When you are in China, you can choose to dine in a Michelin-star restaurant or opt for a scavenger hunt down dark alleyways. You can choose both. But in the spirit of the real local lifestyle, we recommend you to search out the most delicious and wallet-friendly street food in China.
Street food, or street snacks, could definitely be one of the highlights during your stay in China. If you have a relatively low budget but you also don’t want to lose the opportunity to taste amazing Chinese food, street food is your best option. The price is affordable, food is tasty, and there are so many different kinds of street food in different city for you to choose.
Here, we recommend some signature street food in Beijing and Shanghai. Please note that, posts about street food in other cities will be issued afterwards as soon as possible.
The warm fried thin pancake wrap is especially popular for breakfast on cold winter days.
Pouring and spreading the batter on a flat heated surface to form a thin pancake or crepe, pouring on an egg and letting it cook, spreading on a sauce, placing on slices of deep-fried dough stick, sprinkling on some chopped green onion, cumin, and sesame, and finally rolling it into a wrap — that’s the processes of making a fried thin pancake wrap, or street crepe, which takes about four minutes.
The treet crepe oringinated as the most famous snack in Tianjin. However, it has spreaded to many Chinese cities, and is very popular in Beijing, so we can categorize it as a Beijing snack. It is difficult to find this type of crepe in a restaurant. Only at a street-side stall (in the morning) can you get a fried thin pancake wrap.
Fried triangular dumplings have crispy and soft “skin” and stuffed fresh fillings.
The fried triangular dumpling only has two recognized fillings: vegetable or meat. The vegetarian triangular dumpling is always stuffed with minced Chinese chives, carrot, and bean sprouts; and a meat one is always stuffed with minced meat (pork) and vegetables.
The best fried triangular dumplings taste like steamed buns. They should be stuffed with frozen fillings, and then the fillings become soup inside after heating. When eating a fried triangular dumpling, you should slowly make a small hole first for release the steam inside.
Steamed triangular dumplings are also available, which might be preferable as they are healthier.
Sugarcoated haws became popular in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), when it was a most-loved children's snack. It is one of the most authentic Beijing snacks, a must-taste sweet developed from the simple sugar-covered hawthorn berries to a variety of candied fruits on a stick.
You can find vendors selling sugarcoated haws on Beijing snack streets, but also in some tea buildings, opera theaters, and temple fairs.
The grayish-green fresh ground mung bean juice tastes slightly sour and sweet. It is more popular in spring and winter. As well as the bean juice, vendors always serve fried dough rings, fried dough twists, and spicy pickles— the most popular snacks eaten with fresh ground bean juice.
The locals in Beijing really appreciate drinking it. But if it is your first time to taste bean juice, you might not get used to its flavor. However, the locals will encourage you that if you push yourself to taste it twice, you will fall in love with it.
Although those hairy crustaceans from Yangcheng lake aren’t available year-round, xie ke huang, aka the poor Shanghainese man’s hairy crab, can be found around the town in any season. Baked in a clay oven until golden brown, these little oval pies are stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. The name is inspired by its appearance -- freshly baked xie ke huang look like crispy golden crab shells.
It’s hard to resist succulent pork buns, especially when they are fried and garnished with fresh spring onion and toasted sesame. They taste best just out of the pan -- totally worth the blisters on your tongue. Xiao Yang Sheng Jian is the best-known fried bun restaurant in town.
Ci fan is one of the most popular breakfast foods in Shanghai. These glutinous rice balls have everything you ever needed for an energetic start to your day. Typical stuffing includes a you tiao (fried dough stick), pickled vegetables, pork floss, white sugar and sometimes eggs and ham. Tastes best when hot.
The 35 C weather in Shanghai is just not bearable without these weekend buckets of crawfish tossed with chili consumed alongside cold, cheap Tsingtao with lots of friends chowing down as well. Don’t be scared to sit eye-to-eye with locals as you challenge them to a crawfish de-shelling battle on their own turf.