If you are a serious Chinese food fan, you probably have tried or heard of Chinese hot pot. The concept is simple – family and friends gather at one table sharing a pot of simmering broth on a portable burner in the middle of the table. You prepare different types of meat and vegetables to be cooked in the broth. The flavor can be different depending on the sauce you mix. You can choose as many ingredients as you like in the sauce mix. Common ingredients include peanut butter, sesame paste, soy sauce, minced garlic, green onions, sesame oil, chili oils, etc.
The broth and type of meat are the main differences in regional versions of hot pot. For example, in hotter places like Guangdong Province, hot pot is heavy on fresh seafood. In northern China(this link brings you to the article “Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese Food Culture“), however, lamb is a common choice. People in Chongqing or Sichuan Province enjoy spicy food, so their hot pot can’t exist without loads of red chili peppers and peppercorns. Mongolian-style hot pot is known for its flavorful broth, which contains ingredients like goji berries, jujubes, and a mix of herbs. Vegetarian hot pot has become increasingly popular nowadays.
For most Chinese, hot pot is a special gathering event they enjoy any time of the day and year. It’s convenient, fast, healthy, and can be easily made at home as well.
#No. 2 Dumplings
Dated back 1800 years ago, dumplings were invented by a famous physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He wanted to help people get rid of frostbite and fight the cold winter. He cooked lamb, black peppers, and a few medicinal herbs, shredded them, and wrapped it in the scrape of dough skin. Everyone was given 2 dumplings. After a few days, the frostbite was gone and the epidemic was under control.
Since then, people begin to imitate Zhang’s recipe and create all sorts of fillings. They add different types of vegetables (such as carrot, celery, green beans, green onions, and cabbage), and meat (such as lamb, beef, pork, shrimp, chicken). It’s a special meal in the Chinese New Year. There are three types of dumplings: boiled dumplings, steamed dumplings, and pan-fried dumplings. When dumplings are pan-fried properly, you will enjoy a contrast of crispy outside with soft and juicy insides.
The flavor of dumplings can vary based on ingredients and seasoning used in the filings. Dumplings are usually very healthy as they contain lots of whole ingredients with different micronutrients. If you want a more healthy version, try the steamed or boiled dumplings, not the pan-fried ones.
#No. 3 Sweet and Sour Pork
Sweet and sour pork was originated in the Cantonese cuisine of the 18th century, and it is still extremely popular. In the early 20th century, this dish was introduced to the United States via Chinese immigrants who worked on the railroads.
Made with juicy pieces of pork tenderloin, bell peppers, onion, and pineapple, sweet and sour pork is a popular Chinese dish for the whole family. Coated pork tenderloins are deep-fried until golden and crunchy, then tossed in a well-balanced sauce that packs sweet and tart flavors.
But remember, the pork is battered and deep-fried, which is a very unhealthy combination. The sauce includes pineapple juice, brown sugar, and soy sauce. It is full of sugar, bad fat, and gluten in the batter. If you can make it at home, try using an air fryer instead of a deep-fryer and reduce the sugar amount in the sauce. In America, this dish is much sweeter than in China. Next time when you order from Chinese restaurants, do yourself a favor and choose easily on the sauce.
#No. 4 Kung Pao Chicken
As one of the most well-known Chinese dishes, Kung Pao Chicken combines the savory and a mild spicy taste with the nutty flavor from the peanuts. It consists of fried and breaded chicken, fried peanuts, hot chilies, Sichuan peppers, and vegetables. It is an authentic Sichuan dish of chicken breast, cut up and stir-fried in “Kung Pao sauce”, which includes soy sauce, vinegar, and a bit of sugar.
It’s traditionally made with specialty ingredients, like Sichuan peppercorns, Chinese black vinegar, Chinese rice wine, and whole dried red chilies. If you like a bit of sweet and sour taste and don’t mind a punch of heat in one plate, then Kung Pao Chicken is right for you!
The dish is loaded with fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, but it does offer significant amounts of some essential amino acids and certain vitamins and minerals.
#No. 5 Wonton Soup
As a traditional snack originated from Northern China, wontons have different styles in China. In Northern China, wonton is filled with celery or cabbage, and minced beef or pork. In Guangdong province, wonton is made with shrimp and pork. People in Hongkong like fried wonton. Shanghai and Fujian people serve wonton with a light soup.
The wonton soup served in the U.S has been accustomed to Shanghai Wonton soup. You can think of wontons as an Asian equivalent of ravioli. Filled with juicy pork, chicken, or shrimp filling and made of dough, wonton soup is definitely one of the most popular and healthy soups in Chinese restaurants. If you buy frozen wonton from stores, then it’s pretty easy to make the soup at home too.
Some common additions inside the filling include water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrots, and greens. Wonton wrappers can be found at most Chinese grocery stores. A fried version of wonton is called crab rangoon.
