Jiangsu Cuisine


Jiangsu or “Su” cuisine is heralded as one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cooking and its subgroup, Huaiyang, is even considered to be among the Four Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine. It was once the second most popular style among the imperials and is now frequently served at state banquets. With that in mind, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy your stay in Jiangsu; or at least, your stomach is! This style of cooking places emphasis on presentation, meaning local specialities are as visually pleasing as they are mouth-wateringly delicious. Chefs train for years in order to perfect how to carve, sculpt, shape, and pair certain foods for the ultimate visual feast.

In terms of flavour, this style aims to draw out the natural essence of its ingredients through various cooking techniques, so seasonings and spices are used sparingly. This means that its signature dishes are sumptuously aromatic, slightly salty, moderately sweet, and glide across the tongue, leaving a strong sense of flavour without being oily or greasy. The ingredients are usually seasonal and are chosen not only for their taste, but also for their unique medicinal properties. Since Jiangsu is a coastal province, fish and other types of seafood feature prominently, along with pork, lotus root, Chinese chestnuts, water bamboo, and water chestnuts. With all of this aquatic goodness, you’ll practically be swimming in scrumptious food!

There are four different regional styles of Jiangsu cuisine: Jinling, Suxi, Xuhai, and Huaiyang. The Jinling style originated from the provincial capital of Nanjing and is famous for its duck dishes, as well as its fine cutting techniques and delicate preparation. The Suxi style developed around the cities of Suzhou and Wuxi, and is distinctly sweeter than the other styles, with a strong emphasis placed on the use of seasonal vegetables.

The Xuhai style, which originates from the cities of Xuzhou and Lianyungang, is the least famous of the four and combines a perfect mixture of sweetness, sourness, bitterness, heat, and saltiness. Last but certainly not least, Huaiyang style is praised as the finest of the four and is centred on dishes from the cities of Yangzhou and Huai’an. It is rumoured to have originated from chefs who worked for wealthy Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) salt merchants living in Yangzhou, proving once and for all that a golden key can open any door, particularly the ones to the best restaurants!

Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish (松鼠鳜)

Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish

This dish is so famous and so prevalent throughout China that it’s now considered one of the emblematic dishes not only of Jiangsu cuisine, but of Chinese cuisine as a whole. Yet you wouldn’t be the first person to be confused by its rather unusual name! According to local legend, the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was touring the area south of the Yangtze River when he decided to stop at a restaurant in Suzhou. The chef knew that he had to pull out all of the stops to impress the Emperor, so he took the meatiest mandarin fish, covered it in egg-yolk paste, and fried it before delicately cutting it, shaping it, and serving it with his homemade sweet and sour sauce. The Emperor praised the dish for its novel presentation and savoured the crispy golden strips of fried fish.

From then on, Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish has remained one of the finest gourmet dishes in China. In order to make the dish, the chef first cuts the flesh of the mandarin fish into a delicate pattern resembling a blossoming flower and then covers the tender white flesh in a mixture of starch and eggs. The fish is deep-fried until it turns a crispy golden brown before being arranged on the plate with its mouth wide-open and its tail bent upward. A sizzling sweet and sour sauce is then poured over the freshly fried fish as it is presented to the lucky gourmand. The golden-brown colour of the flesh and the shaping of the fish are designed to make it look like a squirrel, while the crackling sound of the hot sauce being poured over the meat is said to resemble a squirrel’s chirrup. Moulding a fish to look like a squirrel may seem a little fishy, but trust us; this dish is as delicious as it is strange!

Nanjing Salted Duck (盐水鸭)

Nanjing Salted Duck

According to local legend, when Nanjing was the imperial capital, the Hongwu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was desperate to solve the city’s noise problem and issued an edict demanding that all of the resident roosters be killed, in order to stop them from waking him up. The city was certainly quieter, but people suddenly realised that they had no chickens to eat! The citizens turned their hungry gaze towards the local duck population and this is supposedly the reason why Nanjing is so famous for its duck dishes. And it seems the locals have really gotten creative with this one ingredient, because Nanjing Salted Duck is one of the most complicated dishes to cook!

It takes approximately two days for the duck to properly marinate in a rub made from Sichuan peppercorns and salt before it can be boiled in the master stock, which is a fragrant broth made from ginger, spring onion, rock sugar, sea salt, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cumin, Sichuan peppercorns, whole dried citrus peel, and liquorice root. Even after the duck has been simmered in the broth, it still needs to be left to infuse overnight before it can be served. So, if you’re feeling a little bit peckish and want some fast food, you might want to reconsider this dish because the only thing you’ll be consuming is time!

Nanjing Salted Duck is celebrated for its tender meat and fatty but not overly greasy flavour. Supposedly the best time to eat it is shortly before or after mid-Autumn, during the sweet osmanthus blooming season. During these months, osmanthus is added to the spice mixture to give the duck a boost of aromatic flavour. Just start preparing right away, or the season might have ended before you even finish cooking the duck!

Lion’s Head (狮子头)

Lion’s Head

Unusual names seem to be something of a trend in Jiangsu cuisine! Once again, this dish is named for its shape rather than its content, so don’t expect to be presented with a roaring lion’s head anytime soon. It is made using minced meat (usually pork but occasionally beef) that has been mixed with chopped water chestnuts, spring onions, ginger, and eggs for texture and then rolled into large meatballs, about the size of your hand. It is imperative to use fatty meat, as lean meat will result in the meatballs being too dry.

There are two distinct varieties of this robust dish: White or Plain Lion’s Head and Red Lion’s Head. The plain variety is simply stewed or steamed with Chinese cabbage and served with a clear soup, while the red variety is stewed in soy sauce with either Chinese cabbage or bamboo shoots and tofu. The large meatballs are said to resemble the head of a lion and the surrounding cabbage looks like its mane, which is how the dish earned its extraordinary name. These ferocious meatballs are packed with umami flavour and a pleasant saltiness that just glances across the tongue.


