16 Popular Chinese Dishes You MUST Try! (w/ pictures) (2022)

Wondering what Chinese dishes you should try in China? There are way too many options on a Chinese menu and you probably won’t like many of them. For this reason, I’d like to share 16 Chinese dishes that are popular among Chinese and safe for foreigners to eat for your trip to China.

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If traveling to a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language weren’t intimidating enough, imagine how stressful it is looking at a restaurant menu that is only Chinese characters!

Lucky for you, China is a top food destination and there is so much to enjoy there.

But with all the food options in China, it helps knowing what tastes best, so that you’re not going choosing restaurants entirely based on whether or not they have picture menus.

That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 16 popular Chinese dishes to help you plan what to eat in China.

These dishes are also incredibly foreigner-friendly and include so much more than your typical sweet and sour pork, Peking duck, spring rolls, and all the other general dishes you’ve probably already heard about.

We’ll break down the suggestions by meal type:

  • Popular Chinese Foods for Breakfast
  • Popular Chinese Dishes for Lunch
  • Best Chinese Foods for Dinner
  • Popular Chinese Snack Dishes

Let’s dive into what’s on the menu because my mouth is watering just thinking about all the delicious food you’re going to enjoy!

Popular Chinese Foods for Breakfast

I was never one for breakfast and I often skipped it until I moved to China.

Every day on your journey should begin with a good meal and here are some tasty foods you can try for breakfast in China.

Chinese Steamed Buns | 包子 Bāozi

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Although the English translation for baozi may not sound particularly appetizing, this food is delicious and perfect for busy mornings when you don’t have time for a proper breakfast but still need to eat.

The key to enjoying Chinese baozi is to know which is most delicious as there are so many different kinds. In fact, what makes baozi delicious is the type of stuffing at the center of the steamed bun.

So below is a list of my favorites and you can show this list to any baozi restaurant or stall in China to help you order at a Chinese restaurant:

  • Beef Baozi: 牛肉包子 | niúròu bāozi
  • Pork with Napa Cabbage Baozi – 猪肉白菜包子 | zhūròu báicài bāozi
  • Napa Cabbage Baozi with Scrambled Eggs: 鸡蛋小白菜包子 | jīdàn xiǎo báicài bāozi
  • Soup Baozi: 灌汤包子 | guàn tāng bāozi

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16 Popular Chinese Dishes You MUST Try! (w/ pictures) (4)

It’s also good to know that baozi is much more delicious when you dip it in Chinese vinegar mixed with pepper.

Also use caution when buying baozi as some restaurants don’t pay enough attention to hygiene, which increases your risk of getting food poisoning.

If the restaurant gives you any sort of impression that you shouldn’t eat there, then don’t!

Chinese Burritos/Pancakes | 煎饼 Jiānbing

While jianbing best translates into pancake, this food looks more like a burrito packed full of delicious ingredients and flavor.

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Like baozi, Chinese pancakes are great for eating on the go and are commonly sold by street vendors in every major Chinese city.

They are also always fresh to where the Chinese pancake chef will spread the pancake mix on a circular cast-iron grill upon ordering.

From there, you’ll see the mixture of ingredients come together that include eggs spread over the pancake, cilantro, scallions, and a crunchy wonton in the middle.

A sweet and spicy layer of hoisin and chili sauces also enrich the flavor of the Chinese jianbing.

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Each Chinese pancake chef may also have their own secret ingredient. While studying at Beijing University, my favorite jianbing place even filled their pancakes with diced chicken, which was a fantastic touch.

Chinese pancakes are also super cheap making them not only a delicious breakfast but can also help you travel China on a tight budget.

油条 | Yóutiáo or Fried Breadsticks

Fried breadsticks are another tasty breakfast item to try on your trip to China.

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This food is made by taking premade dough rolled out into breadsticks and frying them in a wok full of hot oil.

