Visiting China? You Have to Try These 10 Iconic Dishes

Orange chicken is not one of them

Photo Modified: Wikimedia Commons / Archon6812 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Sanbeiji, or three-cup chicken, is a specialty of Ningdu County in the Jiangxi province of southern China.

China is a very big, very crowded country, so there is a lot to see — and eat — in this culturally rich nation. Here are 10 iconic dishes that you should not leave China without tasting.

Visiting China? You Have to Try These 10 Nationally Iconic Dishes (Slideshow)

Chinese cuisine is so popular around the world that the cuisine has adopted many different nationalities, like American Chinese and Indian Chinese. But what is authentic Chinese food? What Chinese foods just don’t taste the same outside China?

To gather the dishes on this list, The Daily Meal spoke to James Tan, COO of Jetbay, a company that provides travelers with both traditional and off-the-beaten-path travel packages to China, who recommended an array of dishes that represented different regional cuisines of China. Additionally, we spoke to some of our contributors, friends, and colleagues who have lived in China, and asked them what dishes they miss the most and have trouble finding in the United States.

Some dishes, like Hainanese chicken, might sound pretty familiar to you, while others, like ziran yangrou (cumin-spiced mutton), might make you think, “I had no idea that Chinese people used cumin in their cooking.” While many Americans aren’t strangers to Shanghainese cuisine, the Mongolian and Muslim-influenced flavors of Northeast China barely get any attention. We’re not sure why this is, considering the fact that these delicious Chinese-style bagels originate there.

We only included one dumpling dish on this list: the one that topped our list of the 11 Best Chinese Dumplings (and How To Tell One From Another). Clearly, there are just too many great Chinese dumplings out there, so they warranted a list of their own. 

Guilin Rice Noodles

This is a traditional breakfast dish in Guilin, China.

When in Guilin, China, eat noodles for breakfast. The local dish consists of a bowl of rice noodles served with fried peanuts, soybeans, chiles, spring onions, and thin-sliced meats. That’s something we’d definitely love to wake up to.

Hainan Jifan (Hainanese Chicken)

It just doesn't taste the same outside China.

Photo Modified: Flickr / Alpha / CC BY-SA 4.0

It just doesn't taste the same outside China.


You’ve probably seen this dish on Chinese restaurant menus outside China, but eating local makes all the difference here. Hainanese chicken traditionally uses chicken from Wenchang, a county in Northeast Hainan, and is served with a bowl of rice that’s been cooked in chicken stock and fat and a chile dip.