Yunnan Local Snacks

In most provinces the snacks are so complex and contain so many ingredients that they invariably appear to us like full sized meals, whereas in Yunnan the local snacks are characterised by their tasteful simplicity. From Dali to Lijiang, each county in Yunnan boasts its own unique snacks and usually they are the result of ethnic minorities who have adapted their cooking styles over decades. While the local Tibetan people have a preference for yak’s milk yogurt, the Bai ethnic minority love cheese, and the Naxi people have a fondness for seasoned flatbreads. This incredible variety means you’ll never be at a loss to find a tasty titbit once your stomach starts rumbling!

Xuanwei Ham (宣威腿)

Xuanwei Ham

Xuanwei Ham is one of China’s top three most famous ham dishes and, once you catch the scent of this sweet salty meat, we’re sure you’ll see why. This type of ham originates from Xuanwei County in northeastern Yunnan and has a history of over 250 years. It is normally cured during the winter and left to ferment for upwards of half a year! The ham comes from the local Wumeng hogs, which provide perfectly marbled meat that is both salty and sweet without being oily or greasy. The ham itself is incredibly adaptable and can be stir-fried, deep-fried, steamed or added to a stew. In some parts of Yunnan, even the moon cakes are stuffed with Xuanwei ham and are heartily enjoyed during Mid-Autumn Festival. It is mainly used to add flavour to other dishes or to make broth, but makes a sumptuous snack in its own right.

Rushan (乳扇)


Rushan is almost exclusively found in Dali Prefecture and originates from the Bai ethnic minority. It is made using a type of cow’s milk cheese that is flat and has a somewhat leathery texture, giving it the appearance of a folding fan. This is what earned it the name “rushan”, which literally means “milk fan”. The slivers of cheese are usually fried or grilled and then wrapped around a stick, resembling a popsicle. Sweet condiments will then be spread on the cooked cheese, such as sweetened condensed milk, rose petal infused honey, chocolate syrup, or fruit preserves. The finished product is mouth-wateringly crispy and the strong, milky flavour of the cheese is perfectly complimented by the thick sweetness of the condiments. Once you’ve felt these flaky strips of cheese melt in your mouth, we’re certain you’ll be a “milk fan” too!

Rubing (乳饼)


Like rushan, rubing also originates from the Bai people of Dali Prefecture but is made using a type of goat’s milk cheese. Its name literally means “milk cake” as blocks of this firm, white cheese greatly resemble slices of scrumptious sponge cake. Thick, juicy slices of rubing are pan-fried and then dipped in either a mixture of salt and chilli or sugar depending on your personal preference. In some restaurants, it will even be stir-fried with vegetables in a similar way to stir-fried tofu. The delightful sharpness of the goat’s cheese goes incredibly well with both salty and sweet seasonings, making it a versatile snack that is as filling as it is delicious.

Erkuai (饵块)


Erkuai is a type of rice cake that is made by taking high-quality rice, soaking it in water, steaming it in spring water, and then pounding the cooked rice down into a soft mush using a giant pestle and mortar. This rice mush is hand-kneaded on a wooden board to remove all of the air bubbles and then moulded into its characteristic pillow shape. These soft, plush, doughy cylinders look so comfortable that you’ll be tempted to rest your head on them! Erkuai is a popular staple food throughout Yunnan and is indispensible during their Spring Festival or New Year celebrations. Like Xuanwei Ham, it is an incredibly versatile food and can be boiled, roasted, or even pan-fried.

For breakfast, many locals love nothing more than to roast a few slices of erkuai over a charcoal fire and spread handmade fruit jam over them like a spongy, warm croissant. In restaurants, it is often served stir-fried with a mixture of vegetables, dried red chillies, Sichuan pepper, and salt. On the street, you’ll find it grilled and rolled around a strip of fried dough known as youtiao (油条). This snack can either be served sweet, with a sugary brown sauce and peanuts, or savoury, with a fermented kind of tofu known as lufu (滷腐) and bean sprouts. This comforting snack resembles a burrito and its luxurious layers of flavour are sure to leave you wanting more!

Xizhou Baba (喜洲粑粑)

Xizhou Baba

This style of baba is just one of many found throughout Yunnan and was adapted by the Naxi people of Xizhou town near Dali. Baba is a type of flatbread made from wheat flour dough that has been flattened into a circular shape. The lardy flatbread is then either topped with minced pork and spring onions or filled with sweet red bean paste, and baked in oil until the dough has gone a golden-brown. Its circular shape and use of meaty toppings has earned it the amusing nickname “Xizhou pizza”. The sweet baba taste like plump pastries, while the savoury baba have a pleasant saltiness that accompanies the rich dough perfectly. Though they may not taste exactly like pizza, Xizhou baba are a takeaway snack that you’ll surely miss once you leave Yunnan.



Xinjiang Local Snacks

Much like the region’s cuisine, the local snacks in Xinjiang have a certain undeniable Central Asian flair that sets them apart from other delicacies in China. Since many of its cities were once powerful oasis towns along the Silk Road, the region has played host to a plethora of different ethnic groups and borrowed all of the finest features from their cooking styles. Thanks to bustling livestock markets and vibrant bazaars, the trading culture in Xinjiang’s cities is still palpable today and provides a unique insight into what the Silk Road may have been like. Vendors hawk anything from olives and freshly baked-bread to honey and some of the sweetest raisins you’ll ever taste. With the thick aroma of crushed spices and freshly roasted mutton wafting through the air, these markets are a veritable paradise for the senses.

