Since I saw and ate so many interesting and delicious foods while I was in China, I thought I’d put together a post trying to compile everything I was able to photograph during my time in Beijing and Chengdu.
Some things to keep in mind:
1. I’m a vegetarian. Even though I don’t eat meat, I still love to document it, especially when I’m in another country. I’m a big fan of food, culture, and photography, so any chance I get to take pictures of an amazing feast, a small odd snack, or a beautiful drink, I’m there. Yes, I’m one of those annoying Instagrammers who STILL must document and share their food before they eat it. (#dealwithit)
2. While some of these foods might seem strange to you, keep an open mind. They’re not at all strange to the people living in the regions I visited (though of course, not EVERYONE in China likes to eat everything pictured here!). I’m a firm believer that one of the best (and tastiest) ways to truly understand another culture is through the food.
3. I really tried to narrow down the photos, but I couldn’t. So yes, this post is very picture-heavy! You’ve been warned. :) Enjoy!
I’ll start with my favorite. This wonderful egg crepe filled with chips, lettuce, hot sauce, and mayo is called a jianbing and I miss it every day. There was a jianbing place located in a mall near where I lived, so it was just a quick subway ride to get there. I’d usually order one of these iced matcha lattes from the shop next door, too. Even though I always went to the coffee shop at night, the employees would all smile and say, “GOOD MORNING!” in unison to every new customer. (Watch how jianbing is made in the video below!)
“Jianbing originated in the Northeast of China. Its history can be traced back 2,000 years to Shandong province during the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD). According to legends, chancellor Zhuge Liang encountered the problem of feeding his soldiers after they lost their woks. He ordered the cooks to mix water with wheat flour to make batter, then spread it on shields, or flat copper griddles over a flame. The dish raised the soldiers’ morale and helped them win the battle. After that, jianbing was passed down through generations in Shandong province and gradually spread to different parts of China.”
Pig snouts, chicken feet, squid, rooster combs, and some sort of rodent(?) skulls. I didn’t try any of the above, but one thing is for sure in China: nothing goes to waste!
Meat is plentiful in China, and this is something I was well aware of before visiting. A part of me had a feeling I would probably be forced to eat meat at some point, whether it be fish or seafood of some kind. Luckily though, aside from accidentally eating baby shrimp in what I thought was a veggie dumpling, I got along just fine as a vegetarian in China.
Thankfully, I lived with two other vegetarians, so it made the hunt for vegetable options pretty fun. Thanks to the Happy Cow app, we found an all-you-can-eat VEGAN buffet not far from our apartment. And guess how much it was? 10 yuan! In US dollars, that’s about $1.60. There was a sweet man who worked there and after the first time we stopped in for lunch, I’d continue to see him because I passed by the restaurant each time I walked to the subway. He would say, “We’re all vegan!” and smile warmly, hoping I’d come in again for lunch.
I plan on doing a separate post for Jinli Street (someday…) but that’s where a lot of the fun food was. I ordered one of these potato tornado sticks there and was pretty excited to eat it, but sadly, it wasn’t very good. I thought the sauce was ketchup but it wasn’t. *le sigh*
Believe it or not, there were TWO Wal-Marts within walking distance of where I lived in Chengdu. Surprisingly, they were pretty similar to the ones back home, what with the towels, bed sheets, electronics, etc. but a quick stroll through the fresh food section (pictured above) was a quick reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore…
Every time we took a road trip somewhere, we’d stop to use the bathroom at these little shops scattered along the highway. You could buy snacks, hats, Chinese medicine, or trinkets, but you’d always find someone with a stand-alone cart making food, too. From cups of noodles to hot dogs to yak meat skewers, it was fun trying to guess what we were going to see next.
Group dinners got old really fast in China. Not being able to order what I wanted was rough sometimes because every restaurant would bring out so many meat-heavy dishes. The photo above was from my favorite group dinner, though. We were at Mount Emei and had hiked all day and climbed up to a pretty high spot on the mountain for lunch. Because of the elevation, it isn’t easy to get meat up that high, so most of the dishes were vegetables or noodles! I was pleased.
Those chickens were for sale at Wal-Mart, too. The fish was served at a group dinner in Beijing. As for the little birds… You know, I saw these everywhere, but I never once saw anyone eating them. I was really curious to know how they were supposed to be eaten. Do you eat the beak and the eyes and everything?? I just don’t know!
I lived in a Tibetan neighborhood in China, so I was spoiled with tasty, cheap Tibetan food at all times. I consumed so many potato dumplings! I also ate yak yogurt for the first time (yum!) and tried buttery yak tea (not yum).
The yogurt was so interesting. It was thick like Greek yogurt, and they usually served it with a dish of sugar so you could sweeten it to your liking. Anna really liked the Tibetan food, too. She usually ordered yak meat dumplings (those are on the left in the photo above). I think we tried five or six different Tibetan spots around Chengdu, and we never left disappointed!
Speaking of yak meat, it was everywhere. You could always find it hanging in storefronts around my neighborhood. These long strips of yak jerky were pretty common, too.
A group of us went out for Tibetan hot pot one night. We chose to go the Tibetan route instead of the traditional Chinese/Sichuan route because 1. everyone we knew who had eaten the Chinese hot pot was sick for an entire day after, and 2. we knew the Tibetan hot pot was vegetarian. We were all enjoying ourselves, chatting, laughing, starving after a long day of walking… And then all of a sudden, a cockroach appeared and climbed out from under the pot and started scurrying around on the table in front of us… We weren’t hungry anymore.
I did eat some American food in China of course, like Pizza Hut (which is a nice, upscale restaurant there!), lots of potato chips (though I stayed far away from the roasted squid flavor), and burgers and fries from a place called Red Beard.
When I arrived with some friends, we spotted Red Beard himself in the kitchen making food. We didn’t say hello, but I have a feeling he’s used to seeing Americans. I think everyone else in the restaurant was American, too. My burger was just an omelet with bbq sauce on a bun. I actually quite liked it!
Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings! Though if we want to get specific here, the bigger round ones are baozi (包子) and the skinnier, moon-shaped ones are jiaozi (饺子). Even though I do love them, I got pretty tired of eating baozi after a while. I usually grabbed a few veggie ones for breakfast on my way to class, but some mornings the thought of eating them made my stomach turn. It was hard getting used to eating noodles, vegetables, or steamed buns so early in the morning. Some of us tried explaining what cereal was to our Chinese teacher and she couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to eat sweet, puffed grains with milk, especially for breakfast.
I’m not 100% sure what that is, but I think it might be pigs’ blood with organs floating in the middle. I could be wrong, but I do know pork blood soup is popular, often served with coagulated offal, i.e. pig organs.
This is called Tteokbokki and it’s actually a Korean dish. I’ve had it before in Seattle, so I ordered a little box full to eat while I walked around Beijing. It’s just rice cakes with spicy sauce. (I’m pretty sure it usually has fish in it, but it was really hard to tell if this batch did or not.) I must admit I’m pretty proud of how my spice tolerance has grown over the years! Sometimes I can even out-spice Adam. ;)
I know I said meat is abundant in China, but tofu is, too! You can find it in so many varieties. This tofu looked really good, but I actually didn’t try any.
Mmm, ice cream. I ate SO much ice cream in China. Almost every day, to be honest. How else was I supposed to stay awake during my night class?! The non-ice cream treats were all pretty cute, too. And I drank So. Much. Bubble Tea. It’s always a good time for bubble tea, right?
I hope you found something interesting and/or delicious in this post! As always, thanks for reading. xo