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Awesome Chinese food, …I never knew of before

Chinese Food - Our Simple Living in ChinaI have always loved Chinese food.  Chinese buffets in the US were always a treat and, when we lived there, we purchased rice by the 25 pound bag.  … I remember buying a 25 pound bag of rice in college and walking back to the dorm with it.  Chinese, and other Asian countries have wonderful food.

But, just like any other country you go to, the ‘real deal’ is different.  Real Mexican food doesn’t taste like Taco Bell and real Chinese food doesn’t taste like the local Chinese Buffet.  It is almost like there is another type of food created ‘Chinese-American’ – and it is still good.

Coming to China has been a wonderful (usually) exploration of the ‘real’ Chinese food.

Let me back up, China is huge and the food varies a lot over different areas (just like it does between Washington, Alabama, or New York).  We have been trying different area’s foods, but most of our exploration has been foods from the northwest, where we are living.

The northwest is much more wheat and corn based than rice based.  We still buy rice here (by the big bag) but it isn’t near as common as I thought it would be – turns out it is more of a southern food.

But beyond the rice difference, there are lots of foods here I have never heard of or seen.  I wanted to share them with you.

Chinese food seen in China

1.  Steamed bread

Chinese Food - our simple living in ChinaI had heard of steamed bread before but I had never seen it.  Here it is very common.  When we first tried it we didn’t like it at all, it was dense and had no flavor… not even salt.  But then we discovered we could make a common breakfast food with it by cutting it up into cubes, frying the cubes in oil till they brown up and then adding egg and sometimes some seasonings to mix up a kind of french toast (in pieces and without the sugar) kind of dish.  It is super easy and pretty inexpensive.  … not extremely nutritious, but good 🙂

Here is where they make the steamed bread.  Outside in these huge stacks.
Here is where they make the steamed bread. Outside in these huge stacks.

Otherwise they seem to use this bread with soups or other dishes that are naturally very spicy.  Eating the two together makes a good combination.  Usually we can pick up about 6 buns for about 15 to 20 cents American.

2.  Mushrooms

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaI have seen mushrooms before but nothing like the variety they have here in China.  They are everywhere in every shape and size.  … and are super good.

We grabbed some of these on the right at the market and they cooked up nice.  Below there is some really skinny and really fat stem mushrooms.  The skinny ones are really popular here…. I think they told me they grow in dead bugs… but I am never quite sure what I know because so much is lost in the language barrier.

Chinese food - Simple Living China

3.  Tofu

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaI love tofu and there are so many kinds of tofu here that are so much better than anything I have had before.

Here you can see the fresh big block of the soft tofu that they make fresh and cut up. To the right of that are tofu sheets that can be used to make wraps that are super good.  Behind them are tofu noodles that are really firm and the brown beside them, I have been told, is tofu made with pig blood… yuck.  These are just a sample of all the different tofu available.  At the grocery store there are many more kinds of fresh and also packaged tofu snacks.  So many tofu options 🙂  (the picture at the top of the post is tofu as well).  Below are the tofu noodles closer up.

Chinese Food - Simple Living China

4.  Seaweed

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaI had tried some seaweed things from Whole Foods and didn’t like them at all. But here in China there are so many kinds of seaweed all over and I haven’t tried a kind I didn’t like.

These are seaweeds that are fresh and used for salads.  I haven’t tried the wider noodles up close but the thinner ones I have had many times.  Kinda like slippery noodles.

Below are pictures of my favorite seaweeds.  There is a white and a brown kind that is dried.  When you want to eat it you soak it in water and then add it to your dish.  So yummy!

Chinese Food - Simple Living China


Chinese Food - Simple Living China


5.  Greens

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaVeggies are everywhere here, lots of variety and at a very reasonable cost.  However, many of them I have never seen before and am not sure how to cook unless I have them in a restaurant first.  The other interesting thing is that they cook all their greens… all of them, including many kinds of lettuces.  Cucumbers and tomatoes will be eaten raw, but anything green is cooked first.

6.  Noodles

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaThe noodles are amazing here.  I always figured there would be lots of noodles here but I never imagined they would all be fresh.  They make these all day long at the market so they couldn’t be more fresh if I made them myself.  It is possible to make or get semi-fresh noodles in the states, but here they are the most common and are amazingly cheap.  … they are probably the cheapest food here.

We haven’t quite figured out how to cook these yet, several people have said they would teach us but we haven’t had the chance to get together.  We have tried a few ways that haven’t been bad, but we haven’t gotten them to taste like the Chinese cook them yet.

Chinese Food - Simple Living China

7.  Hot Pot

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaHot Pot isn’t really a food, but I wanted to include it because it is a really common type of food/way a food is eaten here in China.  It is also our favorite restaurant because it is easy to eat vegetarian.

