11 Traditional Chinese Foods You Cannot Miss

Chinese food history is as long as Chinese history. In the long period of development, many delicious food keep popping up and many are passed down to today. Among them, some are festival food more frequently eaten on special festivals while some are eaten commonly in daily life. Here are the 11 best traditional Chinese foods you cannot miss if you are a Chinese food lover.

1. Dumplings


Chinese Name: 饺子 jiǎo zi
Flavor: salty
Time of Origin: Eastern Han Dynasty (25 – 220 AD)

Dumpling is the most famous traditional Chinese food, which was invented by medical sage Zhang Zhongjing more than 1,800 years ago. At that time, Chinese herbal medicine was stuffed in with mutton to prevent cold and cure pernio in winter. In Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD), dumplings had been a common food. In Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 – 589 AD), dumplings became popular around China, and people filled them in a bowl with the soup to eat them together. To Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), dumplings started to be eaten without soup. As to Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), various dumplings appeared, and dumplings were introduced into Mongolia, then to the world. The custom of eating dumplings on Chinese New Year was latestly formed in Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 AD). In Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 AD), its name we use now was fixed.

Nowadays, dumplings have been a festival food on Chinese New Year and Winter Solstice. The fillings are various including pork, beef, lamb, fish, cabbage, carrots, leek, etc. On the Chinese New Year’s Day, people eat dumplings to say goodbye to the old year and welcome a new year. In addition, dumplings have the auspicious meaning of great fortune and family reunion.

Read more: Recipe – How to Make Chinese Dumplings

2. Chinese Noodles

Noodle Dish

Chinese Name: 面条 miàn tiáo
Flavor: salty, spicy, sour, umami…
Time of Origin: more than 4,000 years ago

Noodles is one of the oldest traditional Chinese foods. Chinese people have started to eat noodles about 4,000 years ago. The noodles was small dough sheet at first, later leek-wide noodles. In Jin Dynasty (265 – 420 AD), thin noodles like strips appeared. In Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), a kind of cold noodles that was cooled in cold water appeared. It was also at the time that long noodles was given the wonderful wish of longevity, thus people began to eat the longevity noodles on their birthdays. In Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD), the name of noodles was fixed and there were not a few kinds of noodles in the earliest commercial streets in the capital city. In Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), fine dried noodles that could be preserved long was invented. During the long history, the skills of making noodles and its cooking methods had been continuously improved.

Now, people in north China take noodles as a staple food, while southern people more often eat it as a snack. Whatever, noodles is a vitally important daily food in China. Its shape, thickness, and length are various, as well as the side ingredients and seasonings. Name a few most famous ones: Lanzhou Hand-Pulled Beef Noodles, Beijing Noodles with Minced Pork, Sichuan Dandan Noodles, Chongqing Spicy Noodles; Shanxi Sliced Noodles, Cantonese Wonton Noodles….

Read more:
10 Most Popular and Tasty Chinese Noodles Recipes

Recipe – How to Make Hand-made Noodles

Recipe – How to Make Noodles with Minced Pork

Recipe – How to Make Noodles with Tomato Egg Sauce

Recipe – How to Make Chow Mein (Stir-fried Noodles)

3. Steamed Stuffed Bun

Chinese Name: 包子 bāo zi
Flavor: salty generally, spicy
Time of Origin: Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD)

Steamed stuffed bun is a flour dough wrapper with stuffing, which is a kind of Chinese traditional food. It is said that it was created as sacrifices to dead soldiers in battles by Zhuge Liang, who was an outstanding politician and military strategist in Three Kingdoms Period. The stuffing was originally minced beef and mutton. Later, the stuffing became more and more various. The name we use today was settled in Song Dynasty.

Up to now, the stuffing can be pork, beef, pickled Chinese cabbage, vermicelli, mushrooms, bean paste, eggplant, cabbage, Chinese chives, fried eggs, and tofu and so on. The types are also enriched, including Small Steamed Buns, Soup Infilled Buns, and Pan-Fried Buns.

