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The Top 20 Popular Chinese Dishes – What to Order in a Chinese Restaurant

Studying and living in China will definitely allow you the opportunity to taste and experience Chinese cuisine. Faced with a wide range of Chinese dishes and unfamiliar names, which dishes are suitable for international students to try?

A Chinese saying, “Food is the first necessity of the people,” shows that Chinese people attach great importance to food.

As a country rich in culinary culture, Chinese cuisine is second to none in the world in terms of its variety of dishes, a wide range of flavors, and sophisticated and complicated cooking skills.

For a long time, cuisines from China have been affected by the regional environment, climate, products, customs, and eating habits. Chinese food’s famous Eight Major Cuisines is the most direct feature of this regional difference in eating. People would tend to have very different foods, even just for breakfast. What do the Chinese eat for breakfast? There is a list of the top 10 Chinese foods for breakfast.   

The four major cuisines of Shandong, Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Sichuan were formed earlier in history. They later differentiated into the other four major cuisines Zhejiang, Fujian, Hunan, and Huizhou, thus forming the Eight Major Cuisines of Chinese food.

Among the Top 20 popular Chinese dishes, Sichuan cuisine occupies half of the seats. The top three dishes include Sichuan hot pot, Dongpo braised pork belly, and West Lake Fish in Vinegar gravy.

Today we will take a close look at the popular dishes in the Eight Major cuisines of Chinese food!


Sichuan cuisine 川菜 chuān cài

Sichuan cuisine consists of many famous and special dishes with local flavors in Chongqing, Chengdu, north Sichuan, and south Sichuan. 

Chinese people often say that Sichuan dishes own various flavors.

Sichuan cuisine is also the largest folk cuisine. You can see Sichuan restaurants all over the country, which indicates its popularity. In addition to the Sichuan hot pot that can be found everywhere, the most popular dishes in Sichuan cuisine are Twice-cooked pork slices and Mapo Tofu.

Top 1 popular Chinese dish – Twice-cooked pork slices 回锅肉 huí guō ròu

Twice-cooked pork slices are a traditional dish of pork meat in Sichuan cuisine. Twice-cooked pork slices are characterized by their unique taste, bright brown color, and oil-shiny but not greasy.

Top 2 popular Chinese dish – Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐 má pó dòu fǔ

Map tofu contains spicy, fresh, and fragrant flavor elements, and it is an appetizing and heavy-tasting dish.

Aside from trying all kinds of delicious food in Chengdu, you might also consider learning Chinese in Chengdu. 

Guangdong/Cantonese cuisine 粤菜  yuè cài

Guangdong cuisine mainly consists of three sub-cuisines from Guangzhou, Chaozhou, and Dongjiang.

The characteristic of Cantonese cuisine is its emphasis on the original taste and coordination of different food materials. Besides, Guangdong Province is rich in agricultural and aquatic resources, making it possible to apply fresh food materials at a lower cost. At the same time, Cantonese cuisine uses only a small amount of spices. Though many dishes use spices such as ginger, spring onions, sugar, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, oil, brine, etc., they are only used in a small amount to preserve the original taste of the ingredients. That’s also why most Cantonese cuisines are cooked steamed, which rarely bring strong taste or flavor of the spices into the dish.

Top 3 popular Chinese dishes – Steamed rice with preserved meat in clay pot煲仔饭 bāo zǎi fàn

The clay pot is a common cooking tool used in China, especially when the dish is done with slow cooking. Steaming rice, marinated sausage, and green leaves vegetables in a clay pot together and then adding in a flavourful sauce is the most common way of cooking the famous Cantonese dish of steamed rice in a clay pot.  The crispy rice on the bottom is the essence of this dish and a symbol of the balanced flavor.

Top 4 popular Chinese dishes – Dim sum Shrimp Dumplings虾饺 xiā jiǎo

Shrimp dumpling is a traditional dish of dim sum offered in Cantonese teahouses and restaurants. Cantonese people love drinking tea with a small basket of shrimp dumplings. The out-layer rapping of the shrimp dumplings are white and thin, and the shrimp red stuffing is faintly visible. This dim sum dish is popular for its smooth and freshly delicious taste.