As you have probably guessed, fried breadsticks can be quite oily. But don’t let that throw you off as they are delicious.

The best way to eat Chinese breadsticks is to dip them in a hot bowl of Chinese soy milk, or dòujiāng (豆浆) in Chinese.

早茶 | Zǎochá or Dim Sum

Dim sum makes for a great breakfast for travelers looking to enjoy a meal at sitdown restaurant. You’re also in for a real treat if you’re into buffets with lots of different options to choose from.

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With Chinese dim sum, parades of waiters push around carts filled with bamboo steamers. Each steamer has a different dish fresh from the kitchen.

When you see something you like, simply wave down a waiter with a cart and pick whatever dish that tickles your fancy.

As its Chinese name implies, dim sum wouldn’t be complete without selecting some good tea (the 茶 character in the name means “tea”) . So I’d do some research prior to eating dim sum on teas and what would complement the dishes best.

Popular Chinese Dishes for Lunch

Like with breakfast, the Chinese are particular about having a good lunch every day.

So in keeping with that tradition, I’ve shared my favorite Chinese dishes that are bound to fill you up and satisfy your palette.

Chinese Dumplings / Potstickers | 饺子 Jiǎozi

Chances are you’ve either tried or at least heard of Chinese Jiaozi (sometimes referred to as “potstickers” back at home).

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Even if you’ve tried it at home before, authentic Chinese dumplings are a dish you shouldn’t miss out on during your trip to China. They also make for a great quick lunch should you be in a hurry.

There are also so many different fillings you can enjoy making dumplings something you can eat over and over during your trip without getting tired of them.

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Believe me, the list of different dumpling fillings can go on and on. So I’d bring a dictionary and potentially a good Chinese phrasebook to help you order when visiting a dumpling house.

Yunnan Rice Noodles | 过桥米线 Guò Qiáo Mǐxiàn

After visiting Yunnan, this dish immediately became one of my favorite things to eat for lunch. As a big fan of noodles, the variety of food items to customize the dish make it even more compelling to eat.

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How eating this dish works is you receive a tray with your noodles in broth (or sometimes the broth and the noodles are delivered separately) and then pour the remaining ingredients into the soup however you like.

The number of ingredients that come with the meal can vary from restaurant to restaurant, but typically you will have at a minimum some eggs, lettuce, beef or chicken, and other items to improve the soup’s flavor.

Lanzhou Beef Noodles | 兰州牛肉面 Lánzhōu Niúròu Miàn

Thankfully, you don’t need to travel all the way to Lanzhou (in the Gansu province) to enjoy their popular beef noodles. You’ll find restaurants selling this dish all over China.

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This dish tends to be pretty simple, but don’t let that fool you!

The hand-pulled noodles and thinly sliced beef soaked in a rich broth with a splash of chili oil is among China’s most popular dishes.

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While I consider this primarily a lunch item, you can enjoy these noodles for any meal of the day.

Lanzhou beef noodles are also among the most affordable meals you can purchase in China, which will also help you save money on your trip.

Xinjiang Langman | 新疆拌面 Xīnjiāng Bànmiàn

Should your trip to China bring you to Xinjiang, you’ll be lucky enough to enjoy some of the best foods in China. Among them is a dish known by two different names by two different people groups: Laghman (Uyghur) and Banmian (Hui).

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The idea behind this dish is simple. You have noodles and top it with a mix of beef, vegetables, and oil.

Sounds simple, but you have to be seriously skilled at pulling noodles and mastering the secret sauce that covers the dish.

What also makes this a great meal for lunch is the many different mixes of vegetables you can choose from. Having it for lunch also gives you time to work off the sheer amount of carbs you take in from the noodles throughout the afternoon.

Mutton Soup | 羊肉泡馍 Yángròu Pào Mó

While you can get yángròu pàomó in many places across China, it’s most popular (and most authentic) in the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’an.

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It’s also worth noting that this dish is available in a beef version (牛肉泡馍) if the idea of lamb meat makes you queasy.