Steamed Stuffed Buns
Steamed Stuffed Buns
Soup Infilled Buns
Soup Infilled Bun

4. Glutinous Rice Balls

Chinese Name: 汤圆 tāng yuán
Flavor: sweet
Time of Origin: Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD)

Glutinous Rice Balls is a traditional Chinese food as well as the festival food of Lantern Festival and Winter Solstice. It is made of glutinous rice flour with fillings and shaped like balls. Glutinous Rice Balls originated from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province in Song Dynasty. At that time, the filling was black sesames, white sugar and lard. Now, the fillings are various, like black sesame, rose, walnut kernel, date paste, pumpkin, fruits, pork and chicken, etc. It is usually boiled and then eaten with the light soup; sometimes rice wine and white sugar are added for better flavor.

5. Wonton

Chinese Name: 馄饨 hún tún
Flavor: salty
Time of Origin: Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC) as earliest

Wonton is a traditional Chinese dish made with wheaten flour and meat filling, like the dumplings. But the wrapper is much thinner or can be say transparent and it is eaten together with the soup. According to the legends, wonton might origin from Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC) or Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD). At the beginning, Wonton and dumplings shared the same name. By Tang Dynasty, these two food had their own names respectively. To Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD), the custom of eating Wonton on Winter Solstice sprang up. Since 1990s, quite a few Wonton with new sets of fillings appeared, like the filling of lotus root, BBQ pork and fresh pork; cured pork, Chinese yam and fresh meat; sweet broad peas and fresh meat; egg yolks and chicken; pork and shrimps; pork and vegetables, etc.

Read more: Recipe – How to Make Chinese Wonton


Chinese Name: 月饼 yuè bǐng
Flavor: sweet or salty
Time of Origin: late Shang Dynasty and early Zhou Dynasty

Moon Cake is a traditional Chinese food for Mid-Autumn Festival. It is round, which symbolizes family reunion. It is also a sacrificial offering to Moon God on Mid-Autumn Festival. The Taishi cake appeared in the late Shang Dynasty (17th century BC – 1046 BC) and the early Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC) might be the predecessor of Moon Cake. In Tang and Song Dynasties, Moon Cake was a royal food; later, it was brought to folk. Up to Ming Dynasty, eating Moon Cake on Mid-Autumn Festival had become popular. In Qing Dynasty, the making skills was improved, and Moon Cake evolved into many different styles.

There are many types of traditional moon cakes, and the most common stuffing includes five nuts, red bean paste, roses, lotus seed paste, osmanthus, dried plum, rock sugar, ginkgo, pork floss, black sesame, ham, egg yolk, etc.

See more about
3,000 Years’ Timeline of Mooncake History, from its Origin ‘Taishi Cake’

10 Best Mooncakes in China – Have you ever tried?

Traditional Mooncakes in China – 12 Types of Regional Variations

10 Most Popular Mooncake Flavors – Which one do you like?

Halal Mooncake – Features, Fillings, Recipe

Snow Skin Mooncake – Non-Baked Mooncake

Jelly Mooncake – How to Make Colorful and Crystal Mooncakes


Chinese Name: 粽子 zòng zi
Flavor: sweet or salty
Time of Origin: Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC)

Zongzi is a Chinese traditional food of Dragon Boat Festival. The glutinous rice is wrapped into reed leaves and then steamed. Zongzi appeared in Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), and was used to worship ancestors and Gods at that time. Starting from Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC), it was used to commemorate the great poet Qu Yuan. To Jin Dynasty (265 – 420 AD), it was fixed as the festival food of Dragon Boat Festival. And Chinese medicine, meat, chestnuts and other things were added as fillings except for glutinous rice. In Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), preserved fruits were added into fillings of Zongzi. Later, the more and more spices of Zongzi came out. Nowadays, the common fillings of sweet Zongzi are red bean, red date, rose, date paste, bean paste, etc.; while those of salty ones are pork, ham, sausages, shrimp, etc.

Read more: Recipe – How to Make Zongzi

8. Rice Cake (New Year Cake)

Chinese Name: 年糕 nián gāo
Flavor: sweet, or salty
Time of Origin: Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC)

Rice Cake, also called New Year Cake, is a traditional Chinese food eaten on Chinese New Year, having a propitious wish of a better new year. It is the cake steamed with glutinous rice flour. There are red, yellow and white rice cakes. And people often make them into auspicious shapes, such as coins, treasures and some lucky animals. It can be fried, boiled, deep-fried, boiled with seasoned soup, etc.