Top 5 popular Chinese dishes – Double-layer Milk Custard/Pudding双皮奶shuāng pí nǎi

Double-layer Milk Custard/Pudding is a traditional dessert that is still very popular nowadays. It’s normally served in afternoon tea time or after supper. It’s called double-layer Milk Custard because of the double milky skins on the top, which are formed during cooking. The first skin is formed while cooling the boiled milk, and the second is formed when cooling the cooked custard.

Hunan cuisine 湘菜 xiāng cài

Hunan Cuisine boasts a great variety with unique tastes and local characteristics. It has been developed since the Han Dynasty. It is mainly based on the flavors of those dishes from Xiangjiang River Basin, Dongting Lake District, and Xiangxi Mountain Area. Hunan cuisine has always attached importance to the matching of raw materials. Hunan cuisine is particularly spicy.

Top 6 popular Chinese dish – Stinky Tofu臭豆腐 chòu dòu fǔ

If you can stand the smell, the deliciousness of stinky tofu, and the health benefits it brings to people, it may attract you to be a follower of this famous dish, “Stinky Tofu.” Stinky tofu is usually cooked by deep-frying and served with chili sauce. Vendors selling Stinky Tofu can be found in any corner of the Hunan region. It’s a trendy street snack.  

Top 7 popular Chinese dishes – Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Pepper剁椒鱼头duò jiāo yú tóu

Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Pepper belongs to Hunan cuisine. Combining the “freshness” of fish head and the “spicy” of chopped chili, this dish has a unique flavor. The bright red color, strong flavor, and tender texture of the fish meat all contribute to the popularity of this dish.

Top 8 popular Chinese dishes – Spicy Crawfish 麻辣小龙虾má là xiǎo lóng xiā

On hot summer days, the crawfish, so-called small lobsters, is a must-have dish welcomed by local people throughout the whole season. Spicy crawfish is cooked with chili, pepper, and other spices. The red color of the crawfish combining the spicy taste makes this dish the hottest order.

Shandong cuisine 鲁菜 lǔ cài

Shandong cuisine is famous for using shallots in flavoring its signature dishes. Shandong people are unpretentious and open-minded in hospitality. Shandong cuisine is often offered on a large scale at an economical price. Influenced by Confucius’ thoughts of ritual food, Shandong cuisine also pays attention to banquets’ pomp and eating etiquette.

Top 9 popular Chinese dish – Braised Chicken rice黄焖鸡米饭huáng mèn jī mǐ fàn

This is a dish that’s originally from the Shandong province and is at its base is basically some chicken braised with sweet bean paste and soy sauce.

Top 10 popular Chinese dishes – Steam-fried Stuffed Bun水煎包 shuǐ jiān bāo

Steam-fried Stuffed buns are made of dough stuffed with minced meat and cabbage. It is cooked by steaming in a pan.

Anhui cuisine 徽菜 huī cài

Anhui cuisine originated in Huizhou Prefecture (now Huangshan City, Wuyuan County, Jiangxi Province) in the South Song Dynasty and flourished in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Huizhou is located in a zone where two climates intersect, with more rainfall, moderate climate, and rich products. There are more than 1,470 kinds of plants in Huangshan Mountain, many of which are edible, so using wild ingredients is one of the characteristics of Anhui cuisine.

Anhui Cuisine is also famous for its cooking methods, including braising and boiling, stressing precise cooking duration.

Top 11 popular Chinese dishes- Smelly mandarin fish臭鳜鱼chòu guì yú

Smelly mandarin fish is not stinky when it’s cooked. With the spicy red and green chili, and the pepper sprinkled on the top, people who love this dish are always charmed by its fresh taste.

Top 12 popular Chinese dish – Palgongsan tofu八公山豆腐 bā gōng shān dòu fǔ

Bagongshan Bean Curd or Palgongsan Tofu is a well-known traditional dish in Anhui Cuisine. This famous dish is featured in Tofu. It has a crispy and golden out layer of Tofu and tender sweet inside, which bring a special fresh taste to this dish.

Fujian cuisine 闽菜 mǐn cài

Fujian Cuisine was formed gradually through integration and exchanges between the Han culture of the central plains and ancient local Yue culture. It originated in Fuzhou, based on Fuzhou cuisine, and later fused with Eastern Fujian, Southern Fujian, Western Fujian, and Putian. Fujian cuisine is famous for cooking wild-grown food materials, with a fine selection of ingredients and rigorous knives; it pays attention to the heat of cooking and seasoning usage, leading to a variant taste of the cuisine.

