10 Iconic Chinese Street Food Dishes You Can Experience in Your Home
When you crave comfort food, where do you turn?
A dish of piping hot Chinese soup dumplings offers a delicious way to sink into a relaxing escape. They’re rich, savory, and packed with flavor. For us, they’re also a nostalgic taste of home.
When we set out to find these dishes stateside, we discovered that much of the tasty street food eats we loved had gotten lost amid more well-known Westernized menu items dominating Chinese restaurants around the nation.
While those meals are incredible in their own right, there are lots of other truly authentic dishes that are easy to make and just as enjoyable, if not more.
Today, we’re exploring 10 crazy-good Chinese street food dishes that you can make right in your own home! If any of these feel recipes feel intimidating to you, we’ve also included many authentic versions of these dishes that can be delivered right to your door! If you can’t make it to Shanghai right now, this is the next best thing.
A Brief History of Chinese Street Food
Chances are, you’ve purchased at least one meal from a mobile eatery. From the taco truck parked outside of every concert to the funnel cake booth at the state fair, the idea of ordering from such a facility isn’t exactly new.
For centuries, people around the world have taken their fare to the streets, selling it to passersby on their way to work and play. During the American Colonial period, for instance, vendors would sell oysters, roasted corn, and fruit from carts on the street.
Yet, despite these early beginnings, North America wasn’t the first country to initiate the idea. Way back in the early 600s, during the Tang Dynasty era, Chinese street food vendors first came on the scene.
These enterprising business owners boiled, roasted, stir-fried, and stewed everything from root vegetables to beef and pork in portable kitchen setups on the street. Since then, these takeaway meals have transformed from humble offerings into haute cuisine sought worldwide by those in the know.
Today, street food still remains a valuable part of the Chinese culinary culture, and Shanghai is oft-regarded as the epicenter of this movement. Usually, the best spots are tucked away out of the main, touristy locales, but the pursuit is always worth it. From these humble origins come some of the most unique, savory dishes you’ll ever encounter.
Even if you already have a tried-and-true favorite Chinese dish, there are still plenty more to discover. This is especially true when you consider the wide array of street food dishes that await.
With our frozen soup dumplings, we’ve made it easier than ever to bring Asian flavors into your home. Below, we’re sharing some of our favorite Chinese street foods, along with tips and resources to help you recreate these meals at home!
While you might not be able to stroll the streets of Shanghai, our convenient deliveries make it possible to enjoy the same flavors in your own kitchen. You’ll also find links to recipes that show you how to make each dish your own, step by step.
Xiao Long Bao: The Star of the Show
What is Xiao Long Bao and what puts it at the center of everything we do?
Put simply, this is a special type of Chinese dumpling or bun that originates in China’s Jiangnan region. It’s especially popular in Shanghai and Wuxi.
This isn’t your typical, flat dumpling. Steamed in small bamboo trays called xiaolong, they are pinched at the top and filled with meat and a savory liquid soup. The steaming process results in a soft, melt-in-your-mouth dumpling that’s absolutely brimming with flavor.
Classic Xiao Long Bao contains pork, though you can also find varieties that contain both pork and shrimp. Phenomenal on their own, these bite-sized indulgences are just one of the delightful varieties of Chinese street food dishes.
Below, we’re sharing 10 of our favorites. While you might not have these readily available at home, you can find many through our frozen delivery or in-store hot food service. The others are easy to recreate at home, allowing you to create an authentic Chinese street food experience whenever inspiration strikes.
1. Sheng Jian Bao (生煎包)
While the image of steamy Chinese dumplings are still fresh on our minds, we wanted to kick off our list with another iconic Chinese bun: the Sheng Jian Bao. These are one of the most popular street foods in Shanghai and served at food carts and restaurants all over China.
These famous Shanghai dumplings are defined by their signature crispy brown bottoms, and explosively juicy pork filling. Imagine a hybrid between your favorite pillowy steamed bun, and a crispy-fried gyoza or potsticker.