This dish combines vermicelli noodles with soft mutton and mini chunks of bread in a hot broth. Not only is this dish tasty, but it’s incredibly filling.

If the small bits of bread don’t make you full, the large portion size definitely will.

Apart from its rich flavor, this dish also reflects Xian’s historical past as the eastern terminus of the Ancient Silk Road. Through the Silk Road trades, Xian experienced a convergence in Central Asian and Chinese culture.

Much of this convergence is reflected in Xian’s cuisine and yángròu pào mó is no exception.

Thanks to high speed trains, it’s incredibly easy to travel between Beijing to Xi’an (or other cities), so you should definitely make this part of your itinerary.

Best Chinese Dishes to Eat for Dinner

Whenever I travel, dinner is similar to the grand finale for my day’s events.

So to make the grand finale of each day of your trip to China special, keep an eye out for these dishes.

Chinese Hot Pot | 火锅 Huǒguō

If you’ve never heard of hot pot, think of it as the Eastern version of fondue (although this is an over-simplification).

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When you eat hot pot, you have a simmering pot of soup stock and place ingredients of all different types into the soup until cooked and ready to eat.

Practically anything is fair game to toss into your hot pot with my top choices being sliced beef, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms, quail eggs, wontons, vegetable greens, and many others.

Each region in China also has its unique flavor of hot pot, but the most famous type is Chongqing Hot Pot.

If you have a high spice tolerance, I strongly recommend giving Chongqing Hot Pot a try. The spicy flavors and soup are unparalleled by any other form of hot pot out there.

Just remember to have some cool drinks with you to help with the spice!

Chongqing Fried Fish | 重庆烤鱼 Chóngqìng Kǎo Yú

Sticking with popular Chinese dishes that originate from Chongqing, you should really try their fried fish.

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It may be hard to see in the photo above, but there are two fried fish side-by-side soaking in a tasty broth and covered with extra ingredients.

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Chongqing fried fish is in many ways also similar to hot pot. The fish is cooked in a spicy broth and you can order vegetables and other items to also cook with the broth.

But the additional hot pot ingredients shouldn’t distract you away from the fish, which has a sumptuous taste after being cooked from the spicy broth.

Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken | 新疆大盘鸡 Xīnjiāng Dàpán Jī

While I may be biased since I lived in Xinjiang for more than a decade, the popular dish known as Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken is by far among the top best dishes you can get in China.

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I’ll also admit that the English translation for this dish is rather silly, but you’re in for a real treat should you find a restaurant with a quality version of this dish.

What’s in Big Plate Chicken?

Well, this dish has a good balance of ingredients that include spicy green peppers, potato quarters and wide-flat noodles all mixed together with the chicken and a particularly spicy red sauce.

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The folks behind naming big chicken dish weren’t kidding when it comes to the size of this dish. Even a half order is enough to fill 2-4 people!

Lastly, you’re bound to find really good big chicken dish all throughout Xinjiang. But in other parts of China, you’ll have to do your homework in finding an authentic restaurant that offers this dish.

Chicken, Mushroom and Rice | 黄焖鸡米饭 | Huáng Mèn Jī Mǐfàn

If Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken is hard to find, I want to suggest an alternative favorite chicken dish of mine for you to try. After trying chicken, mushroom, and rice for the first time I was instantly hooked and today I make it almost once a week.

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What makes this dish so good is that you stew the chicken and mushrooms for a while after they are fully cooked.

This allows the soy sauce, spices, and juices given off by the chicken and mushrooms to soak in and give the dish a great deal of flavor with each bite.

White rice also serves as a great compliment and staple to make you really full after eating this dish.

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Popular Chinese Snack Dishes

One thing you’ll learn about China is that the Chinese are professional snackers. Be sure to fit in plenty of snacks and small meals in between breakfast, lunch, and dinner as you travel!

