Chinese Language Blog

Real Chinese Food – Common Dishes Posted by on Feb 5, 2012 in Culture

Funny sign, but not real Chinese food.

If you hear the words “Chinese food” and think of General Tso’s chicken, crab rangoons, egg rolls, and fortune cookies, then you need to get out of the line at the all-you-can-eat Chinese lunch buffet in Small Town, USA, book yourself a plane ticket, and come to the Middle Kingdom to eat some of the real stuff. While you will find plenty of rice and chopsticks in real Chinese restaurants, the similarities basically end there. China is a massive country with fifty-plus ethnic minority groups, resulting in a wide variety of cuisines that will tickle your taste buds. Whether you fancy spicy, hearty, sweet, or salty, boiled, fried, steamed, or grilled, there is something for everyone in China. For today’s first lesson on Real Chinese Food, let’s examine some common items on the menus in Beijing restaurants:

Now that's good chicken.

Spicy diced chicken (辣子鸡丁 – là zǐ jī dīng) – This delicious plate full of diced chicken, green peppers, and sauce can be found just about anywhere in China’s capital city, and when combined with a big bowl of rice, it’s a perfect lunch. I once had a friend in Beijing who ate this dish every day, literally. It’s that good.

Fish scented pork? Don't let the name scare you.

Shredded fish-scented pork (鱼香肉丝 – yú xiāng ròu sī) – Don’t let the name throw you off – this dish neither smells nor tastes anything like fish. It’s actually better translated as “shredded pork in garlic sauce,” and it’s a fantastic combination of pork and vegetables with a tasty sauce. This was one of the first dishes I ever learned how to order in China, and as such, it holds a special place in my heart.

An omelette - China style.

Scrambled eggs and tomatoes (西红柿炒鸡蛋 – xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn) – Sure, this one sounds simple, and it also sounds like something you might already make in your kitchen, but I bet you don’t make it as good as the hole-in-the-wall Chinese place down the street from me. This is a staple dish that Chinese children grow up eating, and it’s made with oil, salt, and the key ingredient – a little bit of sugar. I thought this one sounded disgusting at first, but it quickly became one of my favorites.

Three Treasures of the Earth

The three treasures of the Earth (地三鲜 – dì sān xiān) – The Chinese dish with the coolest name, this stir-fried wonder combines potatoes, green peppers, and eggplant. For you vegetarians out there who thought eating in China would be impossible, this and the above-mentioned dish should prove to you that there are plenty of options out there.

Spicy, hearty lamb.

Fried lamb with cumin (孜然羊肉 – zī rán yáng ròu) – While it is true that many Chinese dishes can be a little heavy on the oil, this one is not. Boneless lamb bits with a dry, spicy seasoning in a no-frills dish that is hearty and filling.

Are you hungry yet? Is your mouth watering? Well, there’s plenty more to come. Keep an eye on the blog in the months to come for a more in-depth look at the culinary traditions of China. In the meantime, head over to our site to learn a new Chinese word every day.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Kylie:

    I remember eating so many of these dishes when I was in China! I especially loved the eggs and tomatoes! 🙂

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