Advice for Tourists Visiting China
This page is dedicated solely to Food.
Click a link below to go directly to a section, as this
page is quite long and comprehensive:
Please refer to our Restaurants
page for types of eateries and descriptions of social
or business meals. Also refer to our pages regarding
etiquette for advice
about table manners, drinking socially, etc
China has a great variety of food and even small towns
will have a good selection of restaurants featuring
cuisine from all parts of China, plus Western style
restaurants. Many restaurants close around 9.30 pm,
but food and drinks are available late into the night
Please note that smoking is extremely popular in China
and 90% of Chinese men smoke (Cigarettes only). Restaurants
are virtually always smoking establishments!
The vast majority of cooking is done using a wok and
in many homes there will only be a single gas ring.
Rice cookers, large ceramic soup pots, medicine pots,
and saucepans are also used, but that about covers most
kitchens in Canton. Most people have never seen an oven,
grill, or rotisserie. At home, cooking is also done
using a small mobile electric hob, which is used to
heat spiced water. Once simmering, you dip strips of
meats, vegetables and other raw ingredients and cook
at the table.
Many homes also have a microwave or combination microwave-oven,
but these are not widely used as there is little in
local shops that is similar to Western 'TV dinners'.
My home does have a Toaster, Kettle, and small electric
grill as well, but this is unusual
Restaurants tend to use similar methods, just more gas
rings and bigger woks. Most will also have a BBQ affair
for cooking in this style also. Only some Western restaurants
will have a real oven and grill
Meat and Fish
In general, Chinese food is not served as it is in the
West, and usually comes on the bone and is very fresh.
Fish are invariably served whole, including the head
and tail. You will be expected to choose which one you
want to eat, and often they are sold by weight. Most
of these are a 'Bones' nightmare! In general, these
are freshwater fish produced in pools. For a better
type of fish, pay extra for sea fish, which are far
more to the western palate. In Canton these are usually
called either 'Doh Bo' or 'Gui yu-ee'. Otherwise flat
fish are usually ok, and a cross between Sole and Plaice.
Eels are also very common
SeaFood's / Shellfish .
You will always be expected to choose shellfish in any
decent restaurant, as there are a dozen different types
of prawns. Crabs are usually soft-shelled and can be
broken with a thumb. Lobsters and related things (Crayfish
and Crawfish) are very common in Canton, and some are
of gigantic proportions. Street-restaurants are best
for Oysters, which are very common and tasty. They come
as whole shells, or served in a variety of sauces -
and at ¥2 each, a bargain! There are many other
types of shellfish available
Common meats include Beef, pork, lamb. Virtually any
other meat is available at specific restaurants, including:
goat, donkey (Regional), dog, snake, alligator, turtle,
toad, ostrich + anything else you can think of!
Beef and steaks are often poor cuts
and the American xx% method is used for cooking times,
but the Chef's usually overcook rare steaks. Stick to
quality Western restaurants if you like a good steak!
However, small cuts are usually good as served with
peppers in black bean sauce, or as a stir fry. Chinese
call stir fry 'chow mi-een', and you can usually specify
your own ingredients - Great for vegetarians!
Corned Beef is made in China, but I have never found
anywhere that sells it. I buy Brazilian tins in Hong
Kong - again at Park & Shop
Pork is often the most common meat
and is served in many versions and cuts. It is cheap,
and available everywhere. Pork steaks are usually very
good, and a better option than beef steaks in general.
Spare ribs will come in one thousand different versions,
some deep-fried in batter, others spiced, and yet others
in various sauces
Sausages are very common, and virtually all are very
sweet. The only ones that are not are Frankfurters.
The nearest thing to British sausages are Walls Brand
- sold in larger Park & Shop supermarkets in Hong
Kong, not on the Mainland. However, salami is available
in better supermarkets in Chinese cities.
Tinned ham is common and found in most supermarkets.
It is exactly as in UK 'Old Oak' type. Bacon is usually
common and OK, although they tend to prefer sweeter
cures in general
Lamb is also very common, and usually
eaten in cold weather. Inner Mongolian cooking has a
central cooking pot where you cook thin slices yourself.
Otherwise Lamb is usually served in dedicated restaurants,
on the bone, with straws to suck the marrow.