Naan (馕)

naanAlternatively known as nan or nang, this delicious type of flatbread is popular throughout Central Asia and really attests to the region’s ethnic diversity. In Xinjiang, the Uyghur ethnic minority have become particularly dextrous at developing and cooking their own unique varieties of naan bread. The dough is first flattened by hand, curled at the edges, and then stamped with a spiked tool, which creates a laced pattern of holes and helps the bread to cook evenly. It is then sprinkled with a mixture of black onion seeds, sesame seeds, and chopped garlic to give the naan its characteristic flavour.

They are traditionally baked in a special clay oven known as a tandoor and watching them being cooked is a spectacle in of itself, as vendors reach deep into the fiery pit and literally slap the dough onto the walls of the oven! After just a few minutes of baking, the flatbread has turned a rich golden brown and is ready to eat. The size, shape, and seasoning of the naan may differ between cities and even vendors, but the result is always a soft, warm flatbread that tastes great as an accompaniment to a meal or simply as a hearty snack on the go.

Samsas (烤包子)

SamsasThese little parcels of spicy goodness are known throughout most of Central Asia as samosas, but are called samsas in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Xinjiang. Unlike other styles of samosa, Xinjiang samsas are traditionally baked rather than fried, giving them a much fluffier texture. The dough used can be simple bread dough or layered pastry dough, which is then stuffed full of delicious filling.

Minced lamb and onions is the most popular combination, although variations include chicken, minced beef, cheese, potato, and pumpkin. The filling, as well as the general shape of the samsa, differs from vendor to vendor, so you’ll be spoilt for choice! They are traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven and are sold on the streets as a scrumptious snack. If you can’t get enough of these tasty little parcels, there are also larger versions available known as kumach, which are considered a meal in of themselves. Just try not to eat too many, or you’ll end up as round as the samsas!

Matang (麻糖)

matangMatang is another speciality of the Uyghur ethnic minority and comes in many incarnations, each one more delightful than the last! This sugary snack is said to have originated from the town of Hotan in southwest Xinjiang, which is famous for its thinly shelled walnuts. The traditional cooking process has been passed down in this region from generation to generation and utilises only the finest locally grown grapes. These grapes are boiled down into a sugary syrup, which is then mixed with crushed walnuts and left to boil for even longer. Once the mixture has achieved the right density, it is pressed into a mould, left to set, and then elaborately decorated with candied fruit. The result is a devilishly sweet and sticky treat that you’ll be happy to get stuck in your teeth!

Nowadays other varieties of matang use different types of nuts, including almonds and cashews, and honey instead of grape syrup. They range in flavour and texture from ones that are as soft and creamy as nougat to ones with a real toffee-like crunchiness. After you’ve asked the vendor how much you’d like, he’ll deftly cut off a sizeable chunk using his knife, chop it into bite-sized pieces, and weigh it on his scales before handing it over. Once you’ve had your first taste of this chewy treat, we’re sure you’ll go nuts for it!

Museles (穆塞莱斯酒)

MuselesSince grapes are abundant in Xinjiang, it goes without saying that wine is too! In fact, wine production has been an important part of the local economy in the city of Turpan since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and was celebrated by ancient Chinese poets as “Western nectar”. This type of wine, known as museles, was masterminded by the Uyghur ethnic minority and, although their Muslim faith prohibits them from drinking alcohol, they view this beverage more as a kind of medicine. With its pungent aroma and sweetly sour flavour, it’s sure to cure what ails you! Although nowadays many contemporary winemakers in China follow French methods of production, the Uyghur people have held on to their traditional wine-making process for centuries. In many villages throughout Xinjiang, the brewing of museles is a communal activity and usually marks the end of the grape harvest.

Locally grown grapes are first crushed by hand and strained using Uyghur atlas silk. The juice is then combined with an equal amount of water and a heaping helping of sugar, and is left to boil until it has halved in volume. Thereafter it is stored in ceramic urns and combined with a dizzying number of extra ingredients. These folk recipes vary between localities and can typically include goji berries, mulberries, sea buckthorn, saffron, cloves, and even raw, plucked pheasants, pigeon’s blood, and lamb meat! These animal parts are said to enhance the flavour and endow the wine with many of its medicinal qualities. So forget about hair of the dog; it’s time for wine of the pigeon! The wine is left to brew for about two months before being filtered, bottled, and stored. The result is a deep red grape-wine with a powerful musty aroma and a spiced taste, much like vermouth.


Taste some Xinjiang Local Snacks on our travel: Explore the Silk Road in China


Xinjiang Cuisine


As the largest autonomous region in China, Xinjiang boasts substantial contingencies of different ethnic groups and is well-known for its Central Asian flair. Its cities are dominated by the Uyghur ethnic minority, as well as several other Muslim groups such as the Hui and Dongxiang people, meaning the food is predominantly halal and there is a marked lack of pork compared to other parts of China. In many ways, the cuisine in Xinjiang differs from the rest of the country and is distinctly non-Chinese. Roasted mutton, thickly fragrant spices, and sugary sweet desserts take centre stage when it comes to its signature dishes.

Since many of the cities within Xinjiang were once oasis towns along the Silk Road, they felt the influence of other ethnic groups most profoundly and have cherry-picked features of their cuisine, incorporating techniques and flavours from the Tibetans, Mongolians, Persians, Turkish, and numerous other nationalities. These have all come together to form a stunning mosaic of Chinese, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern qualities. Liberal use of seasonings like cumin, chilli powder, cinnamon, garlic, and saffron sets Xinjiang cuisine apart from other styles throughout China. So you might want to keep a glass of milk handy, because we’re heading into spicy territory!

