Street food is ready-to-eat food or drink sold by a vendor in a street or other public place. It is often sold from a portable food booth, food cart, or food truck and meant for immediate consumption. Some street foods are regional, but many have spread beyond their region of origin. Most street foods are classed as both finger food and fast food, and are cheaper on average than restaurant meals. According to a 2007 study from the Food and Agriculture Organization, 2.5 billion people eat street food every day.
Eating in China is a great, things aren’t too expensive and you can find almost anything you want. You have food courts in all the big malls that sells food from different countries. All with a Chinese twist of course, like we give Chinese food a western twist. But what I definitely preferred was Chinese Street food! I had a couple of places right below my apartment complex I lived in when I was living in Shanghai that had the best food I’ve ever tasted but all around China you can find different vendors, fruit, crepes, rice balls. Here are a couple of the most well known street foods Ive seen in Shanghai and if I had them my opinion.
Steamed Buns — instant warm food
Chinese name: 包子 bāozī /baow-dzuh/’wrap(s)’
Taste: savory/sweet stuffing
Main ingredients: flour, pork/vegetables/ sweet bean paste
Average price: 1 yuan
Steamed buns are a common food in China. You can see the mat restaurants or street stalls. They are a popular food for breakfast too. So you can easily buy them in the supermarkets too.
The cook steams the buns in a big steamer, or in several small bamboo steamers. The stuffing is usually savory, like meat or vegetable. But there are also sweet fillings like red bean paste, custard, and sugary black sesame seed. Tell the vendor which kind of stuffing you want, and he/she will pick the right one for you from the steamers.
Two types are found in most parts of China and Indonesia: Dàbāo (大包, “big bun”), measuring about 10 cm across, served individually, and usually purchased for take-away. The other type, Xiǎobāo (小包, “small bun”), measure approximately 5 cm wide, and are most commonly eaten in restaurants, but may also be purchased for take-away. Each order consists of a steamer containing between three and ten pieces. A small ceramic dish is provided for vinegar or soy sauce, both of which are available in bottles at the table, along with various types of chili and garlic pastes, oils or infusions, fresh coriander and leeks, sesame oil, and other flavorings.
You can compare then to the in The Netherlands sold well known Baopao/Bakpao. But the flavour is slightly different, the texture less dry.
I only had these from a vendor once or twice and I’d usually go for the pork ones. They’re nice and sticky and the filling is always perfectly hot. Sometimes it does happen that the sauces/juices pour out when you bite them so be careful when you do. I did buy them more in Japan than China. Where they’re called Manjuu. (PIZZA MANJUU FOR THE WIN).
Zongzi — Sticky rice dumplings
Chinese name: 粽子/Zongzi /dzong-dzrr/
Taste: savory/sweet stuffing
Main ingredients: Egg yolk, Lotus seeds, Ham, Red bean paste, Chestnut, Fatty pork
Average price: 1 yuan
Zongzi is a traditional Chinese food made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves. They are cooked by steaming or boiling. In the Western world, they are also known as rice dumplings or sticky rice dumplings. These dumplings were original a dragon boat festival food but they have grown out to be a general full meal (when on the go) that you can easily buy with vendors and small supermarkets.
The fillings used for zongzi vary from region to region, but the rice used is almost always glutinous rice (also called “sticky rice” or “sweet rice”). Depending on the region, the rice may be lightly precooked by stir-frying or soaked in water before using. In the north, fillings are mostly red bean paste and tapioca or taro. Northern style zongzi tend to be sweet and dessert-like. Southern-style zongzi, however, tend to be more savory or salty. Fillings of Southern-style zongzi include salted duck egg, pork belly, taro, shredded pork or chicken, Chinese sausage, pork fat, and shiitake mushrooms.
Zongzi need to be steamed or boiled for several hours depending on how the rice is made prior to being added, along with the fillings. However, as the modes of zongzi styles have traveled and become mixed, today one can find all kinds of zongzi at traditional markets, and their types are not confined to which side of the Yellow River they originated from.
Oh gosh.. these we’re my life. I’d get them if I were hungry but needed a quick fix because I had to go somewhere.. I still buy them these days from the chinese supermarkets around The Netherlands.