One thing I find totally incredible, is that China has
not discovered 'The Donner Kebab' yet! Well, China doesn't
do Pitta Bread actually, so a disadvantage unless you
know how to make that as well? Inconceivable, given
that they actually sell pukka Donner meats in Xi'an
If any entrepreneurs are interested, I know just how
to make this real in Canton. It probably only needs
£10, 000 to start officially & properly, and
I don't have 'the readies' ... yet hehe! I am very interested
to talk to any UK late night food outlets re starting
a Chinese Chain, or simply moving here = Gross potential!
Fowl: Chicken, duck and goose are very
common in Chinese restaurants, and with a few exceptions,
are always served as a whole bird chopped into a million
bite-sized pieces. It is normal for this to be on the
bone complete with skin. This includes not only the
head and neck, but also the internal organs such as
heart, liver and kidneys + egg sacks - especially for
soups. Sometimes 'Hard meat' such as intestines are
also included, but usually these are served as separate
dishes in black bean sauce. Chicken feet are a common
delicacy in Canton, and properly marinated ones are
quite tasty - in a chicken's feet sort of way! Some
restaurants will specialise in Goose feet, and these
are excellent, and usually prepared at table by a chef
- try it and see
Other Meats. Cantonese will eat anything.
It is said that if it flies - the only thing not eaten
is the wind. If it crawls, the only thing not eaten
is the footprint. If it swims, the only thing not eaten
is the wake
It can be difficult to find genuine Western food so
look around a bit, as not all Western Restaurants actually
sell Western food! The best ones are usually run by
foreigners (Including foreign Chinese), and many serve
specific types of Food. In Guangdong: Guangzhou has
excellent French and Italian restaurants; whilst in
Foshan there is an exceedingly good Indian restaurant
that would not be out of place on British streets -
run by Indians of course!
Otherwise in Foshan I only recommend two eateries: Martino's
and the old John's Cafe - all other places choose your
dishes wisely! Once you find the right restaurant, don't
be afraid to ask for dishes that are not on the menu.
Often these can be made at once, or regular patrons
can make a special order for coming days
As a very rough indicator: if a place sells draft beer
in pint pots, then it is probably a very good Western
Fast Food. Most towns and cities feature
the ubiquitous MacDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut; but no
other Western chains seem to have come to the majority
of China yet! Why Not? I'd die for a Wimpy, Wendy's
or Burger King! The Filipino 'Jolli Bee' is here in
parts, and an excellent example of how Fast-Foods should
Trendy bars such as the local 'Jack
and the Pea' and RBT in Foshan offer an alternative
take on Western style, and are very popular with young
and upwardly mobile Chinese. They tend to sell expensive
fresh juices, German beers and French wines, supported
by expensive 'snacks' and delicacies, and complimented
by contemporary or art deco environments. The former
usually offers many wall-mounted Flat-Screen TV sets,
which come complete with headphones and remote control.
I like this because you are not inflicted with somebody
else's TV noise, but it is a tad antisocial
Pizza is quite popular, with numerous
take-away and delivery chains. Most of these are very
good, and similar to UK Dolmio's. Pizza Hut offer pizza
for the Chinese palate, and you may be disappointed.
The best pizza is usually made by a good Western restaurant.
Bad pizza's will be made with a rice-pastry base! Most
supermarkets sell slices of fresh pizza, as well as
There are Vegetarian restaurants, as well as places
selling non-meat products; but in general these are
few and often difficult to find. Invariably the fat
used for cooking will be cheap Peanut oil (Yuck!). Most
restaurants will serve many vegetarian dishes without
realising! Ordering them is a big problem, even for
From experience we have learnt that the best way of
ordering vegetarian food is to say you are Buddhist.
Everybody knows Buddhists do not eat meat, and this
Cantonese for Buddhist is normally: 'fat fat' whilst
'sic zhi gor yun' means vegetarian. 'so' may also work?
Mandarin equivalents are: 'fo' and 'hek sou' and 'su
shu shu shu' respectively. Mime by standing and placing
palms together with fingers outstretched (Prayer mode)
close to your heart, thumbs touching clavicle - and
bow 3 times.
It is quite likely that even if Chinese accompanying
speakers know you are a vegetarian, they will not be
able to tell this to restaurant staff - so they will
simply order dishes for you they presume do not have
any meat in them!
