Chinese dishes such as dumplings, fried rice, and sweet-and-sour pork are beloved around the world, but that’s only the beginning. From steamed seafood served on the coast to spicy street food found on corners in major cities, Chinese cuisine is as varied as the country itself. The next time you’re craving egg rolls, seek out some of these lesser-known delicacies — your palate will thank you.
Yee Sang (Prosperity Salad Toss)
Toss this salad high with your chopsticks for good luck. This fun Lunar New Year dish consists of an elegantly arranged platter of thinly sliced raw fish (usually salmon), along with colorful shredded vegetables, pickled ginger, a tangy dressing, and roasted peanuts on top.
Friends and family often toss the ingredients together, and superstition holds that the higher the salad is tossed, the more luck you’ll have in the coming year. Try making your own at home using this recipe.
Rou Jia Mo (Chinese Hamburger)
Literally translated as “meat with bread,” this tasty pocket sandwich from Shaanxi province has gone from a regional specialty to one of the country’s favorite snacks. Tender slices of pork belly are simmered in soy sauce, ginger, and spices, and enveloped in a flaky, lightly fermented yeast bread. While you can find one on (almost) every street corner in China, it’s easy to make your own at home.
Cōng Yóu Bing (Scallion Pancakes)
It’s hard to resist a wedge of these chewy, crispy, onion pancakes. According to legend, Marco Polo was so enamored with the dish that he brought the idea back to Europe, where Italian chefs promptly invented pizza.
A cousin of the Indian flatbread known as paratha, cōng yóu bing are simply discs of unleavened dough layered with a generous portion of sliced green onions. Coated in sesame oil and salt, fried until golden brown, and served with a ginger soy dipping sauce, the scallion pancakes are a flaky feast you’ll want to enjoy again and again. Try your hand at them with this recipe.
Zha Jiang Mian (Fried Sauce Noodles)
Hailing from the northern provinces and a staple in Beijing, zha jiang mian is a medley of cumian (thick wheat noodles) fried with zha jiang sauce, a savory mixture of fermented yellow soybean paste known as gan huangjiang, and a sweeter aged soybean and wheat flour paste called tianmianjiang (Tianmian sauce).
The sauces are stir-fried over high heat with diced or ground pork — sometimes beef — and tossed with the noodles, bean sprouts, and diced carrots and cucumbers. Try making your own at home using this recipe.
Guo Qiao Mi Xian (Crossing-the-Bridge Noodles)
A specialty of Yunnan province, this savory and delicious soup was allegedly the invention of a woman who brought lunch to her husband each day. But by the time she crossed the bridge (her final leg of the journey), her lovingly prepared rice noodles were cold.
She began transporting them separately with a container of piping hot chicken broth spiced with star anise and ginger, which cooked the noodles on arrival. A rich broth is key to the success of this dish, and restaurants closely guard their recipes. Try your hand at making the soup with this recipe.
Whole Steamed Fish
The saying “Leen leen yow yu” in Cantonese or “Nian nian you yu” in Mandarin translates to “Let every year be plentiful.” And since the last character of the phrase for “plentiful” sounds similar to the character for “fish,” fish is practically required for a successful Lunar New Year feast.
A whole fish is prepared to symbolize unity, and is placed in the center of the table with its head pointed in the direction of the oldest family member (or most distinguished guest) to confer respect. Steamed with aromatics, the seafood dish is an easy and delicious way to welcome abundance in the new year. Try this recipe for an impressive presentation.
Jiào Huā Jī (Beggar's Chicken)
Legend has it that a hungry beggar came into possession of a chicken, but had no pot to cook the bird in. Cleverly, he wrapped the fowl in lotus leaves and encased it in mud. After cooking for hours, the hardened case was cracked open, revealing a feast fit for an emperor. Today’s modern recipes are typically prepared in a clay pot, and the chicken is marinated and stuffed with vegetables beforehand. Take a stab at making your own with this recipe.
The ultimate Chinese comfort food, báizhōu, or congee, is a warm bowl that in its simplest form is nothing more than rice porridge simmered slowly with water. Often eaten for breakfast and prepared with broth, the dish is a sweet or savory food that’s considered a staple for heartbreak, heartburn, or any malady in between. While báizhōu is perfectly fine unadorned, try it with a dash of green onion and a drizzle of sesame oil, or cook one of these variations with toppings.
Liáng Bàn Qié Zi (Steamed Eggplant)
Eggplant’s spongy, absorbent texture makes it the perfect vegetable for soaking up flavor. While many cuisines prefer to roast eggplant, the Chinese preparation of steaming the ingredient makes the most of its juicy tenderness. Redolent of garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar, this Shanghainese dish can be garnished with cilantro and ginger, and is especially delicious when accompanied by pork.