10 Most Popular Street Foods in China

Street food is an integral part of Chinese food culture. Comparing to the fine dining and internet-famous restaurants, streetside snacks sometimes seem insanitary. However, street food is a good way to sample Chinese local food at an affordable price. And it’s also a terrific chance to meet local people and explore Chinese culture. Besides, your sense of smell will signal you to try those mouthwatering street food. Being the world’s third largest country, China has a great diversity of street food to offer. Check out our list of some of the most popular street foods in China.

1. Jiaozi (Chinese Dumpling)

  • Chinese name: 饺子 jiǎozi
  • Taste: savory
  • Average price: 10-20 yuan for 15-20 dumplings

  • Jiaozi is without a doubt China’s signature cuisine and one of the most popular Chinese street foods. It’s a staple food eaten throughout the year. In northern China, Jiaozi is a must-have on the lunar Chinese New Year's Eve and the Winter Solstice dinner tables to mark the occasion. Other important festivals are also interspersed with a meal of dumplings. Jiaozi is shaped like an ancient gold ingot, so Chinese people believe it can bring good luck.

    The fillings of Chinese dumplings can be meat or vegetables, sweet or salty. It can be steamed, boiled, served in soup, pan-fried, and deep-fried. Jiaozi are usually served with soy vinegar sauce to create a better mixture of flavors.

    Chinese dumplings are available in a variety of styles, including shrimp dumplings made with wheat starch in Guangdong, dumplings in sour soup in Xi'an, pan-fried dumplings in Shanghai, steamed crab dumplings in Yangzhou, and spicy Zhong dumplings in Sichuan.

    Further Reading:

  • How to Make Dumplings in 7 Easy Steps

  • Chinese Dumplings

    2. Baozi (Steamed Stuffed Bun)

  • Chinese name: 包子 bāozi
  • Taste: savory or sweet
  • Average price: 1-4 yuan

  • Baozi or bao is a type of Chinese steamed bun filled with anything, depending on the type and location. It’s a traditional Chinese food that dates back to the Warring States Period (476-221 BC) in Chinese history. The flavorful Baozi is a street food vendor staple across China, which can be eaten as breakfast or dessert. 

    Baozi is usually steamed, so its outer layer made from yeast-leavened dough is soft, light, and fluffy. Its stuffing can be a savory and juicy meat filling, a sweet bean paste filling, or a creamy custard filling. The most common meat fillings are pork, beef, lamb, etc. Vegetarian fillings include mushroom, leek, sauerkraut, and cabbage.

    Tianjin Goubili Baozi

    3. Youtiao (Deep-fried Dough Stick)

  • Chinese name: 油条 yóutiáo
  • Taste: a bit salty
  • Average price: 1-3 yuan

  • Youtiao is definitely Chinese people’s favorite street breakfast, though it may have varied names in different parts of China. In Cantonese-speaking regions, it’s called Yu Char Kway. People in Shanxi Province call it Maye. In northern China, it’s called Guozi instead. 

    Also known as Chinese fried dough or Chinese crullers, this deep-fried dough stick is a long fried dough with a cristy and chewy tastse. Youtiao is traditionally served alongside soy milk or congee. Some people just dip the hollow stick straight in a bowl of soy milk. The combination of soy milk and Youtiao is a perfect match.

    Youtiao - Deep-fried Dough Stick

    4. Jianbing Guozi (Chinese Crepe)

  • Chinese name: 煎饼馃子 jiānbǐng guǒzī
  • Taste: savory (and spicy)
  • Average price: 5-15 yuan

  • Jianbing Guozi is unquestionably one of the top Chinese street food and breakfast snacks, originating from Tianjin and widely consumed throughout China. CNN Travel listed it as one of “the Best Chinese food” and “50 of the best street foods in Asia”.

    A thin dough made of wheat and mung bean flour is spread across a hot griddle and fried to a pancake. Cracked egg, scallions, cilantro, and black sesame seed are put on top with soybean paste and chili sauce. Then the crepe is rolled around a crispy "bao cui" (fried crackers). Street vendors will put Jianbing Guozi into an envelope, easy for customers to eat on the go.

    Jianbing Guozi - Chinese Crepe

    5. Rou Jia Mo (Chinese Hamburger)

  • Chinese name: 肉夹馍 ròujiāmó
  • Taste: savory
  • Average price: 5-15 yuan

  • Rou Jia Mo or Roujiamo, literally meaning meat in a bun, refers to a type of Chinese-style hamburger. This meat-filled-bun is one of the best street foods in China because it’s cheap, delicious, and grab-and-go. This popular savory street stall snack is a baked bun filled with a spicy blend of shredded braised meat and some vegetables in the middle. Pork is the most popular filling, but varieties with beef and lamb are also available. 

    Ubiquitous at street markets all over China, Rou Jia Mo originated from the food of Shaanxi Province in northwest China. Among the many kinds of Rou Jia Mo in Shaanxi, the “Baiji mo” bread stuffed with stewed pork filling is the most common one. Don’t forget to try the Chinese burger when visiting Xi’an. Roujiamo sold in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an are mostly filled with beef instead of pork due to the religous belief of Muslims.

    Rou Jia Mo - Chinese Hamburger

    6. Chuaner (Street Barbecue)

  • Chinese name: 烧烤 shāokǎo
  • Taste: savory and spicy
  • Average price: 2-5 yuan per skewer

  • The Chinese version of kebab is called Shao Kao, Kao Chuan, or just Chuan. It’s one of China’s best-loved street food, usually sold in night markets or on street vendors. No matter where you go in China, you can probably find lively chuan’er stalls on any snack street. 

