Illustrations by Justine Wong
Anchundan Hongshaorou 鹌鹑蛋红烧肉
Braised Pork with Quail Eggs
Sure you’ve had hongshaorou before, but the most delicious incarnation of this dish comes with the addition of dainty boiled quail eggs dotted throughout, intermingling with the lusciously fatty pork and sticky sweet sauce.
Where to find it: Wuqitang+, e29, B2, Hubindao Mall, 150 Hubin Dao, by Ji’nan Lu 屋企汤+, 湖滨路150号湖滨道B2e29, 近济南路 (6335 6971)
Biangbiang Mian 面
These traditional handmade Shaanxi special noodles were given their name from the 'biang biang' sound during the making process. Unlike regular thin noodles, these are wide, thick and ribbon-like. They come topped with carrot, fresh veggies, mince, chili spices and hot oil, and the ‘biang’ character is the most complicated hanzi in use today.
Where to find it: Suzakumon, 391 Dagu Lu, by Chengdu Bei Lu 朱雀门西安美食, 大沽路391号, 近成都北路 (6880 1717)
Cantonese roasted pork
Arguably the most enticing dish from any Cantonese banquet, chashao is sliced barbecued pork, usually belly or loin cuts, coated with a rich sweet sauce. Delicious enough to be eaten with just white rice, chashao is also used as filling for baozi and changfen dim sum.
Where to find it: Yue 1525, 1525 Dingxi Lu, by Yuyuan Lu 粤1525, 定西路1525号, 近愚园路 (6225 8665)
Duojiao Yutou 剁椒鱼头
Hunan Chili Fish Head
New in China? Then it’s understandable you might balk at the idea of eating a fish head. But if you’ve been here a few years you really ought to man up and see why this is one of the best-loved dishes in China. (Spoiler: it’s juicy, tender and full of Hunanese spice!)
Where to find it: Di Shui Dong, 2/F, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, by Changle Lu 滴水洞, 茂名南路56号2楼, 近长乐路 (6218 1476)
E’ (Shao E’) 烧鹅
Ok, ok, we’ll admit we switched the name around (typically written ‘shao’e 烧鹅,’ but how could we not include goose when it tastes so damn good? With crispy skin and succulent meat, it also comes paired with a tart plum sauce for dipping.
Where to find it: Xin Dou Ji, 47 Xinle Lu, by Xiangyang Bei Lu 新斗记, 新乐路47号, 近襄阳北路 (5403 5777)
Fen Zheng Rou 粉蒸肉
Steamed Pork with Rice Powder
It might not look like much, but boy does this dish taste good. Think slices of luxuriously fatty pork, marinated and coated in toasted rice powder. The rice powder or ‘fen’ (粉) absorbs any excess fattiness, leaving you with an ingenious dish that’s at once satisfying and comforting.
Where to find it: Dong Ting Chun, 48 Puhuitang Lu, by Caoxi Bei Lu 洞庭春湘味馆, 蒲汇塘路48号, 近漕溪北路
Gan Chao Niu He 干炒牛河
Beef Scallion Noodles
You’ve probably seen this before at many a Westernized Chinese restaurant, but it’s on a whole other level when you try the authentic version. Think juicy beef, fresh scallions, beansprouts and chewy, wok-charred ribbons of mian. Noodles to live by.
Where to find it: Cha Canting, 30-4 Sinan Lu, by Nanchang Lu 查餐厅, 思南路30-4号, 近南昌路 (6093 2062)
Huangyu Mian 黄鱼面
Yellow Croaker Noodle
This is the dish that holds a place in the heart of every Shanghainese person. Tender yellow croaker fish filets served with fresh noodles in rich broth – it’s a perfect option for winter seasons.
Where to find it: Ah Niang Mian, 36 Sinan Lu, by Nanchang Lu 阿娘面, 思南路36号, 近南昌路.