Sure, you might gain a few pounds, but hopefully these snacks introduced to you below will make you feel that the extra weight is totally worth gaining.

Cold Skin Noodles | 凉皮子 Liángpí Zi

Chinese Liangpizi comes with a large pile of slurp-able wheat noodles and gluten slices soaked in chili oil and topped with sliced cucumber. Just the description is enough to make my mouth water!

Originally from China’s Shaanxi Province in the northwest, you can enjoy this street food in pretty much any day- or night-market and in restaurants across China.

As a cold dish, it also makes for a great snack during a hot summer day.

These noodles are really light, making them the perfect snack in between meals.

Chinese Hamburger | 肉夹馍 Ròu Jiā Mó

Another personal favorite snack of mine is the Chinese hamburger, or “Rou Jia Mo”. The translation is pretty poor, though. Don’t expect your typical combination of lettuce, tomato, and cheese.

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Instead, these hamburgers are packed with stewed and shredded beef, lamb, or pork mixed with hot green peppers, onion, and cumin stuffed in between a crispy flatbread bun.

Some markets may also mix in their own local flare.

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For example, at one of my favorite places to get a Chinese hamburger, the chefs make it with diced chicken stewed in a hot red spicy sauce.

You’re also going to find these almost everywhere as its easy for street vendors to make and sell these on push carts. But I’d be careful to consider sanitation first before listening to your stomach!

Kebabs | 烤肉串 Kǎoròu Chuàn

Nothing satisfies my taste buds more than a pile of hot fresh lamb kebabs. While Xinjiang is the heartland for the best-tasting kebabs in China, you can thankfully find these kebab stands all over China.

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Outside of Xinjiang, you’ll also see different varieties of kebab. In Beijing for example, I had skewers of liver and chicken heart, which were – to my surprise – pretty tasty.

They also make for a quick and easy snack should you be in a time crunch in between sightseeing.

Final Thoughts | Popular Chinese Dishes Worth Trying

Most travelers will think about China for its incredible sights like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and others. For me, though, China is ultimately a food destination.

Yes, go see the historical sights and enjoy the Chinese culture. However, I suggest you also take advantage of all the different kinds of food available to you throughout your trip.

The popular Chinese dishes I shared above are also just the tip of the iceberg on what’s out there. Start training on your chopstick skills so that you’re ready to dig into the local food scene once you land.

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Further Reading & Resources

  • 6 Tips to Avoid Massive China Crowds while Traveling

  • China Business Guide | Gift Giving Ideas for China Business Partners

  • How to Watch Chinese TV Shows in Your Home Country

Traveling or Moving to China Soon?

Download "44 Tips You MUST Know Before Traveling to China". These simple but often overlooked tips could make or break your trip!

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FAQs

What are the 5 most popular foods in China? ›

The 10 Most Popular Dishes in China
  • 1 Kung Pao Chicken.
  • 2 Sweet and Sour Pork.
  • 3 Peking Roast Duck.
  • 4 Mapo Tofu.
  • 5 Chow Mein.
  • 6 Chinese Hot Pot.
  • 7 Spring Rolls.
  • 8 Wonton Soup.

How many types of Chinese dishes are there? ›

These eight culinary cuisines are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang.

What's the most popular Chinese dish in America? ›

General Tso Chicken – According to Grubhub, this sweet fried chicken dish is the most popular Chinese food in America. It's also unhealthy, considering that it is deep-fried and the recipe demands tons of sugar.

Why is Chinese food popular? ›

Amazing taste: The Chinese food is too good in taste and has a combination of all the tastes especially spices, it is s treat for people who love spicy food. Also, in Chinese food, you can have vegetarian food as well as non-vegetarian food, so everyone has their choice of food.

What is the main food of China? ›

Rice. Rice is a primary staple food for people from rice farming areas in southern China. Steamed rice, usually white rice, is the most commonly eaten form. People in South China also like to use rice to make congee as breakfast.