Vegans will have a very rough time
in China, sorry. Cantonese for vegan is actually 'gin
sic zhi', and Mandarin 'chur soo dur'. If they understand
these, then likely they will think you are an ordinary
vegetarian, not a Vegan!
Dairy produce is as it is in most parts of the world.
China does eggs a lot, Fresh and UHT milk + skimmed
versions, yogurts, etc. Spreads are less common, although
most supermarkets do sell a local and imported butter.
They also sell 'margarine's', of which Flora Brand is
quite common, and Chinese versions of olive oil and
China also produces more types of cheeses
than France, but any cheese is exceedingly hard to find
and ridiculously expensive - and usually imported from
New Zealand. I have readily available: Cheddar (Versions),
Edam, Gouda, Mozzarella, and Parmesan. Cheese slices
and 'dips' are everywhere, but useless for cooking with
Eating out? then stick with hard boiled eggs for breakfast,
and 'flat omlettes' for other times. Chinese do not
really do 'runny eggs' at all ... and think you are
Crazy! A proper Western restaurant will understand this,
or you can cook them yourself. Watch-out for 'Cheese
sandwiches' as these are usually lightly toasted, and
include cheese slices and ham slivers ... cheese slices
do not cook well! Again, this is never a problem at
a real Western restaurant. Beware copies!
Yogurts are plentiful and top Western Brands are everywhere
in China. I don't do yogurt myself (As it reminds me
too much of Buttermilk and sour cream, greatly!), but
if this is your thing = no problem. Look for a genuine
product, especially with Western Brands - as most is
irradiated and the UHT stuff done, then bio -culture
added after processing = same as in the West actually
With virtually all dairy products, China does have a
very serious Melamine contamination problem, (Autumn
2008), which they are addressing from Central Government
with 'Zero Tolerance'! Apparently, a few Likely Lads
decided to cheat for better figures re nutritional data
- and it was first picked up in Honk Kong. Since then,
the Milk and powdered products (Baby food) sections
have undergone transformations: All products recalled
and factories closed, etc - and all is now safe. As
I write, eggs are now being examined, and to their credit;
Beijing is wielding a very heavy club, and 'dealing'
with all those responsible. Quite right too!
Melamine is not normally a serious problem in adults,
who at worst may suffer gall stones. In infants it can
be fatal, especially those who are solely on a baby
China has a great selection of vegetables which includes
everything normally sold in Western countries, plus
many others. Potatoes are very common, as are assorted
yams and sweet potatoes. Cabbages and greens: Canton
markets offer around 30 types of cabbage on any given
day. Lettuce is considered a cabbage, and is always
cooked! There are about 5 types of common lettuce in
Tomatoes are also very common, and are either quite
bland (And probably irradiated) English types, or small
and very sweet Cherry types. Italian style plum tomatoes
are impossible to find raw, and tinned varieties are
sold in extremely small cans at vastly exaggerated prices.
Given that Oregano is also impossible to find, then
Italian cooking options are always extremely limited!
There are always various types of cucumber and courgette's.
Aubergines (Eggplant) comes in various colours, and
are of different species. As are gourds in general,
with pumpkin and marrow type things freely available
Other standards are: carrots, parsnips, horseradish,
radish, cauliflower, and broccoli. There are also many
things sold in 'wet markets' I do not have a clue about
- so go and look for yourselves...
There are many types of mushrooms in
China, and in Canton we have a dozen types available
fresh at any given time of year. Standards are: brown-caps;
+ long stringy ones, short clumpy ones, large flat ones
(Versions), whitish ones that also come in clumps with
a fan-shaped head, and small oval ones that are very
tasty. All types of mushroom are also available dried
(Mushrooms are seasonal usually, or specially farmed).
Garlic, ginger, shallots and red onions are very common.
White onions are very difficult to find. Most Chinese
cooking involves using garlic and ginger. The only herb
available is coriander, which is quite pungent
Cantonese also enjoy several versions of seaweed.
Not being a Professor of edible seaweeds, all I can
tell you is that the kelp one is salty, slithery and
rubbery, and it tastes as bad as it looks. The finer
seaweed that looks like frizzled brown grass clippings
is often served as a condiment, and is ok
I think every imaginable fruit is available at any Cantonese
market, but they may be seasonal. Walk the streets and
find they are lined with fig, mango and nut trees. Help
Most fruit sold is local, but some is imported and prices
vary dramatically so be careful here: A dozen types
of orange are sold on every street corner, as are apples,
grapes, bananas and pears (Versions). Otherwise although
everything is always available in Supermarkets - trust
the street sellers for what is really in season and
Seasonal: Lychee and Long-gnun, which is very similar,
are very good. Cherries and many weird fruits are also
available at the right times of year.
