100 Chinese Foods To Try Before You Die – the childhood food memories abound…

i just went through the top 100 SF foods again with my roommate last night to narrow down what we’re aiming to hit up before i bounce for the east coast.  while i’m on the list tip, bear with me as i indulge my desire to see how well i’m doing on 100 Chinese Foods To Try Before You Die from a beautiful and serious food-porntastic website called appetite for china. the author is a freelance writer and cooking instructor with french culinary training who learned about food in her parent’s chinese restaurants and now travels, writes, and teaches around world.  i’m inspired, admiring, and envious. it’s a gorgeous site and full of good recipes that i plan to try asap. i’ve included a few of her accompanying photos.  is it weird that i want to jump into this bowl of congee (what i grew up calling shi fan or jook) and float on top in a rice-flavored steam bath?


she says that the list is a pretty broad definition of chinese food and a mostly modern take, which makes sense for me as a second and third generation chinese-american who grew up eating chinese food, american food, and american chinese food. posts with links take you back to recipes on her site or wikipedia definitions, so i’ve bolded the ones i’ve tried and added a few comments.

  1. Almond milk
  2. Ants Climbing a Tree (poetic, not literal, name) – apparently a dish of minced beef and bean noodles, named ‘because the tiny morsels of meat cling to the strands of noodles as you dangle them from your chopsticks’. reminds me of how i ate ants on a log in nursery school by picking off the raisins, licking the peanut butter off the celery stick, and then refusing to eat the celery. always could pick out the best part…
  3. Asian pear – that seems unfairly easy.
  4. Baby bok choy – one of my favorite vegetables to cook
  5. Baijiu – an everpresent alcoholic offering in china.
  6. Beef brisket – my mom makes this and it’s DOPE.
  7. Beggar’s Chicken
  8. Bingtang hulu
  9. Bitter melon
  10. Bubble tea
  11. Buddha’s Delight
  12. Cantonese roast duck – mmm…my whole family loves roast duck.
  13. Century egg, or thousand-year egg – in my opinion, it is a texturally bizarre and marginally gag-reflex-inducing experience to unexpectedly encounter one of these in your porridge. definitely a classic jook ingredient though.
  14. Cha siu (Cantonese roast pork) – one of the most delicious salty-sweet-meat combos in a bun. i remember eating these in NYC chinatown with my grandmother.
  15. Char kway teow didn’t recognize the name, but have definitely had this dish before by the pictures on wikipedia
  16. Chicken feet – i’ll be honest, i always avoided these as a kid. i recently got into a discussion about how good they are though, and saw them at duc loi, so looks like a chicken feet night is in order…
  17. Chinese sausage – in my opinion, these have an interesting but somehow offputting sweet quality which unfortunately lowers them drastically on my pork product scale of tastiness
  18. Chow mein
  19. Chrysanthemum tea
  20. Claypot rice
  21. Congee – also known as shi fan, jook, porridge and probably a bunch of other names. eating jook always reminds me of family holidays like thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s house in albany. once the meal is done and the meat has been picked off the carcass, the turkey skeleton gets tossed into a pot of rice and 5-10 times as much water. the next morning we’d wake up to steaming thick savory rice porridge with bits of meat and scallions. such a perfect winter family meal, and it takes practically no work.
  22. Conpoy (dried scallops)
  23. Crab rangoon – so classic americanized greasy hole in the wall late night chinese food steez.
  24. Dan Dan noodles
  25. Dragonfruit
  26. Dragon’s Beard candy – just had this recently! tastes like if you ate your grandma’s sweater and it turned out to be subtly sweet and vaguely delicious.
  27. Dried cuttlefish
  28. Drunken chicken
  29. Dry-fried green beans
  30. Egg drop soup
  31. Egg rolls
  32. Egg tart, Cantonese or Macanese – my cousin paul always says that while asian food is absolutely amazing, the continent is a bit behind when it comes to desserts. as a kid, i always thought that these egg tarts were kind of a poor dessert substitute, but had them recently in nyc and, i’ll be honest, i ate five in one sitting.
  33. Fresh bamboo shoots
  34. Fortune cookies – these have a fascinating history and may not even be chinese in origin, but possibly japanese or american.
  35. Fried milk
  36. Fried rice
  37. Gai lan (Chinese broccoli)
  38. General Tso’s Chicken
  39. Gobi Manchurian
  40. Goji berries (Chinese wolfberries)
  41. Grass jelly
  42. Hainan chicken rice
  43. Hand-pulled noodles
  44. Har gau (steamed shrimp dumplings in translucent wrappers)
  45. Haw flakes – this was one of my absolute favorite candies as a kid. they come in wafer-thin disks, stacked and packaged in pretty paper. such a nostalgic candy memory…
  46. Hibiscus tea
  47. Hong Kong-style Milk Tea
  48. Hot and sour soup
  49. Hot Coca-Cola with Ginger
  50. Hot Pot
  51. Iron Goddess tea (Tieguanyin)
  52. Jellyfish – i have a very strong memory of eating this and duck tongues in an LA-area chinese banquet restaurant with my uncle michael’s family.  i think if you could eat sesame-flavored cold translucent gelatinous plastic, it would taste like jellyfish.