Dapanji (大盘鸡)

大盘鸡“Dapanji” literally means “Big Plate Chicken”, so it goes without saying what the signature ingredient of this dish is! It rose to popularity in Xinjiang during the 1990s, although its origins aren’t entirely clear. Several ethnic groups, including the Uyghur and Hui people, lay claim to its conception but popular belief states that it was invented in Shawan County of northern Xinjiang by an immigrant from Sichuan province, who liberally mixed hot chilli peppers into the dish in an attempt to recreate his home cuisine. After all, there’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal!

The dish itself consists primarily of bite-sized pieces of chicken (usually with the bone in) and potatoes, which have been sautéed in a medley of spices and coarsely chopped vegetables before being simmered in broth. The required ingredients are numerous, and include bell peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, chilli peppers, ground cumin, star anise, ground Sichuan peppers, cooking oil, and occasionally soy sauce and beer. Imagine how long the chef’s shopping list must be! The result is a hearty, savoury, and mildly spicy casserole-like dish that is bursting with flavour. It is typically served with hand-pulled noodles or naan bread and is the ideal comfort food when you’re feeling peckish!

Lamb Kawap or Chuanr (烤羊肉串儿)

Lamb Kawap or ChuanrThis distinctly Uyghur dish is classified as a type of kebab. Small, sumptuous slices of lamb and tiny chunks of lamb fat are seasoned with chilli powder, salt, black pepper, and cumin before being skewered and roasted over a charcoal fire. As the meat is gently roasted, it is further sprinkled with a fragrant mixture of cumin seeds, dried red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and sesame. Be careful not to get too close while they’re cooking, or the spicy powder might bring on a bout of sneezing!

Lamb is the meat of choice, but nowadays popular variations include chicken, beef, seafood, steamed buns, and even insects. Crunchy spiders and salty scorpions may be a little too adventurous for the average palate, but the juicy strips of lamb are sure to get your mouth watering. Each kebab is made to order and is usually served with a soft naan bread, making it the perfect lunchtime treat or just a cheeky snack on the go.

Polo (手抓饭)

poloAlternately named polo, polu, or simply Uyghur pilaf, this is a type of pilaf rice that originated from the Uyghur ethnic minority and really attests to the influence Central Asia has had on Xinjiang’s cuisine. The dish is made by first frying chopped carrots, onions, and mutton (or chicken) in oil until the vegetables are perfectly caramelised and the mutton is thoroughly cooked. Rice and water are then added, and the whole dish is steamed until the rice is cooked through and gives off a tantalising aroma. Sometimes raisins and dried apricots are scattered on top to give the dish an extra sugary tang.

The locally grown yellow carrots provide its characteristic sweetness, while the rice is deliciously buttery and the tender mutton adds a pleasant smack of saltiness. It takes a notoriously long time to cook, so most vendors will only serve it at lunchtime. This dish is so important to the region’s culture that there are even whole restaurants in Xinjiang dedicated to perfecting it. And, after you’ve tried it, we’re sure you’ll never say rice is too plain again!

Laghman (拉条子)

拉条子Like the Lanzhou Beef Noodles or lamian of Gansu province, the main ingredient of laghman or lengmen is hand-pulled noodles that are undeniably scrumptious. The dough is made from a simple mixture of flour, water, and salt, and then stretched into noodles by hand in a laboriously long and skilful process. From the outset, they have a distinctly different flavour from those found in other parts of China since they are made from wheat flour rather than rice flour.

A heaping helping of noodles are boiled until they are perfectly soft, and then topped with a rustic vegetable ragout typically made from bell peppers, eggplant, onions, chilli peppers, garlic, tomato, and any other vegetable that happens to be in season. This rich topping is made by simmering the vegetables in a pot full of meat stock and, if you’re lucky, may include a few meaty titbits. The thick texture of the noodles is perfectly complemented by this hearty sauce, making for a meal that is both filling and comforting.


Taste some authentic Xinjiang Cuisine on our travel: Explore the Silk Road in China


Yunnan Cuisine

With its rich biodiversity and diverse ethnic minority population, Yunnan is a tantalising melting pot of exotic ingredients, vibrant flavours, and ethnic flair. Yunnan cuisine is sometimes referred to as Dian cuisine and is known for its moderately spicy and sour dishes that boast an unexpected sweetness. Each signature dish attempts to preserve the original taste of each ingredient used and this is what makes Yunnan’s style so unique.

Mushrooms and mints feature as a prominent ingredient in many dishes, but other unusual ingredients include flowers, ferns, algae and even insects. Just don’t try to worm your way out of eating these peculiar treats, or you’ll regret it! In the south of Yunnan, the signature dishes have also been heavily influenced by Burmese, Lao and Thai style cuisine, meaning that ingredients such as lime juice, coconut, and palm sugar feature widely. With that in mind, here are just a few examples of what makes Yunnan cuisine so utterly irresistible.

Steam Pot Chicken (汽锅鸡)

Steam Pot Chicken

This dish is particularly striking, as it’s made using an invention that originated from Yunnan. This cooking tool, known as a steam pot, is made of clay and the bottom of the pot has a funnel-shaped opening that goes up through the pot. When it is placed over boiling water, steam travels up the funnel into the pot and, if the pot is covered over, the steam will be trapped inside. Thus it’s an ideal tool for steaming food whilst also sealing in much of the flavour.

Steam Pot Chicken dates all the way back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and was formally discovered by Emperor Qianlong while he was taking a tour of Yunnan. He tasted this time-honoured dish and admired it greatly. The dish itself is relatively simple and chicken is the meat of choice because it steam cooks easily. Chicken is added to the pot, along with rare medicinal herbs that are native to Yunnan. The chicken is then steamed for between three to four hours, until the meat is mouth-wateringly tender and the soup gives off an irresistible aroma. The herbs used vary from restaurant to restaurant, so each dish will be a little different wherever you go!