You will have to go local and onto the streets to find
sweet Bamboo. There are two versions, green and burnt.
This is like sugar cane and very sweet. Villages grow
this for sugar, but you will simply love it! Chocoholics
should go for the 'burnt' (Semi-caramalised) version,
otherwise the green is very juicy and sweet
Fruit Salad: Unfortunately virtually
all food outlets in China know that Tomatoes are actually
a Fruit, and they use them as such! Therefore tomatoes
will usually feature quite prominently in all fruit
salads, complete with real fruits, and either UHT cream
or sweet mayo...
We know that a tomatoe is technically a fruit - do not
use it everywhere as if it is one - Very Big Problem!
Olives are small and incredibly expensive. However,
Olive Oil is fairly popular for cooking. Limes are common-ish,
but some are actually green-skinned oranges. Lemons
are ... oblique; and when discovered, come in only two
types: sweet small ones that look about right, and very
big ones that have the wrong colour but are actually
more pungent - usually used for a fresh smell in refrigerators,
and never for cooking?
Here is China!
Jams and Marmalade are sold in most supermarkets, as
Well, there are local versions + Star Buck's has come
to China. All of these sell incredibly expensive and
often poor quality coffees, many of which are Chinese
clones. China does produce excellent coffee actually
- but an excellent Arabica seems to escape even Western
If you like to watch very fancy ways of grinding and
percolating coffee, whilst paying Western prices - then
fill your boots! I use standard Nescafe, as sold everywhere
- which is even sold ready-made in cans on the local
Incidentally: The best Eastern coffee does seem to come
from Malaysia and Indonesia
Juices, Soft Drinks
Very popular and common. Look for 'SOFF' and 'RBT'.
They specialise in freshly squashed fruit juices, as
do the better Western and Buddhist restaurants. The
Soff chain only sells juices (and a few cakes), all
of which are freshly squeezed to order. Versions include
fruits like mango, kiwi fruit and paw paw, which are
liquidised to a lumpy constituency, and served with
large diameter straws
There are many small shops as well as all supermarkets,
which sell a whole variety of canned and bottled fruit
juices, flavoured milk, tea and coffee, plus the usual
western drinks like Cola, 7 Up, Sprite, and Dr Pepper.
These shops also sell bottled water
from various suppliers, and include flavoured water
drinks also. Be careful with some of the very cheap
brands, as these may contain 'boiled tap water'! Otherwise
water sold will be either distilled or mineral water,
the latter being most expensive. Water is pronounced
'soi' in Cantonese, and 'shway' in Mandarin
You will also see small shops especially in back streets
that only sell 5 gallon carboys of water. These also
sell water machines and offer delivery services. The
water sold is usually very good and genuine. Note the
name of the supplier and look for small bottles of the
same in local shops
Regarding hot drinks, Chinese invariably drink Chinese
Tea. This is brewed for up to one minute, and served
red hot in small bowls on it's own. Indian teas and
instant coffee are easy to find in supermarkets. In
addition to PG Tips and Nescafe, there are usually quite
few other choices
& Ice Cream
Snacks are things like crisps (Chips) and instant stuff
in packets. China does these very well: Look for 'Lays'
Brand, although China does do 'Pringles' and their clones.
Lay's do excellent rough cut crisps they call 'Originals',
but these are not to Cantonese palate, so you may need
to look around a bit. In general: Lays in China = Walkers
China does a lot of 'Tomato flavour crisps' = awful!
Conversely, Chinese Walmart usually stocks excellent
Chip sticks called 'Pomsticks'. They will be hidden
away somewhere, and covered by other products for sure,
but they are seriously OK - if you can find them?
Chocolate: What can I say?
Chinese chocolate is absolutely atrocious, and almost
worse than the cheap European stuff sold in similar
outlets in UK. For anything remotely resembling real
chocolate, stick with International Brands always, as
bought in large supermarket chains: Nestle, Kinder,
Dove (UK Galaxy) and Cadbury's. Ferrero Rocher is also
genuine, otherwise be wary!