Hot Pot, specifically ‘individual Hot Pot’  restaurants are everywhere and range from the cheap to the expensive.  On the table is a heat source and you get a pot full of broth – usually several kinds of varying spice levels to choose from.  Then there is a buffet of veggies, noodles, and meats that is all you can eat.  You go up and fill a little plastic bucket with the fresh foods from the buffet and bring them back to your table.  Then you cook these in the boiling broth.  After they are cooked you drop/dip them in a bowl of ‘hot pot sauce’ which is made from ground sesame seeds and other spices.  The sauce is really important, and it is the taste of the sauce that you are to rate the restaurant by.

We went out last week with a friend who was heading home to Canada for the summer and she took us to this place.  It was probably the best one we have been to – so yummy!

All-you-can-eat (for many restaurants, but not all), fun for the kids, and everything boiled to kill germs but the sauce, makes this a really awesome food. This hot pot cost less than $2 per person and kids share, so we ate for just over $5 an amazing meal 🙂

Chinese Food - Simple Living China - Hot Pot

8. Breads

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaNot that I haven’t seen breads before, but I have never seen them prepared the way they are here.  Fresh bread is made every few steps on the street and usually purchased warm.  The ‘loaf of bread’ is not common here.  Instead most of the breads are more like flat bread.  There is still yeast and some of it is really fluffy.

Not only bread products, but many kids of pastries and cookies are all available fresh on the street.  They have these ‘cinnamon buns’ that don’t have cinnamon in them but instead have a date mixture that are really good.

9.  Meat

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaThere is really no waste over here… everything on an animal is eaten … and I love being a vegetarian.  It is hard to eat completely vegetarian when other people are serving you because meat is in everything, but I definitely don’t go to the market and pick up any of these to bring home.  Just wanted to show you pictures for the full cultural experience.

Both these pictures include feet – chicken and pig.  The first food we were offered in China… after traveling forever …was pig feet.

Chinese Food - Simple Living China


10.  Tater Tots

Chinese Food - Simple Living ChinaWe found these at the market the other day and the kids love them.  They are a cabbage and potato ball deep-fried and taste like cabbage tater-tots.  The people making them are super friendly and we have been back several times in the last week.  I love people who have the patience to try and talk to us.  People here are so nice!

At the right is the finished product.  Below is the cooking.

Chinese Food - Simple Living China


After roaming the market for pictures to show you.  This is what we brought home for lunch.  On the left is my bowl of dark seaweed salad, on the right is Bryon‘s frozen tofu salad. (they freeze the tofu to change the texture, it comes out looking like a sponge and is a favorite in our family).  The kids had some of Bryon’s salad (they won’t touch my seaweed) and their cabbage tater-tots.

Chinese Food - Simple Living China


  1. Anne Anne

    Such an interesting post! I’m wondering how your children cope with all these unusual foods. Are they ‘adventurous’? Or rather reluctant to try new things?

    • Anne, they have never really liked many different foods but they have done pretty good with trying things here – as long as they aren’t vegetables 🙂

  2. Laura Laura

    Wow!! Now I would think the Hot Pot experience would be something that would take off here in the US, don’t you? If not for the taste- the experience!

    I have always heard that our “Chinese food” is not “CHINESE FOOD” and reading your post and thinking about what I’ve eaten proves that.

    Seaweed salad- I’d try. Tofu- I’d have to wok at liking probably. Cabbage tater-tots- actually sound really really good! I love mushrooms so I’d be willing to try all those different kinds—–maybe—- dead bugs?—-we’ll talk. And of course noodles- yum! Steamed bread, hmm.

    Here is something I’ve heard many times but would love love love someone to investigate for me. GLUTEN FREE! I’ve been told (unreliable sources) that if you can’t eat gluten free (celiac disease) you can eat wheat in countries like china???? Something about the wheat in america being tainted from the fields not being organic?

    • My first thought was that hot-pot could take off in the states too. Not sure about the liability of having that much heat at someones table, but otherwise it is super fun.

      I don’t know if the flour here is any different. Maybe less additives. I can’t handle much flour or sugar and I haven’t been able to eat much here either without getting a lot of headaches. I think for me it is more of a sugar thing so maybe the gluten is different. With the pollution here I don’t know how anything could be considered organic. However, eating here has been much fresher and that makes a difference in the health. It may be that people can handle more gluten if they aren’t getting as much processed foods. It is an interesting idea.

  3. Have never had stir-fried potatoes in America, but one place in Beijing had them in a frog-leg dish. They were spicy and really good. I keep meaning to try making them at home.

  4. I loved the steamed bread dipped in soy milk, and the hot pot! I tried going vegan while we lived in China, and it was so hard because, like you said, people were always feeding us mystery food and most of it had bits of meat in it! My husband and I have tried recreating the noodles since we moved back to the states, and it’s truly an art that must take a long time to master! We couldn’t even come close!

  5. Mary C. Mary C.

    This is great! Thank you for sharing! It was interesting to read that northern China is more wheat and corn based. I’m guessing the corn is not GMO, and that would be wonderful! I love corn, but I almost never eat it anymore unless I can find organic.

    I love rice, also, and I was surprised to know that it is more in southern China.

    You are having a wonderful food adventure!

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