In the mornings, street vendors will fold semi-leavened dough (made from scratch) around their signature mix of ground pork and flavorful gelatin soup filling. Then placed in a shallow pan of oil, these baos are fried until their bottoms are golden brown and the gelatin soup melts into a juicy savory filling - all housed within the cooked, and now fluffy, dumpling dough. Vendors will finish off their famous Sheng Jian Baos with a generous sprinkle of scallions and toasted sesame seeds.
Here’s a recipe that walks you through making your own semi-leavened yeast dough and delicately folding your dough around a savory ground pork filling.
Does this sound too intimidating? If you find yourself in the Bellevue, WA area, stop by Xiao Chi Jie, where we serve up classic, crispy and juicy Sheng Jian Baos, exactly like the ones you’ll find on the streets of Shanghai.
2. Jianbing (煎饼)
In recent years, crepe shops have grown in popularity across the U.S., popping up as a unique spot to visit when you’re in the mood to try something different for breakfast.
In addition to sweet crepes filled with fruit and the inevitable hazelnut spread, you’ll also find savory versions at most of these establishments, filled to the brim with meats, cheese, and vegetables. Versions of Jianbing in China have been around for almost 2,000 years, and this treat also has later origins in Britain and France.
Vendors there put a special spin on these light and fluffy treats, and they’ve long been a local breakfast favorite. We have our own take, but anywhere you go, they’re easy to find. Usually, Chinese crepes are a little crispier and bolder than their stateside cousins.
Made with wheat and grain flour, you’ll also find savory flavors and hints of umami in jianbing, along with egg. In addition to rolled-up varieties, you can also find ones that are prepared more like breakfast sandwiches, with a layer of filling spooned in between two thin layers of crepe batter.
Looking for a new wake-up call? This Jianbing is made with mung bean batter and stuffed with chile paste, egg, hoisin, and heaps of crispy wontons for an unforgettable breakfast!
3. Dan Dan Mian (担担面)
No conversation on Chinese Street Food is complete without covering one of the most famous noodle dishes of China: Dan Dan Mian.
Originating from the Chinese province of Sichuan, this famous dish received its name from the street vendors that carried poles named “Dan Dan” across their shoulders. Attaching baskets on each end of the carrying pole, one with hand-made noodles, and one with their spicy chili-oil infused sauce - these street vendors walked around selling their Dan Dan Mian to customers everywhere.
Today, Dan Dan Mian can be found in restaurants worldwide, each with their own unique interpretation of this famous Sichuan dish. Some restaurants tone down the traditional spice, others add ground pork, sesame paste, or peanut butter to elevate their recipe. However, almost all recipes will include a fragrant chili oil in respect to the traditional Sichuan style of Dan Dan Mian.
Regardless of how you like to enjoy Dan Dan Mian, try this authentic Sichuan recipe at home, and feel free to adjust the spice or sweetness level to your preferences. Just make sure to bookmark this link, because we’re confident you’ll be craving more Dan Dan Mian shortly after.
4. Chinese Pork Spare Ribs (中式排骨)
Chinese pork spare ribs are a Shanghai street food staple, made using a sophisticated blend of Chinese spices and techniques to deliver a distinct flavor.
First, the Chinese pork spare ribs are marinated in a blend of garlic puree, white pepper, sugar, and over 10+ Chinese spices for an unbelievable flavor. Chefs will usually marinate their spare ribs overnight to completely lock-in the complex flavors in each bite.
After marinating for hours, the Chinese pork spare ribs are then dipped in a corn-starch batter and grilled or fried until it’s gloriously tender. The tender pork spare ribs lock in the flavorful marinade and provide an unforgettable street food experience. Interested in making this amazing dish at home? Here’s an authentic recipe that will be similar to the ones you find in authentic Chinese restaurants.
Here at XCJ, we’re also perfecting our own recipe of Chinese pork spare ribs in our Seattle test kitchen. Stay tuned to our Seattle XCJ Menu to hear when it’s released. We promise our version will transport your taste buds straight to the streets of Shanghai.
5. Chinese Beef Jerky (牛肉干)
A must-have street food during Lunar New Year, Chinese Beef Jerky has origins that trace all the way back to ancient China, where beef (or meat in general) was considered expensive and a luxury for many. Hence, why this special food was reserved only for the Lunar New Year celebration.