  53. Kosher Chinese food – this is such a classic Brookline feature (my hometown) that i’m surprised i’ve never tried it.
  54. Kung Pao Chicken
  55. Lamb skewers (yangrou chua’r)
  56. Lion’s Head meatballs
  57. Lomo Saltado -interesting, this is something i associate with south america cause that’s where i’ve eaten it. turns out it is chinese-peruvian fusion.
  58. Longan fruit
  59. Lychee – so fun to peel!
  60. Macaroni in soup with Spam – although i’ve never had this exact dish, spam reminds me of visiting my uncle victor’s family in hawaii for the first time when i was six.
  61. Malatang
  62. Mantou, especially if fried and dipped in sweetened condensed milk – i will forever associate mantou with a skit from a chinese camp i went to in minnesota at age 14. someone sang ‘mantou man’ to the tune of the village people’s macho man and i will never lose that association with the word mantou.  (btw, please click that link if you want a thoroughly enjoyable muscle-pumping dude in a tank top 70’s music video).
  63. Mapo Tofu
  64. Mock meat
  65. Mooncake (bonus points for the snow-skin variety)
  66. Nor mai gai (chicken and sticky rice in lotus leaf) – LOOOOOOVE THIS DISH.
  67. Pan-fried jiaozi  – i heart everything dumpling.
  68. Peking duck – this is one of my favorite dishes ever, and i think my favorite memory of eating it is going to peking duck house restaurant in nyc chinatown with my grandmother. so fatty, so succulent, so juicy yet crispy, so perfect.
  69. Pineapple bun
  70. Prawn crackers – these pastel colored styrofoam-y chips were one of my favorite things at chinese banquets as a kid. we used to call them shrimp chips. in thinking about them now, it’s clearly a bizarre idea to serve multicolored chips that taste like shrimp with your roast chicken, but i was obsessed with them…
  71. Pu’er tea
  72. Rambutan
  73. Red bean in dessert form – red bean ice cream is the shit. not as much a fan of the soup. chinatown ice cream factory in nyc chinatown serves a killer version…
  74. Red bayberry
  75. Red cooked porkhey irene, would you hit that? i’d hit it
  76. Roast pigeon – sounds better when you call it squab. first ate this with my grandmother li, also in nyc chinatown. i remember thinking how small they are, barely bigger than your fist. you dip them in a tiny plate of flavored salt. don’t think of street pigeons when you eat, it’ll just ruin the taste…
  77. Rose tea
  78. Roujiamo – her accompanying photo of this makes me want to make this RIGHT NOW and put it in my mouth.
  79. Scallion pancake – i have wonderful memories of making this on my kitchen table at home as a kid. you roll out a long snake  of scallion-studded dough, then curl it into a spiral, then FLATTEN. fry in oil, savor, stuff yourself silly.
  80. Shaved ice dessert
  81. Sesame chicken
  82. Sichuan pepper in any dish
  83. Sichuan preserved vegetable (zhacai)
  84. Silken tofu
  85. Soy milk, freshly made
  86. Steamed egg custard
  87. Stinky tofu
  88. Sugar cane juice
  89. Sweet and sour pork, chicken, or shrimp
  90. Taro
  91. Tea eggs
  92. Tea-smoked duck
  93. Turnip cake (law bok gau) – my dad and aunt tina love this stuff. i’ve just come around to it recently. i don’t know why i didn’t like it, because almost everything pan-fried is delicious, but i think it was because i always expected it to taste like potato and then would have the unexpected stronger flavor of turnip. but now i’m way into this, and it’s super tasty from super 88 in boston.
  94. Twice-cooked pork
  95. Water chestnut cake (mati gau)
  96. Wonton noodle soup
  97. Wood ear
  98. Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) – i realize i’m quick to throw out the word ‘favorite’ when discussing many food items, but i can’t keep from getting excited when it comes to dumplings. and choosing between fried dumplings and soup dumplings is like choosing between breathing and sleeping. or kittens and puppies. or twilight and harry potter. or battling an ever-regenerating mustache and always reeking horrifically of B.O. so much love for all these things that the bestowal of multi-favoritism must be understood and accepted.
  99. Yuanyang (half coffee, half tea, Hong Kong style)
  100. Yunnan goat cheese


thanks diana! i hope it’s cool that i’ve so shamelessly poached from your blog post, it’s done with an immense amount of respect and admiration. i think i’m at 75/100 (clearly i’m not very good at counting in high double digits). most of the ones i haven’t tried are dishes i haven’t seen before, with a few exceptions for items i thought were gross when i was younger. now i’ll put anything in my mouth at least once (zing!). kidding kidding, i’m trying to keep this PG because i’m going to send this out to my entire family and this is already making me feel reeeally awkward. i really enjoyed all the family food memories that came up as i went through the list and want to share them with my relatives. this is part of why irene and i started this blog and why i named it family styles – food and eating carry such strong shared memories and cultural values and family bonds and passionate enjoyment and eating family-style embodies so many of those principles. my strongest memories of many of my relatives involve taking over huge  chinese restaurants (i have a LOT of cousins, and they’re all awesome) with their big round tables and spinning lazy susans and tackling an immense number of dishes, always family style.