Crossing the Bridge Noodles (过桥米线)

Crossing the Bridge Noodles

The unusual name of this dish comes from an old Yunnan legend. The most popular version of the story is about a Qing scholar who would retire to an island in the centre of a lake every evening to study for the imperial examinations. His loving wife used to cook him dinner every day, but as she crossed the bridge to the island the noodle soup would go cold. She then hit upon the idea of using fatty chicken to make the broth so that the layer of hot oil covering the soup would keep the heat in. In this way, she was able to deliver a delicious hot meal to her husband each day.

Nowadays, this noodle dish is hugely popular throughout Yunnan and many locals have it regularly for breakfast. In some restaurants, the broth is served separately from the raw ingredients and you cook the dish at your table like a hotpot, while in other restaurants it will all be served together. First the broth is made by boiling a fatty chicken with pig bones. Then meat, such as chicken, pork, liver, fish, or ham, is added to the broth along with an assortment of boiled vegetables. Finally the rice noodles are added and the dish is seasoned with chilli oil, ground peppers, sesame seed oil, and salt to taste. Each vendor will have their own variation on this tempting treat, so be sure to try a few and find the one you love!

Old Granny’s Potato (老奶洋芋)

Old Granny’s Potato

The name “old granny’s potato” comes from a long running joke in Yunnan that this dish is so soft even an elderly person with no teeth could eat it easily! But don’t worry; you won’t have to go all the way to an old folks’ home to find this home-cooked delight. This potato dish can be found in most restaurants throughout Yunnan and is the ideal comfort food, similar to mashed potatoes or bubble and squeak. Cooked potato is first mashed and then stir fried with a selection of seasonings, including garlic, spring onion, dried chillies, and ground Sichuan pepper. Fresh or pickled vegetables, such as pickled mustard, pickled cabbage, fresh carrot, and sweet peppers, are sometimes added depending on preference. The meat-eaters among you can also add Xuanwei ham to the dish, which gives it an extra salty, smoky tang. This dish can be easily adapted to suit anyone’s palate and is so comforting to eat that it feels like a warm hug from a loving granny.

Wild Mushroom Hotpot (野生菌火锅)

Wild Mushroom Hotpot

Every year, from June to September, visitors to Yunnan are greeted with a plethora of delicious, edible mushrooms, for this is the annual mushroom season! Each one is named based on its appearance or taste, ranging from the monkey head mushroom and the cow liver mushroom to the rare and highly prized matsutake or pine mushroom and the fish-flavoured seafood mushroom. These funky fungi are a banquet in of themselves and each boast unique flavours and medicinal qualities. Along Guanxing Road in Kunming there is even a mushroom hotpot street, where small restaurants crop up during mushroom season and serve only their variation on this delicious dish.

As with all hotpots, you’ll first be presented with a large pot containing broth. The broth is boiled at the table and will contain a mixture of seasonings based on that restaurant’s secret recipe. You can then add a selection of raw ingredients, including day lily bulbs, vermicelli, leeks and Chinese lettuce. You will then choose a selection of tasty mushrooms and your waitress will tell you in what order they should be placed in the broth. This is to make sure they are all thoroughly cooked and ready to eat. Some of these wild mushrooms are mildly toxic until they are cooked through, so we strongly recommend following your waitress’ advice carefully. Trying something new makes for a fun risk, but eating a toxic mushroom is not a risk you want to take!




Gansu Cuisine

Thanks to the influence of the Hui ethnic minority, dishes in Gansu revolve around roasting, steaming, and braising beef or mutton, with very little consumption of pork or chicken. Since the Hui people are Muslim, they are prohibited from eating pork, and the cold weather in northern China has given the locals a fondness for hearty red meat over white meat. A range of seasonings are also employed in Gansu cuisine, with a preference for salty and spicy flavours. Gansu-style dishes tend to be very fatty, oily, and rich, so be prepared to put on a few pounds during your travels!

Lanzhou Beef Noodles (牛肉拉面)

Lanzhou beef noodlesThis sumptuous noodle dish is certainly the most famous in the city of Lanzhou and arguably the most renowned in the whole province. The recipe emerged during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and was masterminded by a humble, elderly Hui man named Ma Baozi. The noodles are dexterously pulled by hand in a matter of minutes before being quickly boiled and then covered in a clear, flavourful soup. They are then garnished with tender slices of beef, fragrant coriander, green garlic, crunchy white radish slices, and some red peppers to give them a spicy kick.

According to tradition, boys, farmers, and workers are meant to have wider noodles, known as erxi, while girls, elderly people, and scholars tend to prefer slim ones, known as maoxi. These stereotypes have become so entrenched that the noodles have gone beyond being simply a signature dish and are now part of the local culture. So be sure to use your noodle and pick the right noodles for you!

Grabbing Mutton (手抓羊肉)

grabbing muttonThis dish is popular with several of China’s Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Ningxia, but the “Grabbing Mutton” from Linxia County in Gansu is considered one of the best. Its name derives from the fact that historically it was sold on the street and, in order to eat it on the go, people would simply “grab” a piece of the mutton with their hands. That being said, be sure to pay for it first! To make the dish, a joint of mutton is first stewed for a long time, until it becomes so tender that the chops can be easily separated and the meat melts off the bone.

The mutton is then chopped into small pieces and arranged on a plate, where people are free to grab a piece and dip it into their condiment of choice. It is often served simply with a sauce made from salt, crushed garlic, parsley, soy sauce, vinegar, chilli oil, and sesame paste. Variations on the sauce depend on who’s serving it, but the juicy mutton alone is enough to sate most people’s hunger.

Stir-Fried Hump with Five Shredded Toppings (驼峰炒五丝)

Dunhuang was once a focal oasis town along the ancient Silk Road and, when it came to traversing the desert and pulling the merchant caravans, camels were the animal of choice. Camels were such valuable pack-animals that they were never killed for their meat, so this dish could only be made using the meat from a camel that had died of natural causes. Since camels can live for upwards of 40 to 50 years, you might be waiting quite some time to sample this tasty signature dish! The rarity of the meat means it’s a real luxury item and this will be reflected in its price.