Today, Chinese Beef Jerky is eaten year-round and can be found in countries all across Asia including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. One of the most famous brands is Bee Cheng Hiang, who started out in 1933 and currently owns 50+ locations all over Asia.
Traditional Chinese Beef Jerky is made from preserving high-quality cuts of meat that are brushed with sugar, spices, and soy sauce before air-drying on racks or grilled over charcoal. It’s a labor-intensive cooking process, but it’s totally worth the amazing, fall-apart tender bites of meat you receive in the end.
Looking to try China’s most addictive snack, without having to slice, marinate, or dehydrate cuts of meat at home? We sell 4 different styles of XCJ Chinese Beef Jerky that are glazed to perfection and made in small batches with no preservatives - just like how it’s made in China!
6. Chuan’r (串儿) - Chinese Skewers
Few dishes can satisfy your savory cravings quite as well as skewers of flavorful meat! Chaun’r are Chinese Kebabs, and like Rou Jia Mo, no two vendors will prepare them exactly the same way.
This dish is so flexible and versatile and can include a variety of meats and vegetables. On the streets of Shanghai, these ingredients are skewered onto thin-cut bamboo sticks, but before being marinated over charcoal or propane, they’re first delicately prepared.
Vendors will usually prepare a quick rub that includes a variety of deep, spicy flavors including dried chili flakes, salt, and ground cumin. Then, they’ll incorporate that rub into the meats and veggies, coating everything well.
Chaun’r are especially popular within mainland China in open-air food stalls.. One of the most traditional ways to prepare this dish is to use lamb, though you’ll also find them prepared with chicken, beef, and pork. This variation is fairly traditional, though it includes fennel and garlic in the rub, as well as a swipe of Shaoxing wine on the meat before grilling!
7. Cong You Bing (葱油饼)
When you think of pancakes, scallions might not spring to mind, but after one taste of Cong You Bing, you’ll change your tune.
Around Shanghai, you’ll find locals lined up for a bite of these buttery, flaky fried dishes, studded with scallions. The dough itself is first rolled into a spiral formation (similar to a jelly roll), with the scallions woven in. Then, vendors will flatten the dough and fry it in a pan to create those trademark layers.
However, the process doesn’t stop there.
Once the initial frying is complete, vendors will bake each bing inside of a special charcoal cooker for a few minutes. This helps the scallions turn from bright green to crispy and caramelized, where they take on a flavor that’s more smoky than savory.
These thin and crispy treats are an excellent addition to any course and are refreshingly easy to make. The key is to not scrimp on the scallion! Here’s an excellent tutorial to follow when you’re ready to recreate Cong You Bing in your kitchen!
8. Rou Jia Mo (肉夹馍)
In North America, you might love to slather your hamburgers with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. You may also prefer thick and fluffy buns that can support the bulk of a quarter-pound of beef.
On the streets of China, you can still get your burger fix, but it will look a little different. Rou Jia Mo, or the Chinese Hamburger, starts with two thin fluffy buns that are slathered not with the expected condiments, but meat gravy and chili paste. Inside, instead of a traditional patty, you’ll find heaps of juicy shredded meat.
While the recipe is pretty straightforward, it’s gloriously easy to personalize. In fact, each vendor will put their own spin on the spices used to prepare the meat, so you get a different bite with every stop! This particular dish dates back to the Qin Dynasty, so vendors have had plenty of time to perfect it.
To prepare a simple, clean-eating spin on this local favorite, follow these steps.
9. Zongzi (粽子)
When mid-summer rolls around in Shanghai, it officially becomes Zongzi season. These bite-sized creations are easy to find on the street, fun to make at home, and delicious to devour. They’re also bright and colorful, which makes them the perfect way to usher in warmer weather.
Zongzi are simply balls of sticky rice, wrapped delicately in striking, green bamboo leaves, wrapped to form a triangular pyramid-shape. While the dish isn’t exactly native to Shanghai, it’s quickly become a local favorite and a prevalent mainstay at many of the top street markets in the city.
