When it comes to eating in the Middle Kingdom, your options are practically endless. In such a huge country with an incredibly diverse population, it’s no wonder that there are many different styles of cuisine. For a quick crash course in the major culinary styles of China, check out these posts highlighting the different regions of China from a while back:
- Northern Cuisine: This post details the food from Beijing, Dongbei (Northeast), and Shandong. Learn about Peking roast duck, pickled cabbage, braised abalone, and much more.
- Western Cuisine: The western part of China is famed for its mouth-numbingly spicy food, especially the provinces of Sichuan and Hunan. In this post you’ll even learn about Chairman Mao’s personal favorite dish.
- Southern Cuisine: Sweet and sour pork, drunken prawns, and dim sum are on the menu in this post about Cantonese food.
- Eastern Cuisine: There’s a lot to cover when it comes to the eastern part of China – Anhui, Fujian, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces.
With so many choices, it’s hard to pick a favorite when it comes to food in China. Personally, I like a nice mixture of everything. From tasty dumplings in the NE, to dim sum brunches down south, to the spicy hot pots of the west, it all tastes great to me. Whenever I leave China for an extended period of time, however, there is always one thing that I miss the most – Xinjiang food (新疆菜 – xīn jiāng cài). Although I’ve never actually been to Xinjiang, there are tons of migrants from that region scattered all over the country, and many of them run restaurants.
A short news clip about a food festival in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Xinjiang food is known for a few things – lots of mutton, lots of spice, and lots of naan. As most people in Xinjiang are Muslim, their cuisine is predominantly Halal. You won’t find any pork here, but you will find an abundance of mouth-watering, spicy grilled lamb. An evening at a Xinjiang restaurant with friends is by far one of my favorite things to do in China, and I would recommend anyone traveling in the country to try their best to at least enjoy one such experience.
Here’s a little guide to my favorite meal in China, with pictures and the Chinese names of the dishes. Note that you’ll need quite a few friends to help you eat it all!
(烤馕 – kǎo náng)
As rice and noodles are staples in most Chinese restaurants, it’s always refreshing to have some tasty, spicy, grilled naan bread to enjoy your meal with. You can dip it, cover it, or just eat it on the side. Make sure you order up a few plates of this stuff!
Watch tasty Xinjiang naan bread being prepared.
(拍黄瓜 – pāi huáng guā)
This isn’t exactly a traditional Xinjiang dish per se, but it is widely available in restaurants all across China and it’s always done well in Xinjiang restaurants. Cucumbers are smashed up with garlic, oil, vinegar, and a little bit of chili for an amazing appetizer.
Tomatoes and Scrambled Eggs
(西红柿炒鸡蛋 – xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn)
Again, this is a typical dish anywhere in China and isn’t exactly exclusive to Xinjiang, but damn do they do it well! I’ve tried this dish well over a hundred times in restaurants all over China, but my favorite version remains the one at my local Xinjiang joint in Beijing. With a bit of chili sauce, this becomes the perfect dip for your naan bread.
Spicy Diced Chicken
(辣子鸡丁 – là zǐ jī dīng)
So far, this meal has been great for vegetarians, but we need some meat! This dish is simple but amazing – diced chicken, green and red peppers, plus a spicy sauce. Many restaurants make this dish, but Xinjiang joints do it the best.
Twice Cooked Beef
(回锅牛肉 – huí guō niú ròu)
This dish gets its name as the meat is cooked twice – once on its own and again with the spices and sauce. “Return to the pot meat” is a famous dish all around China, but it’s usually cooked with super fatty pork. Since Xinjiang restaurants are Halal, they use lean, tasty beef instead, which actually tastes much better.
Big Plate Chicken
(大盘鸡 – dà pán jī)
The shining star of this cuisine and the main event of any dinner in a Xinjiang restaurant, the “big plate chicken” is an epic dish. On one massive plate, you’ve got thick noodles, potatoes, onions, peppers, and diced chicken covered in a delicious, spicy gravy. It’s not just a clever name – it really is a huge plate of chicken. Usually, you can order either a small or a large portion. Unless you have at least 5-6 people, it’s best to go with the small.
Of course, you’ll want to wash this meal down with a few cold glasses of beer (啤酒 – pí jiǔ) and perhaps a few sticks of lamb kebabs (羊肉串 – yáng ròu chuàn) if you’ve still got room. After such a huge meal, you might just need to be rolled out of the restaurant.