irene and andy and mom and lexi and auntie julia and caroline and auntie virginia and all my other wonderful fam, i’m going to send this to you and hope that you’ll go through the list and see what food memories get dredged up. my apologies for all the cursing if you venture elsewhere on the site:) so much family styles love to all of you…

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4 thoughts on “100 Chinese Foods To Try Before You Die – the childhood food memories abound…

  1. Irene says:

    This is a sweet list. I think the more challenging task would definitely be to list items in order of importance/level of eat-before-you-die-ness instead of just alphabetical order. (Mei, you’re really getting into the hyphenated sentences… I like them, but they’re so hard to type!)

    Anyway, where do I begin?!

    Let’s start with the obvious: Peking duck. Sweet, salty, crunchy, oily, all wrapped up in a thin flour pancake. What could be better? (Aside: in my exploits at college, I’ve found that burritofying everything (i.e. taking things and wrapping them in tortillas) is a really good and convenient way to live.) I remember when mom and I were living in BeiJing and we used to eat this stuff all the time, and it was so freakaleeking cheap that I wanted to cry when we got back to Boston and it was 40 bucks/duck.

    Next, xiaolongbao. Little dragon bun/bag, i.e. a deliciously moist dumpling filled with shrimpy porky soup. Easy to burn your tongue on this one, so you can’t eat it in one bite, which is unfortunately, because that’s my classy signature move. I remember that I was taught to eat this in my wide-Chinese-style soup spoon so that I could save all the soup from getting sloshed across my plate, and therefore, undrinkable. These little guys also come in a bamboo steamy thingy with some big bai cai (bok choy, cabbage) leaves underneath them that are pretty freaking tasty.

    Prawn crackers, also known as shrimp chips definitely bring back the memories, namely the memory of Mei deep-frying shrimp chips in our rice cooker (or our wok? I realize that rice cooker makes no sense) and then accidentally dropping in one of the plastic handles on the pot cover. And then we had shrimp chips, and a lump of greasy black plastic. Mei, was that also the time that a burning gob of flying oil hit you right in the middle of your forehead? She clearly has a long career of food-maverickism (<— definitely not a real word).

    Crab rangoon. Freaking tasty. I do not care to comment on the authenticity of this dish. Only on the warm cream cheesiness.

    Haw flakes: I haven’t thought of these in so long! Those grainy red discs of delicious jujube fruit will always be that part of Chinese school that I remember most fondly.

    Tea eggs: delicious. I’m going to have to learn how to make these one day. I can’t imagine that it’s that hard.

    Now, here are a couple that I didn’t see (or that I missed because my brain is fried from 50 pages of the American Journal of Sociology):

    Rice cakes (in ovalette form). These little suckers have an amazingly satisfying chewiness, and can be thrown into stir fry, soup, whatever. Mmm, mmm chew.

    You tiao (literally, oil stick). These guys are long, bready sticks that are so oily you have to eat them folded up in a paper towel unless you want grease stains all over yourself. They’re also delicious sliced, toasted, and stirred up in shi fan (congee).

    Any kind of green vegetable. There’s an “oriental” grocery that Daniel and I sometimes go to, and the vegetable section is full of all of these unlabeled, leafy beautiful greens, and they are all so delicious. You really can’t go wrong.

    Okay, procrastination time over! I’m giving myself half an hour for hygiene, and the rest of the day for work! Such is a Sunday afternoon, especially when I slept through Sunday morning.

    Love you allz! Let’s see some comments up in here!

  2. Elaine says:

    Hi gals,

    Love your food choices.

    When Grandma Li had a restaurant in White Plains, Westchester County, NY, she’d always ask what your dad and I’d like to eat after we drove down from Boston to visit her.

    My favorite choice was always a dofu dish. Shanghai style, family style with or without pork, light in texture, not too much sauce, with vegetables if possible. Not too expensive either!

    She served us a Chinese Thanksgiving dinner the first year your father and I dated; in 1971. That was a treat!

    Love Mom

  3. braveandkind says:

    Haha, obviously Mom knew something good when she saw it. I’d probably marry a man for his parent’s restaurant. Mayyyybe only if he was dashing, a doctor, and wore badass glasses. But maybe only for the restaurant.

  4. mei says:

    seriously. dad had some pretty sweet specs. and grandma li was such a badass too…

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