Street food is a vital aspect of Chinese culinary culture, representing a unique blend of the country’s history, cuisine, and lifestyle. Despite being tucked away in narrow streets and appearing unclean at times, the street food scene in China is a popular way for people to unwind and indulge in new and exciting food experiences.
If you are a street food enthusiast and enjoy exploring new food tastes, then the rich diversity of Chinese street food will satiate your cravings. Chinese street foods are not only delicious but also come in all shapes, sizes, and textures, ranging from sweet to savory.
Delicious Deep-Fried Dough Sticks – A Breakfast Staple in China
Delightfully crispy and fluffy, Deep-Fried Dough Sticks are a popular breakfast item in China. Locally known as ‘yóutiáo,’ meaning oil strips, these golden sticks are made from wheat flour and soda, and are mildly salty in taste.
Perfectly Paired with Soy Milk and Porridge
Enjoyed with soy milk and rice or bean porridge, Deep-Fried Dough Sticks make for a hearty breakfast. At smaller eateries, patrons can be seen holding a stick in one hand and a spoon of porridge in the other, taking alternating bites. Some people even like to dip their youtiao in a bowl of soy milk. In some places, it is common to see people pairing their dough sticks with soup or noodles.
Instant Warmth – Steamed Buns
Steamed buns, also known as baozi, are a staple food in China, commonly found in restaurants or street stalls. In addition to being a popular breakfast item, they are enjoyed throughout the day.
To prepare them, cooks use a large steamer or several small bamboo steamers. The buns are filled with either savory ingredients such as meat or vegetables, or sweet fillings like red bean paste, custard, and sugary black sesame seed. Simply indicate your preferred stuffing to the vendor, and they will select the appropriate one from the steamer.
With an average price of 1 yuan, steamed buns offer an instant warmth and satisfaction to your taste buds.
A Delicious Chinese Dish: Roujiamo
Roujiamo, also known as Chinese hamburgers, is a popular savoury snack originating from northwest and north China. Unlike traditional hamburgers, this dish features meat placed inside a flatbread made of flour.
The main ingredient of roujiamo is either pork or mutton, stewed with a blend of spices that gives it a delectable aroma. When ordering roujiamo, customers can ask the cook to choose lean or fatty meat and chop it up with some vegetables.
Once the meat has been prepared, a slit is cut into the side of the naan and the meat stuffing is placed inside. To enhance the flavour, the cook adds some gravy to the stuffing, making it juicier. This delicious snack is typically sold for around 5 yuan.
Discovering the Flavors of Street Crepe
Street crepes, known as “jianbing guozi” in Chinese, are a type of pancake cake made from mung bean flour, wheat flour, green onion, egg, and fermented flour sauces. It is a savory snack that is best paired with different sauces. The average price of these delicious treats ranges from 5 to 10 yuan, depending on the additional ingredients that you want to add, such as sausage or bacon.
Northern Chinese are particularly fond of street crepes because of its unique taste and quick preparation. The seller sets up a small stall and cooks the crepes on a hot plate with only a few ingredients needed. For this reason, street food lovers are often attracted to these simple stalls.
It is very interesting to watch the seller make street crepes. They spoon and spread the batter on the heated flat iron plate, add an egg, fresh vegetables, and other ingredients to the batter skin, turn it over, brush on a savory sauce, and finally roll it up and put it in a little bag. The entire process only takes two minutes, and you can enjoy a freshly made street crepe right away.
The Rise of Street Barbecue as the Most Popular Street Food
Referred to as 烧烤 shāokǎo /shaoww-kaoww/ ‘barbecue’ in Chinese
Boasts a savory and spicy taste
Features ingredients like lamb, chicken wings, squid, oyster, and corn
Sold at an average price of 3-5 yuan per skewer
Street barbecue has taken over as the most prevalent form of street food in China. It can be found in almost every city, particularly on snack streets. Entire roadside areas are dedicated to a line of tented shakao stalls.
The meat and vegetables are placed on small sticks and presented raw to allow customers to select their preferred options.
The vendor uses heated charcoal to grill the skewer, producing a delightful aroma. The sauce is applied, and cumin is sprinkled on it according to the customer’s taste preference. The customer can specify the level of spiciness they prefer.