    Any type of meat or vegetable can be used. They are usually skewered onto thinly sliced bamboo sticks, and seasoned with salt, crushed cumin seeds, chili powder, dried chili flakes, etc. The stall owner will cook the skewers over hot charcoal fires until they are well grilled. The delightful aroma of Chinese street barbecue will capture your appetite.

    If you are interested in the Chinese Shao Kao culture, it’s recommend to watch The Story of Chuaner, the first documentary series showing China’s distinctive barbecue complex.

    Chinese Street Barbecue

    7. Malatang (Spicy Hot Pot)

  • Chinese name: 麻辣烫 málàtàng
  • Taste: savory and spicy
  • Average price: 1-3 yuan per skewer

  • Malatang is one of the top street vendor staple in China, especially in cold winter. It’s a kind of customized hot pot originally created by boat pullers working on the Yangtze River. They cooked wild vegetables in a pot with chili and sichuan peppercorns to warm the body and reduce dampness inside the body.

    The spicy Sichuan Malatang is a little difficult to be accepted by people in the north part of China. People in the northeast China modified malatang to a light soup. And the original spicy taste is changed from soup base to optional seasonings to suit different needs.

    When visiting a Malatang eatery, all kinds of food are displayed in front the stall, or in a glass fridge. Usually there will be soy products, konjac, kelp, quail eggs, beef balls, lotus root, sweet potato noodles, etc. Choose whatever ingredients you wnat to eat, and the vendor will cook them all together in a pork bone soup. When it’s done, malatang will be plated in a bowl with some hot soup. You can add garlic, cilantro, scallion, chili, and pickles.

    Further Reading:

  • Sichuan Hot Pot
  • Top 10 Most Popular Chinese Hot Pot

  • Malatang Spicy Hot Pot

    8. Chou Doufu (Stinky Tofu)

  • Chinese name: 臭豆腐 chòudòufu
  • Taste: savory and spicy
  • Average price: 5-10 yuan for 4-8 stinky tofu cubes

  • Chou Dou Fu is another classic street food in China, which smells bad but tasty. The name has it all. Stinky tofu has strong pungent odor. It’s said the stronger the smell, the better the taste. Chou Doufu smells bad because it’s fermented. In the process of fermentation, the proteins it contains are broken down by proteases and the sulphur amino acids are completely hydrolysed, producing a compound called hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which has a funky odor.

    There are regional differences in how Chou Doufu is prepared and eaten, and the taste varies widely. Changsha, Nanjing, and Shaoxing are famous for their stinky tofu, as are Beijing, Wuhan, and Taiwan. Chou Doufu can be deep-fried, steamed, stewed. The most common type of stinky tofu you may easily find across the country is deep-fried and topped with soy sauce, chilli, cilantro, and scallion.

    Chou Dou Fu - Stinky Tofu

    9. Cong You Bing (Chinese Scallion Pancake)

  • Chinese name: 葱油饼 cōngyóubǐng
  • Taste: savory
  • Average price: 1-5 yuan

  • Cong You Bing is one of the most popular breakfasts sold at street stalls in China because of its unique flavor and texture. This doughy street snack is usually eaten as finger food while people travel to work on busy mornings.

    Congyoubing, the Chinese version of Western pancake, is a chewy thin flatbread made with wheat flour, oil, and minced scallions. Scallion pancakes are thin and has less oil in the northern provinces. They are typically made in big size, and be sliced into small pieces and sold by weight. In southern China, Chinese scallion pancakes are thicker and fried with more oil, creating an crispy outers and soft insides.

    The famous Ada Scallion Pancake in Shanghai (featured on Rick Stein’s BBC travel special) has been taken over by someone else.

    Cong You Bing - Chinese Scallion Pancake

    10. Tanghulu (Chinese Candied Fruit)

  • Chinese name: 糖葫芦 tánghúlu
  • Taste: sour and sweet
  • Average price: 3-10 yuan per skewer

  • Not all of the best street foods in China are served hot. Tanghulu or called Bingtang hulu (冰糖葫芦, bīngtánghúlu) is a traditional Chinese street snack across China, particularly in the north. This crunchy sugar-covered fruit snack can be dated back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). 

    Tanghulu is made by skewering fruits on bamboo skewers and dipping them in sugar syrup, which hardens quickly in the wind. So it tastes sour, sweet, and cold. The traditional Tanghulu is made with Chinese hawthorn berries. Now street vendors sell Tanghulu made with a great variety of fruits, such as strawberries, grapes, kiwis, tangerines, etc.

    Bingtang Hulu - Chinese Candied Fruit

    Sample Chinese Street Food with Easy Tour China

    Street food is an important part of Chinese cuisine. And you can find some of the world’s best street foods in China. If you plan your China tour with us, our local guides can show you some of the most popular spots to enjoy street snacks in each city. Here are a few best China tour packages chosen by our clients for inspiration.

    8-day Beijing, Xian, Shanghai Tour – China Golden Triangle

    15-day China Cooking & Foodie Tour (Destinations: Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai)

    13-day Highlights of China Tour for Families with Kids (Destinations: Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Guilin, Yangshuo, Hong Kong)

    You May Also Be Interested In

  • Famous Snacks to Try in China's 10 Cities
  • 33 Must-try Traditional Snacks in Beijing
  • 12 Most Popular Chinese Breakfast
  • Leave a Comment