#No. 6 Shrimp with Vermicelli and Garlic
Shrimp with vermicelli and garlic (This link brings you to the recipe “Shrimp with Brocilli“) is a classic Cantonese restaurant-style dish. A crowd-pleaser. It has a perfect combination, prawns, and garlic and requires very little effort. If you want to make it yourself, be generous with the garlic. Most Asians cook shrimp with the head attached. Leaving head-on actually adds unique flavors to the dish. If you can’t stomach it, you can still enjoy this dish.
The garlic sauce is super aromatic. The Chinese vermicelli is usually made of mung bean starch and is quite soft and breaks easily after cooking. The Korean vermicelli is made from sweet potato starch due to its hardiness and chewy texture. Both are excellent choices for this dish. The sauce is not wasted as the vermicelli absorbs the flavor extremely well.
#No. 7 Spring Rolls
Originated from South and Southeast Asia, spring rolls have grown in popularity and spread all over the world. It was first introduced in Chinese New Year’s banquets to look like bars of gold. The spring roll was named because New Year marks the start of spring in the Chinese Lunar Year.
Wrapped in a paper-thin wrapper made from flour and water, spring rolls are filled with a combination of pork, shrimp, beans sprouts, and cabbage, and then fried. You may wonder what’s egg roll then? The egg roll is actually a variant to spring-roll that was created in America. The main difference is on the wrapper batter. Eggs are added to the batter to result in a thicker batter.
#No. 8 Fried Rice
Since the Sui Dynasty (589–618 CE), fried rice has been a kitchen staple in China. Fried rice is a flexible way to use up your leftover rice and vegetables. Most people would agree that we almost always cook too much rice. Fried rice is quick, easy, and delicious. It transforms your leftovers into something amazing and delicious. Who doesn’t love that?
The most common ingredients are rice, egg, and green onion. These 3 ingredients are the basic fried rice version. The most important seasonings are soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce. Fried rice is endlessly adaptable. Bacon, shrimp, chicken, peas, or even kimchi. You name it.
#No. 9. Ma Po Tofu
Mapo Tofu is a popular Sichuan dish, hence it’s quite spicy. The Sichuan Peppercorn gives the dish a unique “numbing” effect. The name of the dish roughly translates to “pockmarked grandma’s tofu.” It is one of the most famous tofu recipes in China. This spicy, delicious dish usually includes a small amount of ground pork. But ground pork is totally optional if you want a vegan version.
You can find Mapo tofu in restaurants all over China, but it’s hard to get that authentic, Sichuan flavor just right. So it’s even harder to find authentic Ma Po Tofu in the United States. Even though the ingredients are cheap, Mapo tofu is seen as a test of any aspiring chef’s skills.
#No. 10 Fried Shrimp with Cashew Nuts
This is an amazing seafood dish that looks (and tastes) so impressive. If you love Cashew Chicken but you want to try a seafood version, you have to try this shrimp version.
Fried Shrimp with Cashew Nuts is a popular dish in mainland China. You get the tenderness of shrimp and the crispiness of cashew nuts in a deliciously sweet and sticky sauce. Coated with a little tapioca starch, the shrimp has a nice, crispy coating. The sauce is made of hoisin and a few other Asian flavors. Sprinkle some toasted cashews on the top and mix. It’s pure, delicious comfort food at its best.
#No. 11 Steamed Vermicelli Rolls
Also called “Cheung Fun”, steamed vermicelli roll is one of those foods that we must order every time we go for a dim sum. Dim sum is a small-portion Cantonese dish that is usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate.
Steamed Vermicelli Rolls have soft and tender sheets of rice noodles filled with sweet and savory roasted pork. It looks (and tastes) so delicious when drizzled with seasoning sauce and topped with chopped scallions. The wrappers for these rolls are soft and smooth. The rice noodle sheets are made from a mixture of rice flour and tapioca or glutinous rice flour and water.
Dim sum carts in Cantonese restaurants are usually served during breakfast and lunchtime. These rolls taste the best when taken fresh out of the steamer. You can find many types of fillings, including shrimp, roasted pork (char siu), beef, vegetables, or even fried dough (youtiao). Dim sum carts in Cantonese restaurants are usually served during breakfast and lunchtime.
#No. 12. Peking Roased Duck
Although Peking duck is named after Beijing, it originated in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing, a southern city in China. Enjoying authentic Peking duck is quite an enjoyable experience – the cook slices the whole duck in front of guests, then wrap the meat, green onions, cucumber, and a variety of sauce inside a light pancake.
The preparation of Peking Duck is an interesting process – air is pumped into the duck to separate the skin from the fat. It is then hung up to dry in the open air before being roasted in an oven until it is crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. Peking Duck is always served in thin, well-cut slices. There are many restaurants that claim to have authentic Peking Duck, but only the highly trained chef can slice the whole duck to exactly 120 slices.
#No. 13 Chow Mein
In Chinese, “mein” means “noodles”. The noodles in Chow Mein is made with Chinese egg noodles, which are wheat flour noodles with egg added. The noodles are crunchy and the true star of the dish.
