A region-by-region food guide
From steamed buns to street food that’ll make your eyes pop, China is a culinary melting pot. And you can set your compass by its regional dishes. As well as the fine dining restaurants in China’s luxury hotels, here’s what to tick off your must-eat (and –drink) list.
The north: Beijing - 1. Dunkin’ dumplings
You’ll find dumplings in one form or another throughout China. In Beijing, Jiaozi tend to be stuffed wheat wrappers, boiled or fried for plunging into a soy sauce, vinegar and chilli dip.
Mr Shi’s is a traveller favourite and Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu has something of a cult status.
2. Perfect Peking Duck
Crispy Peking duck is a city stalwart and heaps of restaurants offer a pancake fix. But to dodge the tourist traps, head to the hutong and anywhere that’s packed to the rafters with locals. Or, if you’re not happy ditching the map, try family-run Liu Zhai Shifu, a branch of Siji Minfu or fuss-free and wallet-friendly Deyuan.
3. Night market nibbles
For international visitors, eating in Beijing night markets can feel like taking on a ‘Bushtucker Trial’. Market stalls line up everything from scorpions to silk worms on sticks. But this is also where you’ll find a feast of local (and national) street foods: stuffed buns, fire roasted seafood and charred corn.
THE SOUTH: GUANGZHOU AND CONGHUA - 1. Pig out
Carnivores will be at home in Guangzhou. One of the region’s best-loved dishes is whole roast suckling pig, cooked over a blazing fire using oil that results in bubbling, bright golden skin. This is a banquet dish, so bring an appetite.
2. Afternoon tea with a twist
When in Guangzhou – or anywhere in Guangdong Province – be sure to experience yum cha. Also known as ‘morning tea’, it’s a Cantonese culinary ritual involving tea and dainty dim sum (sweet and savoury) – a Chinese take on high tea. For a contemporary twist on a classic, visit Tea 5 at LN Hotel Five. Or, opt for a traditional teahouse, leaving the lid off your pot for a refill.
THE EAST: HANGZHOU - 1. Tea and…shrimp
Made from Dragon Well tea leaves grown in the hills and shrimp from West Lake, Longjing Tea Shrimp celebrates Hangzhou produce. It’s a delicate dish where the seafood is the star of the show.
2. Famous fish
If you’re staying beside the water, chances are you’ll have the chance to sample Hangzhou West Lake Fish. Usually served whole or in meaty chunks, it’s carp drenched in a vinegary sauce. Most restaurants offer this local delicacy, so you can’t miss it.
3. Beggar’s Chicken
When it arrives at your table – whether in a restaurant or alfresco in somewhere like Guangfu Lu Food Street – you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve been served an about-to-hatch dragon’s egg. In fact, Beggar’s Chicken is a whole bird wrapped in lotus leaves and clay before baking. You simply crack open the casing and dive in. Just don’t wear your best bib and tucker – this is juicy chicken.
Top Tip: Stay in Hangzhou Rose Garden Resort & Spa to be right on the lake.
THE WEST - 1. Sichuan spice and all things nice
Chances are you’ll be drawn to the smell of hot pot in Chengdu. The Sichuan version of fondue, this is a dish made for sharing. Typically, you’ll have a hole in your table into which waiters place a ‘cauldron’ filled with a bubbling brew that’s half broth and half tongue-numbing chilli oil. Select from raw fish, meat or vegetables and dip away.
2. Treasured tea
Every region has a prized tea. But in Sichuan, there are more teahouses than you can shake a saucer at. And here, Zhu Ye Qing is highly prized. Try it in the People’s Park, or the slightly showier Shunxing Old Teahouse in Chengdu.
Top Tip: Relax after a spicy Sichuan adventure at Blossom Villa Resort & Spa.