It is said Rice Cake was originated from Suzhou in Spring and Autumn Period. And in Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), there were several names of rice cake. To Jin Dynasty (265 – 420 AD) and Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 – 589 AD), rice cake became popular. And in Liao Dynasty (907- 1125 AD), the custom of eating rice cake on Chinese New Year had formed. Up to Ming (1368 – 1644 AD) and Qing (1644 – 1911 AD) Dynasties, rice cake had become a year-round snack, and the flavor differed from north and south.

9. Spring Rolls

Chinese Name: 春卷 chūn juǎn
Flavor: sweet or salty
Time of Origin: Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420 AD)

Spring Rolls is popular all over China, especially in the south. This traditional Chinese food is wheaten crust wrapped with fillings, and then deep-fried to be golden. The dish is aromatic with crisp thin crust. The fillings can be minced pork, beef, mutton, bean paste or varied vegetables. It is a custom to eat Spring Rolls on The Beginning of Spring, one of the 24 solar terms, to welcome spring and make auspicious wishes.

In Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420 AD), there already was Spring Rolls. People eat the food on The Beginning of Spring, and took it when they went for a spring outing. In Tang (618 – 907 AD) and Song (960 – 1279 AD), the custom became more and more popular. In Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), there were records of deep-fried spring rolls, which was much more similar with the food today. To Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 AD), it was not only the folk festival food, but also the royal pastry.

Read more: Recipe – How to Make Spring Rolls

10. Chinese Pancake

Chinese Name: 煎饼 jiān bǐng
Flavor: slightly sweet, slightly salty, spicy, or sour
Time of Origin: more than 5,000 years ago

Pancake is a traditional Chinese staple food especially popular in northern China, which originated from Shandong Province. According to the relics unearthed, Chinese pancake origins from over 5,000 years ago at least. To Jin Dynasty (265 – 420 AD), pancake had specific meanings; on some special festivals, pancake was used to fumigate and as a symbol of repairing sky. In Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), pancake had been popular, as it was listed as a royal dish. In Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), pancake became more welcomed, especially on some festivals, such as Qixi Festival. At late Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 AD), the cooking method of current pancake had formed.

There are many types of Chinese pancakes nowadays and the Shandong Pancakes are the most famous, which can be made from wheat flour, rice flour, bean flour, corn flour, sorghum flour or sweet potato flour. People usually eat pancakes as breakfast with egg, sauce, pickled vegetables and deep-fried dough sticks rolled inside. The flavor can be salt, sweet, spicy, etc.

Read more:
Recipe – How to Make Chinese Pancake

Recipe – How to Make Chinese Leek Pancake

11. Tofu (Bean Curd)

Tofu Dish
Home-style Tofu

Chinese Name: 豆腐 dòu fu
Flavor: bean aromatic
Time of Origin: Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD)

Tofu, or Bean Curd, is a traditional bean product that is mostly made of soybeans, black beans or other beans with high protein content. Most people believe that tofu was invented in about 164 BC in Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD) by Liu An, the seignior in Huainan, Anhui. However, its taste was not as good as current tofu, so was not widely used as cooking ingredients. In Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), tofu was taken to Japan. Until Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), the making method of tofu was greatly improved and tofu became an important Chinese food in daily life. At the meantime, tofu was introduced into Korea. Later, it came to Europe, Africa and North America in the early 19th century. Nowadays, tofu has been one of important foods not only in China, but also in Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and other neighboring countries.

Now, Tofu can be made into different dishes, such as Ma Po Tofu, Home-style Tofu, Vegetable and Tofu Soup, Stinky Tofu, Tofu with Crab Roe, etc.

Read more:
Recipe – How to Make Ma Po Tofu

Recipe – How to Make Home-style Tofu

Recipe – How to Make Vegetable and Tofu Soup

– Last modified on Apr. 27, 2020 –

Barbara J. Miriam

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