I usually just picked whatever they had, some of the vendors would cut the string for me so I could eat them right away, other times I’d have to peel them off myself. What I learned the hard way is that you do not take off all of the leave because the rice is really sticky and it’s hard to take off your hands. Try these in when you find them anywhere but especially in China. They are delicious.
Stinky Tofu — These.. need some balls.
Chinese name: 臭豆腐 chòu dòufu /choh doh-foo/ ‘stinking bean curd’
Taste: savory and spicy sauces
Main ingredients: fermented soybean curd
Average price: 4 yuan for five 3cm stinky tofu cubes
Stinky tofu is a form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. It is usually sold at night markets or roadside stands as a snack, or in lunch bars as a side dish, rather than in restaurants. Unlike cheese, stinky tofu fermentation does not have a fixed formula for starter bacteria; wide regional and individual variations exist in manufacturing and preparation.
The traditional method of producing stinky tofu is to prepare a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat; the brine can also include dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs. The brine fermentation can take as long as several months.
The vendor has a small wok with plenty of hot oil to deep-fry the stinky tofu in. It’s served in a paper bowl. The brown sauce is usually spicy and salty, and it’s supplemented wonderfully with chopped green onion and parsley.
NO. just no. (But I do want to try them on my trip to China soon). Every night when I would come home in the slightly cooler days there would be a vendor on the other side of the station that would sell Stinky Tofu… I usually had to cover my face from the stench because it really was that bad… I hated the smell and I never once came by a stall during the day that actually sold it so I never tried it.. but the smell….. I heard from a lot of people that it’s great. I’ll get back on that here. Will I really hate it?
Jianbing — But not actually a crepe.
Chinese name: 煎饼馃子 jiānbǐng guǒzī /jyen-bing gwor-dzuh/ ‘pancake cake’
Taste: savory sauces
Main ingredients: mung bean flour, wheat flour, green onion, egg, fermented flour sauces
Average price: 5–10 yuan — You can add other ingredients in it for extra cost, like sausage and bacon.
Jianbing is a traditional Chinese street food similar to crepes. It is a type of bing generally eaten for breakfast and hailed as “one of the China’s most popular street breakfasts. The main ingredients of jianbing are a batter of wheat and grain flour, eggs and sauces. It can be topped with different fillings and sauces such as buocui (薄脆 crispy fried cracker), chopped or diced mustard pickles, scallions and coriander, chili sauce or hoisin sauce depending on personal preference. It is often folded several times before serving.
I’ve only seen and had it once, when I was going to the L’arc en Ciel world tour in Shanghai. My friend ordered one for me and I really liked the taste, it was unique. The hard cracker in between with the sweet and sour sauces. I enjoyed it and I want to eat it again!
Shaokao — mmmmmmmm
Chinese name: 烧烤 shāokǎo /shaoww-kaoww/ ‘barbecue’
Popular ingredients: lamb, chicken wings, squid, oyster, corn, tofu and anything you they have. It differs with each vendor.
Average price: 3–5 yuan for a skewer
Shaokao is the Chinese translation of “barbecue”. In China, it is mainly found on busy Chinese streets and night markets as a street food sold in food stalls. Usually you get some beer to accompany the spicy items.
Shaokao typically consists of heavily spiced, barbecued foods on skewers. It is available in almost all of the cities in China, and is a prominent dish in Beijing, China.
Right below my apartment was a bbq guy, it was even cheaper than specified on the site I checked and I’d get it at least every friday or saturday. My Japanese roommate and I would get a whole lot of bottles of beer, a whole bunch of food on a stick and we’d eat and drink while watching movies or music videos.
The guy of the stall would usually talk to me in Chinese and I could barely follow, he’d show me spices and what not and try to teach me some chinese while we didn’t even understand each other.
He had different vegetables, meats, fish and all of them were absolutely perfect.
Other things they’d also sell was roasted chestnuts and cooked corn.
These are sold in different countries around the world and also definitely delicious.
I’ll be going to China soon and I’ll update with new or old things I’ve tried!