Top 13 popular Chinese dishes – Buddha jumps over the wall佛跳墙 fó tiào qiáng

Buddha Jumps over the Wall Soup is a dish famous for its variants in food ingredients and the nutrients it contains. This famous soup has to be simmered and slow-cooked for several hours until all the ingredients turn tender. There are also lots of herbs added to this soup which makes this soup the most nourishing soup.

Top 14 popular Chinese dishes – Hokkien Prawn Mee 虾面 xiā miàn

Hokkien Prawn Mee is a top-rated vendor of food in Fujian province. Some ethnic Chinese who have immigrated to South Asian countries also brought and spread this dish to their destinations. So you would find this dish is also trendy in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.  

Top 15 popular Chinese dishes – Sweet Peanut soup 花生汤 huā shēng tāng

This is a famous dessert simply cooked with peanuts, water, and sugar. It is rich, sweet, and creamy.

Aside from trying all kinds of delicious food in Fujian, you might also consider learning Chinese in Xiamen.

Zhejiang cuisine 浙菜 zhè cài

Zhejiang cuisine is originated in Zhejiang province, China. It consists of Hangzhou cuisine, Ningbo cuisine, Shaoxing cuisine, and Wenzhou cuisine. The flavor of Zhejiang cuisine has four characteristics: an exquisite selection of materials, unique cooking, emphasis on the original flavor of the food materials, and a delicate cooking method.

Zhejiang is rich in aquatic products, and Zhejiang’s famous dishes include Dongpo braised pork belly and West Lake Fish in Vinegar gravy.

Top 16 popular Chinese dishes – Dongpo braised pork belly东坡肉 dōng pō ròu

Dongpo Braised Pork belly is a signature dish of Hangzhou cuisine. As the name indicated, this dish is cooked with a pork belly with a good blend of fat and lean meat. Spices are added in a while cooking to make this dish less greasy and delicious.

Top 17 popular Chinese dishes – West Lake fish in Vinegar gravy 西湖醋鱼xī hú cù yú

This is a fresh and tender fish dish cooked without a drop of cooking oil. The soup sauce can bring a sweet and sour taste to the fish. You can even taste a slight smell of crab from it.

Aside from trying all kinds of delicious food in Zhejiang, you might also consider learning Chinese in Hangzhou.

Jiangsu cuisine 苏菜 sū cài

Jiangsu cuisine is famous for its seafood and features fine cutting and slicing skills and cooking duration. Jiangsu chefs employ slow-cooking and smoking to great effect to produce a salty and sweet flavor.

Top 18 popular Chinese dishes – Beggar’s Chicken 叫花鸡 jiào huā jī

“Beggar’s chicken” is a traditional famous dish in Changshu, Jiangsu. This dish is not literally cooked for beggars. It’s named Beggar’s chicken due to the way of cooking. This dish is cooked by wrapping the prepared chicken with lotus leaves and mud then putting it into the fire for roasting. This way of cooking is straightforward in that you don’t need any tools, so even a beggar can cook it.

Top 19 popular Chinese dishes – Hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake 阳澄湖大闸蟹 yáng chéng hú dà zhá xiè

The Yangcheng Lake hairy crab is a popular seasonal crab after the Mid-Autumn Festival until the end of December. This dish is not about the meat in the crab-like an Alaskan king crab or Sri Lanka Crab but about the crab roe.

Top 20 popular Chinese dish – Sweet and Sour Spareribs 糖醋排骨 táng cù pái gǔ

The dish of Sweet and sour spareribs is one of the best-known rib dishes in China. The special sweet and sour sauce will be coated on the deep-fried spareribs to adding fresh flavor and make the ribs less greasy.

Aside from trying all kinds of delicious food in Jiangsu, you might also consider learning Chinese in Suzhou.

If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese at Keats School, you would also have the chance to learn how to cook some of the Chinese dishes. Outside of the class, Keats School will arrange a series of cultural activities to let Keats students better learn and understand the Chinese culture, which could facilitate the Chinese language learning progress at the same time.

With the content shared today, I believe you will easily order your favorite dishes next time you dine at a Chinese restaurant!

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