What do Chinese people eat for dinner? ›

Dinner has become the most important meal for many Chinese. The dishes usually include soup, a variety of meats and vegetables, and rice. Because dinner is a meal to enjoy with the family the food is very hearty.

What are the 4 main styles of Chinese cuisine? ›

There are two major classifications of Chinese cuisines based on geographical locations and cooking styles. First up are those termed the Four Major Cuisines: Lu cuisine from Shandong province; Chuan cuisine from Sichuan; Yue cuisine from Guangdong; and Su cuisine from Jiangsu.

What are traditional Chinese desserts? ›

Desserts in China are quite different from in the West. The best Chinese desserts are red bean buns, dragon's beard candy, egg tarts, candied fruit, pumpkin pancakes, sweet egg buns, deep fried durians, sweet soup balls, almond jelly, and grass jelly.

What is the most popular Chinese dish in the UK? ›

Britain's favourite Chinese dishes
  • Chow Mein. This dish takes inspiration from all over the world. ...
  • Crispy Aromatic Duck. This one's a guaranteed crowd pleaser. ...
  • Egg Fried Rice. If noodles are not your thing, perhaps you prefer a nice rice dish? ...
  • Sweet and Sour. ...
  • Spring Rolls.
18 Jan 2014

What is a spicy Chinese dish? ›

Gan guo, Hunan

Choose from a variety of meats, vegetables and tofu to be flash stir-fried and sent sizzling to your table in a mini wok. Hunan food is less oily than Sichuan food and the abundance of fresh red and green chili peppers, scallions, ginger and garlic make Hunan food arguably the spiciest cuisine in China.

What do Chinese people drink? ›

Chinese Beverages
  • Water. Drinking water is considered health care. ...
  • Teas. Chinese Tea. ...
  • Pearl Milk Tea. Pearl Milk Tea is a popular drink for young. ...
  • Herbal Teas. Suanmeitang is a great match for hot pot. ...
  • Baijiu. Baijiu. ...
  • Red Wine. Red Wine. ...
  • Beer. Beer. ...
  • Soybean Milk (dòu jiāng豆浆) and Soy Milk (dòu nǎi豆奶) Soy Milk.

What is a traditional Chinese dinner? ›

Ordinary home-made meals usually consist of meat dishes and vegetable dishes. Soup may or may not be served. In northern parts of China, the staple food is wheat-based products including noodles, and steamed buns. However, in the southern part of China, rice is the dominant staple.

What popular Chinese dish was actually invented in America? ›

Chop suey was invented in America by Chinese immigrants, and it translates roughly to "leftovers." Chop suey roughly translates to "odds and ends" or "leftovers." However, it was extremely popular among young urbanites in the early 20th century.

What is the best thing to get from a Chinese takeaway? ›

Typical side dishes like fried rice, lo mein noodles, crab rangoon, and egg rolls are high in calories — and fat. Healthier choices include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, or soups like egg drop soup or hot and sour soup.

Is Chinese food healthy? ›

That being said, Chinese food, when ordered consciously and intentionally, can actually be filled with muscle-building protein and filling, fiber-rich vegetables.” What's more, she says, it can actually be a healthier alternative to a lot of other fast food (like burgers and fries).

Why do people love Chinese food? ›

"It's quick, easy and fresh. You can make a whole meal with a few ingredients you just need to get a bit creative. Also because China is so big, the cuisine is very diverse. There is something for everyone."

What makes Chinese food taste so good? ›

A blend of cinnamon, cloves, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel and star anise, these five spices give the sour, bitter, pungent, sweet and salty flavors found in Chinese cooking.

Is Chinese food popular around the world? ›

With Chinese cooking seemingly becoming an integral part of many of the world's kitchens, restaurants are springing up to cater for this new interest. From street food to boutique restaurants, lovers of Chinese food are well catered for throughout the world.