Experience the Warmth of Winter with Spicy Boiled Water Cuisine
Chinese name: 麻辣烫 Málàtàng /maa-laa-taang/’numbing spicy broth’
Flavor: Delectable blend of savory and spicy soup
Primary ingredients: Assorted vegetables, juicy meatballs, firm tofu, toothsome noodles…
Average cost: 1-3 yuan for every skewer
Malatang, dubbed as the “numbing spicy broth,” is the ideal food to keep you warm and satisfied during winter. The food is prepared like skewers for street barbeques, but it is cooked in piping boiling spicy broth.
The food stand: The food is readily available for selection in a glass cabinet or in front of the booth.
Preparation: Simply choose your desired veggies, tofu, meat, or noodles, and let the vendor cook it in the tantalizing broth. After the meal is ready, it is served in a paper bowl. You can enjoy a hefty meal of veggies, meatballs, and noodles for only 10 yuan.
The Pungent Charm of Stinky Tofu
Chinese name: 臭豆腐 chòu dòufu /choh doh-foo/ ‘stinking bean curd’
Flavors: savory and spicy sauces
Key ingredient: fermented soybean curd
Price: 4 yuan for five 3cm stinky tofu cubes
Stinky tofu is a distinctive street food that requires an adventurous palate. Its strong, spicy aroma can be hard to stomach for some people. However, it is an acquired taste similar to blue cheese that can become a cult favorite.
The vendor sells the dish prepped in a small wok filled with hot oil for deep-frying. It comes in a paper bowl and is served with brown, salty sauce that’s mixed with chopped parsley and green onion, giving it an extra burst of flavor.
Uniquely Chinese Delicacy: Chicken and Duck Feet
Chicken and duck feet are a popular street food in China, known as ‘鸡爪鸭爪 jīzhuǎyāzhuǎ’. The dish is unique to Chinese cuisine and is rarely found in other countries.
Contrary to popular belief, Chinese people do not eat chicken and duck feet purely for health benefits. The reasons for consuming these delicacies range from wastage reduction to an appreciation for their texture.
Chicken and duck feet dishes can be made with a variety of flavors, including pickled chili, barbeque sauce, salted, or fried. The main ingredients include the feet themselves and peppers.
The average price for chicken and duck feet is 40 yuan per kilo, which amounts to roughly 3 yuan per foot. The feet are typically displayed behind a glass window and may be served with steamed or boiled lotus roots or potatoes.
For those who dare to try it, chicken and duck feet offer a unique taste and texture experience that is truly Chinese. Despite being an acquired taste, the delicacy has stood the test of time and continues to be a popular street food in China.
Discover the Delicious Cold Rice Noodles Perfect for Summer
Also known as: 凉皮 Liángpí /lyang-pee/ or ‘cool skin’
Flavor profile: a salty and spicy kick with a hint of sourness
Essential ingredients: rice flour
Average cost: budget-friendly at 5-8 yuan
Cold rice noodles are a summertime favorite, but did you know that they can also be enjoyed as a warm dish during the colder months? The velvety texture and spicy sauce of these noodles will tantalize your taste buds.
Preparation: A vendor slices a large sheet of rice flour into thin, ribbon-like strips. These are then combined in a large bowl with spicy sauces and other ingredients like bean sprouts, soy sauce, sliced cucumber, and roasted peanuts. If you prefer less heat, simply request no chili sauce be added.
Traditional Chinese Treat: Tanghulu – Sweet and Sour Fruit Skewers
Tanghulu, also known as “sugar bottle gourd,” is a beloved treat among kids in China. These colorful fruit skewers are coated in a sugary syrup and can be made with a variety of fruits like apples, strawberries, pineapples, grapes, oranges, or kiwi fruits. With each bite, you’ll experience a sweet and sour explosion of flavors.
The Presentation: Vendors often display tanghulu on a straw “head” fixed on a pole or in a glass case. This treat has evolved beyond just haws and can now be made with any fresh fruit.
Chinese name: 糖葫芦 tánghúlu /taang-hoo-loo/ ‘sugar bottle gourd’
Taste: sweet (and sour)
Main ingredients: haws or fruits like apples, strawberries, pineapples, grapes, oranges, or kiwi fruits; syrup made from rock candy
Average price: 3–7 yuan per skewer