The dish rose to popularity as one of the favourites of Yang Yuhuan, an imperial concubine to Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It’s made using the fatty meat of the camel’s hump, which is diced and stir-fried along with shredded leek shoots, dry bamboo shoots, mushrooms, ham, and chicken breast. The soft, fatty meat of the hump is considered particularly delicious, and has been a staple part of signature dishes in Dunhuang for over 1,500 years.

Snowy Mountain Camel Hoof (雪山驼掌)

Snowy Mountain Camel HoofLike Stir-Fried Hump with Five Shredded Toppings, this dish can only be made from the meat of a camel that has died naturally and is thus considered a luxury dish. Don’t let the name fool you; the dish is made from the camel’s tendon and not its hoof, so there’ll be no need to invest in a set of dentures after you’ve eaten it! The name of the dish and its distinctive appearance derive from the camel’s historical importance to the Silk Road. The tendon is steamed along with a whole chicken for approximately 7 to 8 hours, until the meat is soft and the bones can be easily removed. The meat is then sliced and moulded into the shape of a camel’s hoof. Finally egg white is whipped, cooked, and moulded to resemble a snowy mountain. The whole effect is designed to replicate how the camel’s hoof-prints would have looked as they traversed the snowy Qilian Mountains, which made up part of the Silk Road.

Taste some authentic Gansu Cuisine on our travel: Explore the Silk Road in China and Explore “The Good Earth” in Northwest China

Hakka Cuisine


Hakka cuisine

The cooking style of the Hakka people, also known as Hakka or Kuhchia cuisine, originated mainly from the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangxi. It is marked by its emphasis on the texture of food rather than the flavour, so they are masters of stewing, braising, and roasting meat. Their skill lies in their ability to cook meat thoroughly without making it tough and to naturally bring out the umami or meaty flavour of their ingredients. The simplicity of their signature dishes is matched only by how delicious they are!

The Hakka who settled near the coastal areas of Hong Kong have also developed an almost entirely seafood based cuisine. Instead of using expensive meats, their dishes tend to incorporate an abundance of vegetables with only mild seasoning to preserve the original flavour of the ingredients. Hakka-style restaurants can be found throughout Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore so, if you come across one, be sure to give it a try!

Dongjiang Salt-Baked Chicken Dongjiang Salt-Baked Chicken (东江盐焗鸡)

This signature Hakka dish originally involved baking a chicken over a heap of hot salt, but nowadays most restaurants will simply cook it in brine or cover it with a salty mixture before steaming it or baking it in an oven. The chicken is served alone without any seasoning but, once you try a slice of its delectably moist meat, you’ll see why! It’s an incredibly simple dish but is irresistibly tender and packed full of natural flavour.

Ngiong Tew Foo or Stuffed Tofu (酿豆腐)

Ngiong Tew Foo or Stuffed TofuThis dish has deep Hakka origins and is one of the most popular in the Hakka community. It consists of tofu cubes that have been stuffed with a meaty paste made from minced pork, salted fish and herbs. The tofu is then fried until it turns a rich golden brown, although it can be braised. There are several variations of the dish that include eggplants, mushrooms, and bitter melon in place of the tofu cubes. Traditionally the fried tofu is served in a clear, yellow-bean stew along with bitter melon and mushrooms. Nowadays even more modern variants on the dish have appeared where the tofu is replaced with fried fish or chilli peppers. It’s an unusual dish packed full of multiple flavours that are sure to both perplex and delight your palate.

Kiu Nyuk (扣肉)

Kiu NyukThere are two versions of this sumptuous dish; one where preserved mustard greens are used and one where yam is used. The first, which is by far the more popular, is made by taking thick slices of pork belly and layering preserved mustard greens between each slice. The pork is first marinated in soy sauce and sugar while the greens are being boiled. They are then stir-fried together along with the marinade until thoroughly cooked. The other, less popular version involves shallow-frying the yam and pork belly together until it is nicely browned and then steaming it with five-spice powder and yellow rice wine. The resulting dish is quite fatty but deliciously indulgent.

Pounded Tea or Ground Tea (擂茶)

Pounded Tea or Ground Tea A mixture of tea leaves (usually green tea), peanuts, mint leaves, sesame seeds, mung beans and other herbs are ground into a fine powder and then added to hot water to form a refreshing tea. It is thought to have several medicinal properties and is often served with rice, vegetables, tofu, and pickled radish, which can be added to taste. In this way it actually resembles more of a soup than a tea!



Try some authentic Hakka cuisine on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)


Three Course of Tea

Three Course of Tea

The Bai people are renowned throughout China for their generosity and the warm-hearted welcome they give to all guests. The San Dao Cha or Three Courses of Tea ceremony is perhaps the finest example of their inherent hospitality. In Mandarin Chinese, the ceremony is often described as “the first is bitter, the second is sweet, and the third brings reflection” (一苦二甜三回味). It’s unsurprising then that the first course of tea is bitter, the second is sweet, and the third is a mixture of flavours with a strong aftertaste.

The first course begins by baking bitter tea leaves in a clay pot over a small open flame, shaking the leaves often so they do not burn. When the leaves turn slightly brown and diffuse a distinct aroma, then boiled water is added to the pot. As the water is added, it creates such a loud sound that this course is commonly referred to as “Lei Xiang Cha” (雷响茶) or “Thunderous Tea”. The water bubbles violently on contact but, once it has stopped bubbling, the tea is ready to drink. This unique process produces a small amount of tea that is fragrant and incredibly concentrated. The thunderous tea is so bitter that it may just feel like a lightning strike to your tongue!