How did it become so well-known? Zongzi is one of the most popular traditional dishes served at the Dragon Boat Festival. This annual event marks the death of Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who lived from 340 to 278 BC and died by drowning in the Miluo River.
When he died, his avid readers and supporters began throwing rice into the water to keep his body preserved from the fish, serpents, and dragons that they feared would eat it.
This tradition has carried on for centuries and to this day, people will throw rice into the river to celebrate the life and untimely death of one of their artistic and cultural heroes. They also hold dragon boat races to represent the legendary tales of people paddling out on boats to find Yuan’s body.
Over time, Zongzi became the trademark dish of the event, offering visitors and locals alike a simple way to commemorate the occasion. The good news? You don’t have to travel all the way to the festival to try a taste of this light, delicious treat.
Try this version at home, and use a pressure cooker if you have one on hand! In addition to sticky rice, this recipe also includes other yummy additions, including shiitake mushrooms, black-eyed peas, pork belly, and Chinese sausage!
10. Mala Tang (麻辣烫)
This ultra-spicy, hot soup quickly gained popularity in China due to the variety of personalized flavors that are possible. In the U.S., these types of dishes are usually called “hot pots”.
When you order, you choose the ingredients that you’d like in your broth. These can include a variety of stir-ins such as noodles, fish balls, meatballs, tofu, or vegetables. Once you’ve made your selection, the vendor will incorporate those items into the signature broth.
Just what makes the broth so volcanic? The secret lies in the tangy Sichuan peppercorns, which offer a touch of fire and a slight citrus accent. In addition to these, you’ll also find heaps of chili in the broth. Combined, the peppercorns and chili create a sensation so zesty that you’ll soon learn why the name of this soup includes the word Mala, which means “numbing spiciness”.
If the idea of this soup makes you raise your eyebrows, it’s worth mentioning that despite its scorching flavor, this is one of the richest and most flavorful meals you’ll find. When you’re in the mood for a little heat, try a spicy variety! Or, you can always mellow it out by adjusting the amount of spice you add to the broth.
Want to make your own hot pot at home? These two recipes include both types, so you can take your pick!
Bonus: Jiang (酱)
We couldn’t let this list go without mentioning an essential table-side item that will pair well with just about any of the 10 Iconic Chinese Street Food Dishes we listed above: authentic and traditional Chinese sauces. Below are some of our favorite Chinese sauces and food pairings:
Chinese Black Vinegar: Enjoyed throughout China for centuries, classic black vinegar is mildly sweet and acidic, and helps bring out the flavors of any Chinese cooking. We also love them as a dipping sauce for our dumplings!
Ginger Scallion Sauce: A staple of many Chinese barbeque shops, ginger scallion sauce is perfect for elevating the umami in a dish and cutting through heavy flavors. It pairs perfectly with any dumpling, rice, or noodle dish.
Fried Chili Crisp: Hailing from the Southwestern region of China, chili crisp is a spice lover’s best friend. This sauce provides a spicy, floral, and toasted crunch to any Chinese street food you’re eating. We won’t limit your imagination here, chili crisp goes well with just about anything. Some people even put it on ice cream.
Interested in taking your Chinese home-cooking to the next level? You’re in luck! We sell our very own XCJ Hand-Crafted Sauces in perfectly sized 270ml (9oz) bottles. Whether you dip, sprinkle, or use a heavy-hand to pour, these Chinese sauces will enhance the flavors of any Chinese food you’re eating!
Order Your Xiao Long Bao Today
You don’t have to travel all the way around the world to enjoy an authentic taste of Chinese street food.
We make it easy to prepare rich and satisfying meals at home, full of the tastes, textures, and aromas we love. These dishes described above might sound complex, but once you try them, you’ll quickly add them to your regular rotation.
We know you’re busy, though, and we’re here to make your time in the kitchen as efficient as possible. We sell our frozen Xiao Long Bao in packs of 50, so you always have some on hand. Need a refresher on ‘How to XLB?’ Take the time to browse our resources and our selection! If you’re local to Bellevue, you can also pick up our hot food in-store. Order now and enjoy!