What do Chinese eat daily? ›

Chinese daily meals consist of four food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, and meat. Because of lactose intolerance, Chinese do not consume large amounts of dairy products. Instead, Chinese substitute these with soymilk and tofu, which also contain large amounts of protein and calcium.

What kind of rice do Chinese eat? ›

Most of the rice eaten in southern China stems from the Oryza sativa indica subspecies (known in Chinese as “xian”), such as jasmine. However, the shorter grain Oryza sativa japonica (called “geng” in Chinese) that is common in Japan and Taiwan, is also gaining popularity here.

What is China's national dish? ›

Peking Duck (The National Dish of China) 北京烤鸭 | Recipe | National dish, Peking duck, Recipes.

What is the best meal from a Chinese takeaway? ›

Following is a list of the top 10 Chinese dishes among people at home and abroad:
  • Dumplings.
  • Kung Pao Chicken.
  • Chow Mein.
  • Yangzhou Fried Rice.
  • Fish-Flavored Shredded Pork.
  • Sweet and Sour Pork Fillet.
  • Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes.
  • Ma Po Tofu.
21 Apr 2021

What is a typical Chinese dinner? ›

A typical Chinese's meal usually consists of rice, soup and three to four side dishes. Dishes are made of seasonal vegetables, fresh seafood or bite-size portion of meat or poultry.

What is the most popular Chinese dish in the UK? ›

Britain's favourite Chinese dishes
  • Chow Mein. This dish takes inspiration from all over the world. ...
  • Crispy Aromatic Duck. This one's a guaranteed crowd pleaser. ...
  • Egg Fried Rice. If noodles are not your thing, perhaps you prefer a nice rice dish? ...
  • Sweet and Sour. ...
  • Spring Rolls.
18 Jan 2014

What are traditional Chinese desserts? ›

Desserts in China are quite different from in the West. The best Chinese desserts are red bean buns, dragon's beard candy, egg tarts, candied fruit, pumpkin pancakes, sweet egg buns, deep fried durians, sweet soup balls, almond jelly, and grass jelly.

What is the healthiest Chinese dish? ›

Healthier choices include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, or soups like egg drop soup or hot and sour soup. Veggie-based items like edamame, lettuce wraps, braised bamboo shoots, or cucumber salad are a few other great options you can try.

What is the best Chinese order? ›

10 Most Popular Dishes to Order from Chinese Takeaway (UK)
  • Spring Rolls.
  • Sesame Prawn Toast.
  • Spare Ribs.
  • Crispy Duck Pancakes.
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls.
  • Chicken Chow Mein.
  • Beef in Black Bean Sauce.
  • Chop Suey.
11 May 2022

Why Chinese food is the best? ›

THE WONDERFUL INGREDIENTS

The ingredients used by Chinese chefs to cook dishes are fantastic. Herbs and spices included in Chinese cuisine make each dish taste like heaven. We also can't forget about all the delicious types of sauces that make the dishes mouth-watering.

What snack is commonly eaten after a Chinese dinner? ›

Colorful Shrimp Crackers are the favorite savory Chinese snack for many Chinese people, especially children. They are made from shrimp juice and starch. Chinese usually buy ready-made shrimp crackers and fry them themselves.

What time is dinner in China? ›

Dinner - Big

Chinese usually arrive home from work and school around 6pm. Their family prepare dinner for them or they have to cook. Usually dinnertime is 6– 8pm. For restaurants the busiest time is from 7pm.

What's spicy from Chinese? ›

Spicy cumin lamb biang biang. Sichuan spicy wonton in chili oil. Spicy Chinese eggplant in garlic sauce stir fry. Spicy stir-fried rice cakes. Mala chicken.

How long is Chinese food good for? ›

You can safely store Chinese food in the fridge for up to four days. You can even freeze leftovers in the freezer for up to four months. Just remember to store them in airtight containers to keep the food fresh. This will also ensure that the food will stay safe for as long as possible.

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