Food and drink have been vital parts of Chinese society and culture for centuries, a fact that has made Chinese food famous all over the world. You’ll be surprised by just how diverse the food and drink scene is on your upcoming trip to China, with the range and variety of ingredients available something you may not have experienced before, even if you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine at home. The Chinese culture offers a never-ending supply of delicious dishes to sample, but one place where you enjoy Chinese flavours at their most authentic has to be at a street food stall.
Street food is synonymous with Chinese culture. Although the street food scene is one of a kind, travellers often need to pay attention to what they’re eating. If you’re travelling to China with food intolerances or allergies, you may have more reasons to exercise caution when sampling street food. Awareness about food allergies is improving in China. Allergies or not, following these dos and don’ts will help you negotiate Chinese street food safely and enjoyably.
Do forget everything you know about street food
Street food stalls are full of cheap eats, making them perfect for travellers of all budgets. Contrary to popular belief, the cheap and cheerful Chinese street food available is actually some of the freshest around. The vendors selling street food have to prepare it quickly, and thanks to the hustle and bustle of most Chinese markets, food items don’t tend to stick around for long. That being said, those that aren’t particularly strong of stomach and people that are still worried about food hygiene would be better off avoiding meat snacks and raw food items, especially in the height of summer. Cooked classics, such as dumplings, pancakes, and fried goods, tend to be the safest options (and often the tastiest!).
Don’t forget to exercise caution when drinking too
As well as watching what you eat, being aware of what you’re drinking is also important, especially if that drink is water. TripSavvy offers some great advice for drinking water in China:
“Yes, you shouldn’t drink tap water anywhere in China, but this doesn’t mean that what you’ll see coming out of the pipes is brown or has chunks of garbage floating in it. Shanghai’s problem lies in the pipes that deliver the water. Many are frightfully old or damaged so groundwater seeps in or nasties from the pipes themselves get involved in the water, so by the time it reaches your mouth from the tap, it’s best not to drink it. The water can be boiled or filtered and should be okay. The safest bet is to drink bottled water wherever you go.”
Do look out for the signs of a great reputation
How long the queue for food is at a street food stall can be vital indicator of whether the food is good to eat. Chinese street markets are popular with tourists and locals alike so if you see lots of people queuing, especially if they look like local people, join the line.
Chinese street markets don’t just sell great food, they also give you the chance to shop until you drop. Read our China shopping guide and indulge in some retail therapy on your upcoming trip.