Hi, I’m Amanda. Officially, I’m here to teach, but unofficially I’m here to eat all Chinese street food in sight.
This isn’t a strictly Chinese phenomenon: I’m a really good eater, and I’ve spent the last few years grazing my way across countries.
I have no known food allergies, am arguably the least picky eater in any given 50km radius, have a stomach (not abs) of steel, and live by one very strict rule: always try food twice even if you hate it, just in case the first person messed it up.
Which brings me here, assigned to tell you about my adventures and misadventures with Chinese street food.
I have eaten a lot since I arrived.
But I also know I’ve barely scratched the surface and am limited by a word count, so please forgive me for missing things you think are perfect.
And then, please send smoke signals to tell me where to find them.
Okay, let’s dive in.
First, a Few Quick Words of Advice
If you’re new to the Chinese street food game, Dongmen Food Market in Laojie is a fabulous place to start.
Ignore the overwhelming stinky tofu smell and the complete lack of air circulation that makes it feel like you could pass out on that suspiciously slippery floor and just power through.
Multiple floors crammed with stalls doling out both Chinese and international eats (my dear banana roti…I digress).
They have some of the most consistently delicious meat skewers I’ve found so far.
Big chunks of well-cooked beef or lamb (minus the gristle that you often run into at the smaller carts around the city), showered in salt and cumin. Get ready for meat sweats.
Keep an eye out for local set-ups.
I may live a lifetime away from downtown Shenzhen while out in the Longgang District, but I won the Chinese street food jackpot and have a bountiful night market that sets up every evening.
It’s always packed with local residents and zero other foreigners. This is Chinese street food done right and certainly not catering to tourists…because there are none.
A Word on Breakfast
Breakfast is the greatest, it’s not up for discussion.
And, lucky for me, Chinese street food completely agrees with this sentiment.
Beyond the ubiquitous baozi (steamed buns), boiled eggs, soy milk, and youtiao (donut sticks) breakfast options which are absolutely delicious, there are some even more impressive gems to be found.
Changfen: affectionately called “eggy noodles” by…me.
The first time I had it, I wasn’t a fan but now it’s in my regular rotation so give it a few tries.
And add spicy things.
Extra points for spicy pickled peppers.
It’s a dish reminiscent of scrambled eggs mixed with wide, flat egg noodles, served with a mushroom garlic soy sauce.
Keep your eyes peeled for the steaming metal boxes on the street because that’s where the magic happens.
Jianbing: my Shenzhen food obsession.
My love for jianbing is equally absurd and entirely warranted.
I stumbled across it on day two upon arrival in Shenzhen back in the fall and will squeal when I see it.
A giant, thick crepe, slathered with sauces of the vendor’s choosing, some veggies, an egg, cilantro (extra, please!), chili sauce, a crunchy deep-fried wonton, rolled up and served…it’s beyond street food perfection.
Occasionally, you’ll get the option of youtiao (soft wonton) in your jianbing, but do yourself a favor and get the deep-fried wonton, the extra crunch texture is what really seals the deal.
Top 5 Chinese Street Foods – That aren’t Breakfast
- Noodle carts: Pick your noodles (rice, egg, wheat, fat, thin), pick your sauce (no earthly idea… just point and hope for the best, promise to work on your Mandarin for next time, return the next time with no new Mandarin skills, and repeat), pick your veggies, pick your seasoning, and watch the magic happen.
- Zongzi: Confession: I do not like rice cake. I’ve tried it in all its forms, and it still comes off as a chewy ball with not enough flavor. However, zongzi makes me a believer. It’s rice cake (with peanuts in the best ones), stuffed with meat, formed into a triangle, wrapped in bamboo leaves, and steamed.
- Chinese burritos: …or street sandwiches, if you will. Doughy, thick, round bread fried with oil (obviously) on a griddle, with egg, meat of your choosing, an ever-changing assortment of veggies such as potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and the like, cilantro, ketchup and mayo. Traditional? Nope. A perfect treat on a Wednesday after work? Absolutely.
- Congyoubing: I have a carb lady in my neighborhood (as every human should), and she always has a delightful selection but I always go back to the savory “pancake.” A flatbread of sorts with scallions and fried on a flat top with extra oil (no street food is complete without a healthy doses of oil). These flatbreads are usually served sprinkled with sesame seeds and sometimes with a chili sauce spread on top. Crispy, flaky, chewy, spicy…it’s all the things I love in bite-sizes pieces of bread.
- Quail eggs skewers: I love quail eggs because it’s everything great about a chicken egg in one little bite. So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered China serves fried quail eggs on skewers. Add some salt and take those eggs to go!
Author: Amanda Ruffell
Okay that’s all now, kids. I leave this wisdom in good hands, I’m sure. Now, go forth and fill your belly with Chinese Street Food.
Dongmen Food Market is located on Xinyuan Road on Dongmen Pedestrian Street, Laojie station on Line 3, exit G.