Jianbing Guozi 煎饼果子
Crunchy Breakfast Pancake
Arguably one of the most popular breakfast foods in all of China, jianbing combines eggs, coriander, scallions, addictive secret sauce and crunchy youtiao in delicate millet wrapping. Filling, readily available, handy and cheap, jianbing is Chinese street food at its very best.
Where to find it: Zheng Zong Shandong Zaliang Jianbing, 328 Wulumuqi Lu, by Fuxing Lu. 正宗山东杂粮煎饼, 乌鲁木齐路 328号，近复兴路.
Koushui Ji 口水鸡
So named for its 'mouthwatering' deliciousness, koushui ji is testament to the brilliance of Sichuanese cuisine. Served cold, it sees chopped chicken steamed to tender and topped with spicy, pungent chili seasoning. Your mouth will get a bit numb thanks to the red Sichuan pepper (hua jiao), but it’s so tempting that you just can’t stop.
Where to find it: Sichuan Citizen, 5/F, 1266 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Shaanxi Bei Lu 品川, 南京西路1266号恒隆广场5楼, 近陕西北路 (5404 1235)
These preserved sausages are made of pork mince, seasoned with salt, sugar and soy sauce and then air-dried for months. Often seen in cold or fried dishes, the scented slices are either sweet (Cantonese flavor) or spicy (Sichuan flavor). Originally a traditional food during Chinese New Year, lachang is commonly available all year round and frequently served on baked clay rice pots.
Where to find it: Lost Heaven, 38 Gaoyou Lu, by Fuxing Xi Lu 花马天堂, 高邮路38号, 近复兴西路 (6433 5126)
Mapo Doufu 麻婆豆腐
Tofu in Chili Bean Sauce
Flavorsome and faintly spicy, trying mapo doufu for the first time (and loving it) is a rite of passage for any tofu skeptic laowai in China. It might seem simple, but getting this dish perfect is a challenge for even the most skilled chefs.
Where to find it: Grandma’s Home, Unit 701, 818 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Shimen Yi Lu 外婆家, 南京西路818号818广 场701室, 近石门一路 (5239 7225)
Niurou Dun Tudou 牛肉炖土豆
Stewed Beef and Potatoes
Though potatoes have only been in China since the Ming Dynasty, they’ve since become a staple all over the country, particularly in chilly northern areas like Dongbei from where this dish hails. Simmered for hours with soybean sauce, this dish shows a simpler side of Chinese cooking that is equally delicious.
Where to find it: Xibo, 3/F, 83 Changshu Lu, by Julu Lu 锡伯新疆餐厅, 常熟路83号3楼, 近巨鹿路 (5403 8330)
Ou Jia 藕夹
Stuffed Lotus Root
Lotus root (ou, 藕) has many incarnations in the pantheon of Chinese cooking, but as is the case with most things, it’s particularly delicious when stuffed, battered, deep-fried and covered with red and green chilies.
Where to find it: Hubu Xiangchu Wenhua Canting, No.22, 999 Meihua Lu, by Yinxiao Lu 沪部巷楚文化餐厅, 梅 花路999弄22号，近银霄路（5860 5926)
Paigu Niangao 排骨年糕
Fried Pork Chop with Rice Cakes
The Chinese answer to chicken and waffles, paigu niangao is the thing to eat when in need of serious comfort food. The battered and crunchy fried pork chop contrasts with the chewiness of the niangao, and food coma is pretty much guaranteed.
Where to find it: Lao Shengxing, 192 Xietu Lu, by Jumen Lu 老盛兴, 斜土路192号, 近局门路.
Qingzheng Luyu 清蒸鲈鱼
Steamed Sea Bass with Scallions
No other dish represents the purity of Cantonese cooking better than qingzheng luyu, a popular banquet dish that sees a whole sea bass steamed with soy sauce, ginger and topped with scallions. It’s customary for the live fish to be presented before cooking so guests may be assured of its freshness.
