Exotic Eats: China

Posted by on Jul 8, 2013 in China, Exotic Eats | 5 comments

Growing up, my family used to have Chinese food almost every Sunday.  We went to our favorite spot in Columbus, Ohio, Hunan Lion, and we would almost always order the same things: Chicken and Green Beans, Sesame Chicken, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Mongolian Beef, Lo Mein Noodles, and two Egg Rolls for my Dad.  I was eager to see how these family favorites compared to authentic Chinese cuisine.  I was elated to learn that, while the “real thing” is completely different than what Americans think of as Chinese food, it is actually better, fresher, more unique, and more varied.  Mike and I absolutely loved Chinese cuisine and were sorry that we only had 10 days to enjoy it.  

Donhuamen Night Market

We used recommendations from our hotels, friends, and locals in order to choose which specialties to try.  I have included a few of our favorites below:

 Peking Duck:  While you can find Peking Duck everywhere in China, it is Beijing that made it famous.  We indulged on China’s national dish on our first night.  Our hotel helped us by recommending a local restaurant and writing our order down on a piece of paper to help with the language barrier.  All we knew going in was that we would being eating duck and that the restaurant would use the duck’s bones to make a soup that we would eat as well.  We were blown away by the whole experience: the pageantry of the process, the succulent meat with crispy skin, and the perfect combination of flavors.  After finding the recommended restaurant, we cluelessly handed our order to the waiter and allowed the magic of this dish unfold.  We loved watching the waiter, dressed in chef whites, meticulously carve the duck table side.  And my mouth still waters thinking about the duck wraps we made with thin pancakes and several other garnishes (scallions, cucumbers, pickles, hoisin sauce, and salt). We licked the plate clean and still made room for the soup that came out after the meal.  No trip to China is complete without sampling this fabulous dish.
 Peking Duck

Steamed Buns:  We loved this dish because it was always tasty whether we ordered it from a restaurant or picked some up street side.  These bread like buns are steamed and filled with a variety of things: vegetables, meat, etc.  Mike first fell in love with steamed buns at a Chinese restaurant in Thailand and it became somewhat of an addiction for us during our time in China.

 Steamed Buns
Dim Sum:  Dim Sum is basically Cantonese tapas. These bite-sized portions are typically served in steamer baskets and are delightful.  I love tapas because I can try a lot of different dishes throughout the course of the meal without feeling like a pig.  And dim sum is just as much about the experience as the food.  Some restaurants have a cart with fully prepared dim sum dishes wheeling around while others require you to place orders on your own.  Dim sum brunch is big all throughout China and we enjoyed a long, leisurely brunch in Shanghai with Brad and his friends.  It was great to have people who spoke the language navigate through all the options and I could sit back, drink my seemingly bottomless glass of tea, and eat until I was stuffed.  Mike and I also went to a well known Michelin star dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong called Di Tai Fong and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone.  The service was impeccable and the food was to die for….and it was cheap for such a renowned spot!!  There are too many types of dim sum to describe them all but my absolute favorite was the soup dumplings.  These are typical Chinese dumplings with a variety of fillings (pork, vegetable, shrimp, etc) wrapped and steamed in either a rice flour or wheat starch skin.  The thing that makes the soup dumplings so interesting is that they are also filled with a flavorful soup broth making them challenging but also exciting to consume.  The trick is that you have to bite a small hole in the dumpling skin and suck out the broth without spilling it everywhere or burning your mouth from the piping hot liquid.  I learned from watching others that it is often helpful to hold a spoon under the dumplings to catch excess liquid.  The soup dumplings from Di Tai Fong are among my favorite things I have eaten on our journey.
Dim Sum
Stinky Tofu:  This snack normally sold at night markets or roadside stands is basically fermented tofu with a strong odor.  We learned about stinky tofu from some fellow travelers while in Vietnam and vowed to try it when we got to China.  After each sampling a bite of this smelly dish, we promptly tossed it in the trash….it pretty much tastes like what you would think and smells like sweaty gym shoes.  Mike and I laughed after we bought it because we don’t even like normal tofu so I don’t know what would make us think we would enjoy the stinky variety.
Stinky Tofu
Egg Waffles (Eggettes):  Egg Waffles are a type of spherical pancake/waffle.  (Picture a standard waffle maker with a circular, ball-like press instead of squares.) These sweet snacks are ranked as the number one street side snack in Hong Kong (which surprises me because I did not find them overly exciting).  We enjoyed egg waffles as a snack while strolling through the Mong Kok night market.  While Mike and I sampled the waffles plain, you can get them with fruit toppings, chocolate, or coconut.  
Egg Waffles
This short time in China gave me a completely different perspective of Chinese food.  The peking duck, dim sum, steamed buns, and street food tasted nothing like Americanized Chinese food and I am already planning a trip to Chinatown in Chicago to see which tastes I can replicate.



  1. Mike, you HATED Chinese food!!!

    • You did love the rolls though and the fortune cookies

  2. Not happy with the ” two egg rolls” for dad comment. I split them with Brian. Just kidding. So I take it that my Mongolian Beef is not from China. Keep the good info coming. Miss you both. Love Dad

  3. The Keefe’s had Chinese food on Sunday (a once a month tradition that we enjoy as well). Our place of choice since 1983 (one of our early-on dates) is Tong’s Tiki Hut. While we love their food, I am certain it does not compare to the “real deal”. When you return, as soon as you find that restaurant that is the closest to the real deal in Chinatown, let us know! Once again, it’s about the food…..yum.

  4. The Pisco’s Chinese restaurant of choice growing up was The Royal Garden…pu pu platters and Shirley Temples 🙂

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