Ice Cream and Lollipops are common
and plentiful. Choices are many, but pay more for better
quality, especially chocolate ice creams. Prices are
a couple of RMB. Supermarkets sell tubs of Hagen Das.
Lollipops are similar to in the West, although milk
lollipops are also quite common
China offers a great selection of bread and cakes, with
specialist shops on many streets. Chinese often eat
cakes or bread for breakfast. The cakes are great, although
it is very rare to find fresh cream ones. Sponge used
is normally very light, and heavy cakes like Christmas
Cake are unknown. Local treats are a type of Custard
Tart that tastes like a real Bakewell Tart from Bakewell.
These are normally served warm
However, virtually all Chinese bread is very sweet!
Finding a savoury loaf is quite difficult, as even most
bread of Western appearance contains a ton of sugar.
Look for plastic bags labeled 'Garden' Brand 'Sandwich
Bread', which is sold in most city supermarkets - this
is about as good as it gets! As well as white bread,
there are several brown versions also. China doesn't
normally do sandwiches
Grains and grain products are generally
well represented. Rice is the number one crop, but wheat
and barley are also common. Whilst bread is normally
made using wheat, other grains can have different uses
Some beer is made using rice or wheat instead of barley.
Flour is usually rice flour, although wheat flour can
be bought, you just have to look for it. Pasta is very
common, but cheap prices and lighter colouring usually
means rice flour was used to make them. Noodles can
be made with either rice or wheat flour, the latter
being yellow in general
Breakfast cereals and porridge oats are readily available
in supermarkets, which tend to stock most popular Western
brands. However, Chinese only know porridge as being
a thick rice soup - so be careful when ordering out
Herbs and Spices
Herbs are very easy to summarise, as
China only seems to sells pungent coriander. Restaurants
do manage to get fresh Parsley, but that is about the
extent of it. Other dried herbs and spices are available
from very specialist Trade outlets in Guangzhou apparently,
although I have never confirmed this myself
For Italian cooking I normally buy large tins of Del
Monte or Hunts brands, and adapt as necessary. These
contain the tomatoe base and Italian herbs, which retail
for about $3
Chillie peppers are very common, as
are capsicums. You will normally find half a dozen varieties
in local Wet Markets, all ranging from very hot to 'volcano'.
These are supplemented by dried versions, which also
include the spherical Sichuan chillie, which again is
very hot. Many shops sell chillie sauce, and there are
hundreds of versions from sweet or garlic, but most
are very hot. Guilin style chillie sauce is usually
more flavoursome and tends to be medium heat, and their
are several versions of Tabasco sauce
Spices are quite common, with salt
sold in every corner shop (Cantonese is 'yim'), Both
black and white ground pepper + peppercorns are available
in every supermarket, as are a host of Chinese spices.
Indian curry spices are almost impossible to find, although
a Madras type curry powder is usually sold in miniature
jars. Chinese mustard is also common, and even hotter
than English mustard. Japanese wasabi (Very hot Horseradish)
is sold in tubes. Imported Foreign mustards are available
in most supermarkets, like Dijon and American hotdog
Sauces are readily available, and in
addition to chillie sauces mentioned above, many other
types are common. Mayonnaise is easy to find, but normally
very sweet. Sometimes Kraft or Hellman's is available,
but usually you have to search hard for these and stockpile
when available. Both BBQ sauce and 'Daddy's' Brand brown
sauce are easy to find, as is Tomatoe sauce and Ketchup.
Thousand Island Dressing is plentiful, but missing from
most shelves are salad cream and tartar sauce. Instead
you will find many Chinese sauces like Oyster sauce,
Plum sauce etc
Regarding Western cultures, foods not found
in most of China include British sausages and corned
beef mentioned above. In addition, China does not do
pies and puddings. Roasted or grilled meats are also
very difficult to find anywhere, although BBQ style
Halal meat is readily available in
most cities throughout China. You will know these places
instantly because the Staff wear a small white cap and
have a front window where 'a Boy' makes noodles by hand.
Not all of these are clean, hygienic, nor genuine -
but most are
Apart from these, food from other cultures is very difficult
to find, and you will probably be limited to the selection
of Foreign restaurants available in your locality
information is as supplied by the Chinese Embassy in
UK, as dated 20th June 2008, and/or other reliable sources.
Please check this information yourself as it may alter
without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure
it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for
any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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