Where to find it: Zhengben Qingyuan, Unit 8-10, 2/F, 1818 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Yuyuan Zhi Lu 正本清源本帮菜, 南京西 路1818号1788国际广场2楼8-10单元, 近愚园支路 (5281 0950)
Rou Jia Mo 肉夹馍
Chinese Lamb Burger
Hailing from Xi’an in Central China, roujia mou is as close as China gets to a hamburger. Served in hot-from-the-oven buns, and filled with roasted lamb meat, fresh cilantro and scallions, it might even be better than a cheeseburger.
Where to find it: Xi’an No.5 Mipi, 51-4 Nanquan Bei Lu, by Zhaoyuan Lu 西安5号米皮, 南泉北路51号-4, 近招远路 (5840 6648)
Suan Tang Feiniu 酸汤肥牛
Sour Soup with Fatty Beef
‘Sour soup with fatty beef? How could that be delicious?’ we hear you ask. Oh ye of little faith. Served with piquant pickled vegetables, fresh chopped chilies and wafer thin slices of stewed beef; suantang feiniu is one of those dishes that sound odd but in practice are a magical combination.
Where to find it: Fengshou Ri, 5/F, 1318 Sichuan Bei Lu, by Wujin Lu 丰收日, 四川北路1318号盛邦国际5楼, 近武进路 (3635 6777)
Tangcu Paigu 糖醋排骨
Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs
Bearing the closest resemblance to Chinese American cuisine, tangcu paigu is 100 percent indulgence. Chinese people are known to love their meat close to the bone, and combined with the sticky sweet ‘n’ sour pork this dish is good enough to be eaten by itself with steamed white rice.
Where to find it in Shanghai: New White Deer Restaurant, 9/F, 800 Nanjing Dong Lu, by Xizang Zhong Lu 新白鹿餐厅, 南京东路800号 东方商厦9楼, 近西藏中路 (5386 5688)
Wowo Tou 窝窝头
Hollow Buns with Stir Fried Vegetables
Traditionally a peasant staple from Northern China, these cup-shaped buns gained their name from the term ‘wo’ (窝), meaning ‘nest.’ Now popular all over the country, they’re usually served around a central dish of pickled vegetables with mincemeat, to be stuffed inside the buns.
Where to find it: Dongbei Ren, 46 Panyu Lu, by Yan’an Xi Lu 东北人, 番禺路46号, 近延安西路 (5230 2230)
Xiao Long Bao 小笼包
Steamed Soup Dumplings
An innovation of Jiangsu cuisine that is beloved by just about everybody, no list of China’s great dishes would be complete without juicy steamed soup dumplings. The pork original is still our favorite, but around autumn the hairy crab varieties are also excellent.
Where to find it: Zun Ke Lai, No. 5, 666 Tianyaoqiao Lu, by Tiyuchang Huai Lu 尊客来(万体馆店) 天钥桥路666号, 近万体场5号扶 梯 (6049 3888)
Yaxue Fensi Tang 鸭血粉丝汤
Duck Blood and Vermicelli Soup
Don’t worry, the duck blood isn’t the soup base of this popular hearty dish, rather it’s cooked and steamed until solid and chopped into slices – not dissimilar to the British black pudding. Fensi are the glass vermicelli noodles, and can either be made chewy and thick like buccatini, or delicate and thin like angel hair.
Where to find it: Zhouli Laoya Fensitang, 2379 Xietu Lu, by Wanping Nan Lu 妯娌老鸭粉丝汤, 斜土路2379号, 近宛平南路 (6438 5047)
Ziran Yangrou Chuan 孜然羊肉串
Cumin mutton skewers
Last but not least is another dish hailing from China’s Northwest province of Xinjiang, where predominantly Muslim communities of Uyghur ethnic minorities have innovated halal lamb and mutton based dishes, often laced with heavy cumin seasonings. At their best, ziran yangrou chuan are juicy, caramelized, faintly spicy and served hot off a coal barbecue.
Where to find it: Yelixiali Xinjiang Restaurant, 106 Nandan Dong Lu, by Tianyaoqiao Lu 耶里夏丽新疆餐厅, 南丹东路106号, 近天钥桥 路 (6468 6079)