China is home to an extremely diverse street food culture that varies not only from province to province, but even city to city. With a WildChina guide at your side, we’ll make sure you try the freshest and most delicious street food you can find – just like the locals eat. Here are some of the wonderful foods waiting to be munched on:
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Street Food in China – Beijing
The bustling capital of China is home to a cornucopia of delicious street foods.
In the evenings, locals will visit an outdoor barbecue stall and grab some chuanr (pronounced chwar), a skewer of meat that’s typically lamb. If you want the true local experience, you can sit down at a low table and drink a Tsingtao beer while the meat roasts over red-hot coals. Chuanr can range from mild to spicy, and the mixture of spices are so tasty you’ll want to have a couple (or ten) sticks. At these outdoor barbecue stalls, you can try skewered Chinese bread (mantou) and other local dishes to go with your ‘al fresco’ dining experience.
One can’t pass up street food in Beijing without trying a jianbing, also known as a Chinese pancake. Jianbing is a breakfast food that you can watch being made fresh in front of your eyes. It’s close to a sort of savory crepe burrito, filled with an assortment of sauces, vegetables, and meat. Great for breakfast, and eating on the go! Chuanr will be around ¥2-3 per skewer (0.30-0.45 USD), and jianbing with meat should be less than ¥10 (1.30 USD).
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Street Food in China – Shanghai
In Shanghai, you’ll find the renowned scallion pancake which will make your mouth water as soon as you smell it. This hearty pancake resembles a larger, denser English muffin with scallions cooked in. Sidle up to a street-side vendor and get your fill of this savory dish.
Shanghai-natives particularly love Shanghai radish fritters. These little guys are fried in oil right on the street. This crispy and hot mixture of radish and dough is best served with chili paste and sweet bean paste.
The names pancakes and fritters might make you feel like you’re back home, but these Shanghai versions are sure to put a spin on what your tastebuds expect. Let your local Shanghai WildChina guide help you find the best vendors for these treats.
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Street Food in China – Chengdu
In most Sichuan restaurants (the province home to Chengdu), you’ll find dan dan noodles. These egg noodles covered in broth and peanut flakes showcase the numbing and spicy effect of the Sichuan peppercorn. In Chengdu, the locals eat this as more of a snack than a full meal, perfect for an active afternoon. They typically cost about ¥5 (0.76 USD).
Another unique Chengdu street food is mung bean jelly with numbing and spicy sauce. Like dan dan noodles, this jelly prominently features Sichuan peppercorn and is best served cold. The sauce covers the cold and slippery mung bean jelly.
WildChina Travel Designer, Isabel Wang, lives and works in Chengdu. Her favorite street food dish is Sichuan stuffed pancakes. They are served fresh out of the pan and can be described as a mix between a donut and a pancake. You can then add sweet or savory toppings, fold it up, and eat it on the go.
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Street Food in China – Xi’an
If you’re in the mood for some delicious street food in Xi’an, your WildChina guide will help you explore the many dishes of the Muslim Quarter (also known as hui min jie). Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter is one of the most famous in China. Grab some stir-fried garlic potatoes and skewer them from a paper bowl, or snag a skewer of spicy squid or deep-fried crab (yes, a whole crab).
A local favorite is a homemade yogurt that they “fry” on a cold plate, chopping in your chosen flavor, and turning it into ice cream before your eyes! Most snacks in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter will run you less then ¥10-20 (1.50-3 USD).
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Street Food in China – Yunnan
If you find yourself hungry in the province of Yunnan, ask for ‘er kuai‘, a local favorite of WildChina founder Mei Zhang, a Yunnan native. Er kuai is made of rice that is finely pressed together to make a sort of “rice cake.” They’re made to be less slippery, making it easier for chopstick novices. You’ll find er kuai in chunks and flat sheets.
You most commonly find er kuai in the southern part of the province. Wander through the morning air, heavy with the smell of these er kuai which can either be served sliced and stir-fried or long, thin and noodle-like in soup. Ask for a bowl and the vendor will spread a layer of pickled bean curd with a dash of cilantro and chilis on top. Alongside this dish will typically come a Chinese favorite for breakfast: fried dough. This tasty breakfast comes in at around ¥3-5 (0.45-0.75 USD).
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Street Food in China – Hong Kong
You can find wonton soup almost anywhere in China, but nowhere does it quite like Hong Kong. Hundun, as wontons are called there, is a delicious dumpling soup that comes with a satisfying thickness to the broth that it takes skill to master.
Picture strolling down a warmly lit walkway with ornate red lanterns strewn from strings above. Low tables and stools surround little stands and lines form outside open windows, each waiting to savor their dish. Soon, you’ll find this appetizing bowl of world-famous soup steaming in front of you. Flavored with a pork stock and seafood powder for that extra umami texture, the two-bite sized wontons daintily hang, suspended in the broth. Each restaurant will have their own blend of herbs spices mixed in the filling, which is typically pork, shrimp, or both. One bowl will cost under $40 HKD (5 USD).
If all this food is making you salivate, your local WildChina guide can help you track down the best street food vendors in town. You can even up the ante and travel with Fuchsia Dunlop, our WildChina culinary expert and award-winning food writer who leads two trips a year with us.