Your Pocket Guide to Street Food in China
Written by Juliette Pitt
If you have been to China, then I’m sure you have wandered around the markets and tried some street food.
The food in such markets varies markedly from different regions within China. For instance, if you are in Beijing, then I’m sure you have been to, or heard of, the famous market in Wangfujing that sells all types of traditional snacks such as meat kebabs and candied fruits. Likewise, if you are in Xian (famous for its hand-pulled noodles) then I’m sure you’ve been to the authentic Muslim quarter where there are lots of delicious street foods to try.
Street food is the among the most ‘real’ and authentic types of Chinese cuisine. Although at times it can be perhaps too oily and unhealthy, street food markets offer a communal, lively and most of all cheap eating experience.
Broadly speaking, street food can consist of anything that is sold from carts and stalls on the street and is consequently quick and highly convenient. So, for this article we will look at the identifiable categories so that the next time you are in China you can calmly browse the markets and eat lots of delicious food!
Barbecue stalls, otherwise known as烧烤 (shāokǎo), are very common to see in cities such as Beijing. Stalls may be quite small, and it is common to see skewers of meat cooking on small charcoal grills.
Other skewers that are quite popular are squid, whole barbecued aubergines, and lamb kebabs. The latter are particularly popular in the far western regions, particularly, in Xinjiang.
#Numb and spicy soup
Spicy do-it yourself soup otherwise known as 麻辣烫 (málàtàng) is very common in street food markets, indeed it is like a small hot-pot. The ingredients are mostly meat skewers on thin sticks which are boiled in a pre-prepared broth.
When buying this in the food market it is customary to first select the raw ingredients such as mushrooms, chicken cartilage and tofu. Then these ingredients are handed over the server, who will boil them in a spicy soup.
The Chinese word 饼 (bǐng)is a word to describe all kinds of wheat-flour based breads and cakes – if it’s flat and round, the chances are that it’s a bǐng.
Common types of bǐng are 烧饼 (pictured below) – a baked pancake covered in sesame seeds, and 煎饼 （Above pictured) – a fried pancake which is a popular breakfast food that can be prepared with a variety of ingredients such as egg, ham, and spring onions.
Dumplings 水饺 (shuǐjiǎo), as well all know, is one of the most popular dishes in China. They are said to represent the togetherness of a family and are made by rolling flat a small piece of dough.
Usually, these are then stuffed with different fillings such as ground meat and vegetables. The dough is then sealed by pressing the edges together, so that they look a bit like the gold or sliver ingots that were used as currency in ancient China.
Making dumplings is super fun and easy and often around the New Year it is a family activity that all generations can take part in. But be careful, make sure your dumpling is made well as when boiled they can break apart.
Eating street food in China allows you to discover the culinary culture of the country. Food is at the heart of Chinese society and by immersing yourself in a market you will be able to discover and sample a great variety of tastes and flavours.
Indeed, the experience of visiting one is part of the excitement. With street vendors shouting what they are selling, it is real authentic e experience. Plus, it is a fantastic opportunity for you to put into practice your Chinese!
Please share with us your favourite street food item! We would love to hear your experience at a Chinese street food market.