After all that bitterness, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that the second course is a sweet tea! It is made by first adding a kind of cow’s milk cheese known as rushan to the tea cup, along with tea leaves, walnuts, brown sugar, and other ingredients depending on the region. Boiling water is then poured into the cup and the tea is offered to the guest. This tea resembles more of a soup but is tantalisingly sweet!

The third course is the most complex in terms of its ingredients, as it’s meant to be bitter, sweet and spicy all at the same time! This is achieved by mixing honey, Sichuan pepper, slices of ginger, and cassia (Chinese cinnamon) with a hot cop of Cangshan Xue green tea. The tea not only embodies all of the flavours of the previous courses, as well as being spicy, but also has a distinct aftertaste that has earned it the name “Hui Wei Cha” (回味茶) or “Reflection Tea”.

Three Course of TeaThe term “san dao” does not only mean “three courses” but also refers to the tea being poured three times. The first pouring is for the guest to smell the aromatic tea; the second is to sample the tea; and the third is for the guest to finally drink the tea.

The three types of tea used are designed to imitate the course of life; first you experience bitterness, then you feel happiness after overcoming hardship, and finally you rest and reflect on your past. A direct correlation is sometimes drawn between the stages of life, as a young person goes through much hardship, a middle-aged person feels the sweetness of achievement, and an elderly person recollects their experiences. Although we’ve only mentioned a few of the practices employed in this elegant ritual, there are actually a staggering 18 procedures in the ceremony that are all governed by strict etiquette!

Guangxi Local Snacks

Since Guangxi is in the south of China, many of its local snacks contain rice. However, the locals of Guangxi have become rather innovative with their rice and have managed to adapt it into a variety of forms, all of which are delicious and incredibly filling. These snacks are so popular that they are found throughout China but are particularly prolific in Guangxi, where local recipes have been honed to perfection. Most of these “snacks” are actually large enough to constitute a whole meal, but we’re sure even a large helping of these tasty treats won’t be enough once you’ve tried them!

Guilin Rice Noodles (桂林米粉)

Guilin Rice Noodles

Guilin rice noodles are considered one of the Four Treasures of Guilin and this is mainly because, in spite of being a snack, they somehow pack in more flavour than a festival banquet! Recipes for Guilin noodles have been refined over thousands of years and the history of this dish dates all the way back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). According to legend, during his reign, Qin Shi Huang sent some of his soldiers down south to help integrate the southern provinces. In the north, these soldiers were used to their staple diet of noodles and found the rice-based meals of southern China unpalatable. In order to combat this problem, the Army General found a way of powdering the rice down into flour, which he then used to make noodles. These rice noodles became so popular with the locals that, long after the army left, they continued to be a staple dish in southern China.

These thick rice noodles come in two varieties: round-shaped and flat-shaped. They are usually served with a sumptuous broth, which is the key ingredient of Guilin noodles. The broth is boiled for several hours and contains a multitude of ingredients, such as dried tangerine peel, cinnamon, and ginger, but there is currently no exact recipe for Guilin noodles. Vendors will each have their own, unique recipes for the broth, some of which contain upwards of 20 ingredients, and they guard these recipes fiercely. Thus far, no vendor has disclosed its recipe to the public so, if you want to try this tantalising dish, you must go to the source! The noodles are typically sprinkled with shreds of tender beef, pork or horse meat and served with a range of garnishes, including pickled white radish, pickled green beans, crushed chillies, garlic, chopped spring onion, coriander, soy sauce and many more.

Changfen (肠粉)


Although changfen is a Cantonese-style dish, it is a popular snack in Nanning and variations on the traditional recipe abound in the city. The history of the dish stretches back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and, with its mouth-watering sauciness, it’s easy to see why it has remained popular for so long. In English, it is sometimes referred to as steamed vermicelli roll or rice noodle roll. The first step is to get a well-balanced mixture of rice flour, glutinous rice flour and water, and spread the mixture thinly onto a steel tray. This mixture must be exact because otherwise the “skin” of the changfen will be too chewy, too gummy or too thick. The mixture is then steamed until it forms the “skin”. This skin is thinner than the skin used to make dumplings and it has more elasticity.

The skin is then covered in a variety of fillings, including tender minced beef, pork and chopped green onions, and dried or fresh shrimp, which are further steamed until cooked through. The cooked filling is rolled up into the skin to form a cylinder. The perfect changfen should be a little transparent, so you can just see the filling inside the roll. A liberal helping of sweet, aromatic soy sauce is poured over the changfen and it is served, sometimes with a splash of plain or flavoured oil to add a touch of excitement. The skin of the changfen will generally taste the same but the filling and sauce will differ widely between vendors. Changfen are characterised by their juicy, moist flavour, which is both salty and a little sweet.

Zongzi (粽子)


This traditional snack is popular throughout China but is prolific in Guangxi and other regions of South China. The making of zongzi is usually a family activity and methods for making them will be passed down through generations. Although zongzi are available year-round, they are traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival. This festival takes place in honour of the poet Qu Yuan, who committed suicide by throwing himself into the Miluo River. Zongzi are designed to resemble the rice packets that were thrown into the river to distract the fish and deter them from eating his body. Tragic though it may seem, during festival time the Chinese people eat zongzi to commemorate this noble man’s sacrifice.

In English, zongzi are sometimes referred to as rice dumplings or sticky rice dumplings, but this doesn’t accurately convey what they actually are. Zongzi are made using glutinous rice, which is first lightly cooked by stir-frying it or soaking it in water for an extended period of time. The glutinous rice is then carefully wrapped in bamboo leaves, although some variations include using lotus, maize, or banana leaves to give the rice a slightly different flavour.

