of abundance and prosperity …