Only after the noodles have been boiled and fried in oil on their own, the extra vegetables or protein ingredients are added to the noodles. This allows the chef to solely focus on making the noodles to a perfect crispy texture. In fact, the texture defines the difference between Chow Mein and Lo Mein. Similarly, the sauce in a chow mein recipe is used sparingly to prevent the dish from becoming soggy. both are made with Chinese egg noodles, which are wheat flour noodles with egg added.
#No. 14 Braised Pork Balls in Gravy
Also called “Lion’s Head Meatballs”, braised pork balls are large pork meatballs that are steamed/braised and served with vegetables. This dish is made to depict the lion’s head, so don’t freak out just yet. It’s made out of pork, not lions.
Often served on special occasions, this dish is a classic dish in Huaiyang cuisine, one of the four major cuisines in China. It has the same concept as Swedish meatballs served in IKEA, but the size of the ball and gravy is totally different. This is perfect for feeding the kids or as a meal for special guests. These Chinese Meatballs are a delicious meaty dish that’s warm, tasty, and filling. You can easily have a well-balanced meal by having pork balls with stewed vegetables.
#No. 15 Sichuan Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce
As one of the most ordered delicacies in Sichuan restaurants, Sichuan Shredded Pork (also called “Yu Xiang Rou Si”) is basically a dish with shredded pork, carrots, and wood ear mushroom coated in a tangy, spicy, sweet & sour sauce. The sauce is known as “Yu Xiang” which literally means fish fragrance, although this sauce has nothing to do with fish. Yuxiang is one of the main traditional flavors in Sichuan.Popular dishes like Yu Xiang Eggplant and Yu Xiang Tofu call for the same set of ingredients.
The secret of its special taste is the blend of chili sauce, shallot, ginger, garlic, white sugar, and salt used during preparation – a recipe that the local Sichuan people originally used to cook fish. This is an eye-catching dish that you should definitely try next time you dine at a Chinese restaurant.
#No. 16 Sichuan Boiled Fish
Besides Mapo tofu, Kong Pao Chicken, and Shredded pork with garlic sauce, this dish is another popular Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan boil fish literally means “Shui Zhu Yu” (meaning water boiled fish). However, it is far more than that. It is the opposite of the typical idea of “boiled” you might have in mind. It is super intense, super spicy, and super fragrant.
In China, restaurants often have customers choose live fish from the fish tanks and freshly prepare this dish. It is famous for its hotness. It delivers an intensive numbing sensation to your mouth by using quite a lot of Sichuan pepper. If you are a seafood fan, you should try this addictively tasty dish.
#No. 17 Orange Chicken
Made with boneless skinless chicken breast and coated with a sweet orange sauce, orange chicken has both sweet and spicy flavors. The Orange chicken sauce is made of orange juice, vinegar, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, red chili flakes, and orange zest.
But be aware, orange chicken is not the ideal food to order from Chinese takeouts because it contains a high level of fats and carbs. Think about excess sugars and saturated fats from the batter, frying oil, and sauce. It has a sky-high calorie count of 490 calories per serving without the rice if you order from Panda Express, the most popular Chinese takeout restaurant chain in the U.S.
#No. 18 Hot and Sour Soup
Hot and Sour Soup is the perfect combination of spicy and savory flavor. It is made with pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and eggs in a savory seasoned broth with soy sauce and vinegar. The black thing in hot and sour soup is Shiitake mushrooms. A hot bowl of hot and sour soup is low in calories and has many health benefits, including decreasing inflammatory response, clearing up sinuses, and reaping the decongesting benefits of peppers in the soup.
However, according to the USDA, the amount of sodium in hot and sour soup is 917 milligrams, more than half of the recommended daily sodium intake. So if you want to enjoy a bowl of hot and sour soup without too much salt, you should probably tell the chef before ordering it.
#No. 19 Crab Rangoon
Crab rangoon is not a traditional Chinese appetizer. In fact, it is invented in the United States by a founder of a Chinese restaurant in San Fransico in the 90s. It usually isn’t made with real crab meat. Actually, the imitation crab is commonly the main ingredient. It has a simple mixture of imitation crab, cream cheese, and seasonings wrapped in a wonton wrapper and fried crispy!
Also called cheese wonton or crab puff, this appetizer has only a little meat if there is any. It’s mostly cream cheese, wrapped in dough, and deep-fried to create bite-sized calorie bombs. Maybe you like the thought of deep-fried cream cheese, but crab rangoon is not very healthy. We are talking about the high level of fat carbohydrates and cholesterol here.
#No. 20 Sesame Chicken
As one of the most popular Chinese-American fast-food classics, sesame chicken is small pieces of deep-fried crispy chicken tenders coated in a delicious sweet and tangy sauce. The sauce is usually made of honey, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil. The crispy outer crust forms after being fried in a few inches of oil. If you make it at home, you don’t need to deep fry it like the restaurant version. Some healthier options roast the chicken instead of frying it, which greatly reduces the fat content.
Sesame Chicken is very similar to General Tso’s Chicken. The main difference is the oil used in the sauce. Sesame chicken calls for sesame oil and is topped with sesame seeds, which adds a salty and nutty taste. It is also a little less sweet than General Tso.