Along with the rice, a variety of fillings can be added to make the zongzi savoury or sweet. In southern China, savoury fillings such as salted duck egg, pork belly, taro, shredded pork or chicken, pork fat, and shiitake mushrooms are popular. However, it is not uncommon to come across sweet zongzi, which include ingredients such as sweet red bean paste or sweet taro paste. Peanuts are usually added to both savoury and sweet zongzi. The filled leaves are carefully wrapped into a tetrahedral or conical shape and tied using twine or strips of leaf. The zongzi are then steamed or boiled for anywhere between twenty minutes to several hours, depending on how well-cooked the rice was before it went into the zongzi. Once cooked thoroughly, the zongzi are removed and left to cool. They disseminate an inviting aroma and serve as the perfect comfort food year-round.


Taste some authentic Guangxi Local Snacks on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Guangxi Cuisine

Guangxi cuisine is an anomaly amongst Chinese cuisines in that it is known for borrowing elements of other styles of cuisine rather than having its own distinct flavour. It is sour, but not as sour as Hunan cuisine. It is light, but not as light as Cantonese cuisine. It is spicy, but not as spicy as Sichuan cuisine. This diversity is due to the fact that Guangxi has been heavily influenced by Cantonese culture in neighbouring Guangdong province and by the numerous resident ethnic minorities, such as the Zhuang, Yao, Dong, Miao and Bai people, to name but a few.

However, unlike many other southern Chinese styles, Guangxi is distinguished by its frequent use of noodles instead of rice. Though rice is served with every meal, as is the tradition in the south of China, many of the signature dishes in Guangxi are made using rice noodles. Guangxi signature dishes have also been heavily influenced by the Li River, which is the source of many key ingredients. From hearty river snails to fat, fleshy river fish, when you’re in Guangxi a taste of the Li River is always on the menu.

Stuffed River Snails (阳朔酿田螺)

Stuffed River Snails

These are not your average, garden-variety snails. Locals say that snails found in the Li River are so huge that they could be mistaken for ping pong balls. Though this snail dish may seem a little off putting to Western sensibilities, it is a true labour of love that tastes far better than you’d imagine. The snails are first disgorged in clean water in order to remove any of the grit from within the shell. The snails are then quickly steamed in their shells before the snail meat is removed and finely chopped along with fresh mint, garlic, chillies and a small helping of pork. This aromatic mixture is delicately spooned back into the snail shells and cooked to perfection. This dish is full of punchy, refreshing flavours, from the strong mint to the fiery chillies right through to the rich, meaty flavour of the snails. Don’t let the content put you off, stuffed river snails are a must-try in Guangxi!

Beer Fish (啤酒鱼)

Beer Fish

This signature dish comes directly from the county town of Yangshuo and is arguably the most famous dish in that region. The local flavours in this dish make it impossible to replicate anywhere else, and this adds to its rustic charm. First, a catfish weighing between 1 to 1.5 kilograms is sourced from the Li River. Many restaurants in Yangshuo will keep a hefty number of these catfish in large freshwater tanks so that the freshness of the fish is retained and diners can choose which fish they want. The fish is then gutted and cut in half but the scales are left on. It is fried in camellia oil until the scales are a crispy golden brown and the tender, white flesh is cooked through.

The cooked fish is then boiled in a mixture of water, local Liquan beer, tomatoes, chillies, ginger, and other vegetables. The locals maintain that the fish must be cooked using water from the Li River and Liquan brand beer, or else you risk losing the dish’s distinctive flavour. When this soup has reduced, the dish is ready to serve. In spite of the copious amounts of beer and chillies in the soup, the dish has a noticeably sour taste. The heat from the chillies is just enough to give the soup some punch, but it is the soup’s wonderful tanginess that complements the crispy, tender fish perfectly.

Luosifen (螺蛳粉)


Luosifen is a popular dish from Liuzhou that is renowned for its unusual, spicy flavour. The broth used in luosifen has been painstakingly made over a period of several hours. This broth is made by stewing river snails and pork bones with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, white pepper, bay leaf, liquorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. This effusion of ingredients creates an aromatic mix that will both tantalise and confuse the senses. When it comes to luosifen, you’re never quite sure exactly what it tastes of but you know it tastes great.

The soup is not actually served with any of the snail meat, but instead comes with a hefty portion of pickled vegetables, tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts, and chillies. The broth is then poured over thick, hearty rice noodles and served with a choice of garnishes, including crushed chillies, garlic, soy sauce, and coriander. This dish was originally only served in small, “hole-in-the-wall” type restaurants but its growing popularity means it can now be found in many luxury restaurants across Guangxi and even in some other big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. If you fancy a dish that will rouse all of your senses, luosifen is the one for you!

Lipu Taro Looped Meat (荔浦芋头扣肉)

Lipu Taro Looped Meat

This dish is traditionally served as part of a banquet or on festival occasions, although now it is widely available in restaurants throughout Guangxi. Like Beer Fish, this dish has a distinct local flavour thanks to its locally sourced ingredients. Taro is a type of yam popular in China and known for its characteristically purple flesh. The taro in this dish must be sourced from Lipu County, which is about 104 kilometres south of Guilin, as it is supposedly the best in all of Guangxi. This taro is combined with pork belly, pepper, garlic, fermented bean curd, wine, honey and several other seasonings to form a dish that is rich and full of flavour.

The taro and the pork belly are first deep-fried separately in vegetable oil until they are both golden brown and the succulent fat of the pork is tantalisingly crispy. The taro and pork belly are then combined, along with the other ingredients, and cooked in a large pot or pressure cooker until the sauce is thick and the aroma is irresistible. The glazed slices of delicious pork belly and the soft, spongy flesh of the taro combine perfectly to create a truly delicious, filling dish.


Taste some authentic Guangxi Cuisine on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou