What the Chinese Eat

Written by Matteo Updated Apr. 7, 2021

China is a country full of delicacies, with a wide range of food ingredients. From the basic rice and noodles to the unusual animals’ organs, there is more than you could imagine in Chinese cooking.

Staple Food

Chinese noodles

The major stable food eaten in China is rice and flour-based foods. Rice is more commonly consumed in the southern region ( south of the Yangtze River) where rice is largely planted. People in north China mainly eat flour-based foods such as noodles and dumplings. 


In the south, steamed rice is the main staple food, and while fried rice is also eaten, it is less common.

Steamed Buns

Steamed buns or "mantou" are a staple food in the northern regions of China, where they are often eaten for breakfast, lunch, or as a quick snack. 

The steamed buns can be served as a side dish or as a main meal, often accompanied by savory braised meat or vegetable dishes. 


Noodles, like steamed buns, are a popular staple food in northern China.  Chinese noodles are generally made from wheat flour, rice flour, or mung bean starch.

Noodles can be served in soup or dry. People have developed many delicious noodle dishes over the years such as the Langzhou noodles, Oil Splash Noodles, and Zajiang noodles. 

Chinese people love noodles very much. They eat noodles as breakfast or snacks or in meals. 

A Variety of Meat Ingredients

Pork sold at a local market

Chinese people love to eat and almost all animals’ meat can be eaten. In addition to the common meats such as chicken, duck, fish, pork, beef, and mutton, almost all parts of the animal can be cooked and served, including organs from oxen and sheep.

Adventurous food lovers can try some strange but delicious meat dishes during their travel in China:

Would you dare to try any of them?


Tofu is a highly popular ingredient in many Chinese dishes. Fresh tofu is the main ingredient in the well-known Mapo Tofu dish.

Tofu can be eaten fresh or dried or smoked. Fresh Tofu can be either fried or cooked in soups. People in central China's Hunan province like to smoke Tofu. Smoked tofu is a very common ingredient in Hunan cuisine. 


Chicken eggs are the most common type of egg consumed, however, in China, people also consume eggs from ducks, geese, and quails. These eggs can be cooked through boiling, stir-frying, or steaming. Boiled eggs are often consumed as a breakfast food.

Eggs such as tea eggs and egg fried rice have become popular Chinese dishes 


Vegetables sold at local market

Vegetables play a crucial role in Chinese cuisine, especially in South China. Chinese people eat vegetables every day for every meal. The vegetable is a must-course for any Chinese banquet.

Chinese people prefer fresh and seasonal vegetables. A diverse range of vegetables is consumed, and they can be cooked in soup or stir-fried. Some of the most commonly used vegetables in Chinese dishes include:

Leafy Vegetables

In China, leafy vegetables are among the most popular vegetables consumed. These include Chinese cabbage, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, and other dark leafy greens. You can easily find them in any Chinese market.

Leafy vegetables can be prepared according to personal preference, boiled in soup or stir-fried. However., it's most common to stir-fry them in sauce and condiments with garlic for added flavor. 


Eggplant is long and slender with a purple color. Eggplant is usually stir-fried with garlic sauce and sliced meat in a generous amount of oil. The dish is away very oily. 

Lotus Root

It is an aquatic plant with a distinctive look and mild flavor, often used in soups and stews. Lotus roots produced in East China's Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Central China's Hubei Province are very famous. 

Besides being used in soups and stews, lotus roots are also utilized for making snacks and desserts such as the Sticky Rice Lotus Root.

Bamboo Shoots

Not only the giant pandas but also Chinese people eat bamboo shoots. In spring, when bamboo shoots begin to sprout, people go to the bamboo forest to harvest them and then make a delicious dish by stir-frying bamboo shoots with meat, eggs, or pickled peppers. 

White Radish

Chinese people eat white radish all year round but they mainly eat it in winter months. As they believe white radish after the fall of frost is more flavorful and has a firmer texture.  There is also a popular saying that eating white radish in winter can help keep you healthy.

In China, White radish is usually boiled in soup. 

Bean sprouts

Chinese people eat various sprouted beans, usually mung beans, soybeans, and peas.

The other common eating vegetables include mushrooms, soybean sprouts, string Beans, and carrots. 

Chinese Ingredients for Seasonings

Chinese seasonings

Chinese dishes are always seasoned in a complex manner. There are many seasonal ingredients in Chinese cuisine. The most used ingredients for seasonings and flavors in Chinese cooking include: 


Ginger is the most widely used ingredient for seasoning. People used ginger in soup, stir-fried, steamed, and cold dishes...Every Chinese kitchen has a bag of ginger for use. 


Garlic can be a good partner with ginger., and they are always used together except for soup. Garlic is always used in stir-fry or in cold dishes and as a dipping sauce. 

Dried Chilli Pepper

Dried chili pepper is widely used in braising and stir-frying dishes, especially in China's Sichuan and Hunan Cuisines. Dried chili pepper can add a strong spicy flavor to a dish, and also enrich the dish's color.   


Chinese parsley, a herb with a strong flavor, is usually cooked with sauces, soups, dim sums, or garnish.

 Herb Ingredients

Herb ingredients

Chinese cuisine is known for integrating food and medicine. In fact, many medicinal herbs are used in Chinese cooking for both their flavors and their health benefits.  

Star anise: the star anise has an aniseed flavor and is often cooked with, duck or any other ingredients with a strong flavor. 

Dried tangerine peel: gnarled, brittle, rusty-orange-color peel that adds a light citrus flavor to sauces, soups, and braised dishes. 

Red dates: Red dates are a common ingredient in soups in China, particularly in traditional nourishing soups like chicken soup. Red dates are believed to nourish the blood in traditional Chinese medicine.

Other herb ingredients used in Chinese cooking include goji berries, Sichuan peppercorn, and Chinese cinnamon...

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