1. Beef Noodle Soup
Fresh knife-peeled or hand-pulled noodles swim in a rich beef broth in this Chinese-muslim comfort food staple. In Taiwan, entire cults of fussiness have sprung up around scouting the ideal bowl. Many restaurants do serve this, but not as the main event as it deserves to be. No, dude, you can’t just use lo mein.
2. Smoked Shanghainese Yellowfish
A simple Shanghainese dish that tastes much better than it looks. Freshwater yellowfish is first steamed in lotus leaf, then rubbed in oil and smoked in a high heat til the skin crisps.
3. Spicy Garlic Bacon
This Szechuanese appetizer is nowhere near as spicy as it looks. It’s a simple dish of fatty steamed pork slices dressed in sesame, pureed garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil, simple ingredients that any restaurant could manage. For the more adventurous, try the version made with thin sliced pork ears.
4. Taiwanese Salt & Pepper Fried Chicken
A simple but flawless staple of college fast-food nosh in Taiwan. Every culture has its ways of frying chicken, but the spiced yam flour coating lends chewiness to this dish’s crunch, and the flash fried basil leaves give it a note of freshness.
5. Yunnan Cross Bridge Noodles
Part of a healthy Yunnanese breakfast. Pinches of fresh vegetables and meat slices are dipped in a hot, almost creamy chicken stock, which lends the soup a sweetness as it slowly cook. Unlike lo mein, the thick rice noodles stay fresh and al dente.
6. Liangi Pi Cold Noodles
A signature vegan salad of China’s in-land Xian Province, tossing clear bean noodles in a spicy, herby and refreshing vinaigrette.
7. Hunan Cumin Lamb Ribs
Another muslim-influenced treat: cumin and clove-coated lamb rack barbecued to a sweet crisp. Those living in New York and San Francisco can find this at Mission Chinese Food. Those living elsewhere can try cooking their own.
8. Hot and Sour Potato
Served either as a salad or a light stir fry, with dollops of tomato salsa ladled on when prepared Yunnan-style. Potatoes are surprisingly fresh and crunchy when you don’t cook them for too long.
9. Soup Dumplings
Admittedly the process of making these is a little involved (how they smuggle soup into each bite is by chilling it into a gelatin, then melting it in steam), but there’s no reason your local restaurant would want to feed you regular dumplings instead. This dish is getting more common, but it’s rarely made with paper-thin skin it’s traditionally wrapped in.
10. Beijing bean paste pork in wrap
The neglected stepcousin of peking duck buns. The taste is similarly smokey-sweet, but much more budget friendly, and the chewy wrap is one of the delicious signatures of northern Chinese carb-loading.
11. Szechuan Pickled Mustard Fish Stew
One of the heartiest winter stews ever. A marriage of thick chicken soup with fresh fish, ginger, toasted chills, and pickled Chinese mustard. This dish achieves almost all the flavors: savory, tangy, sweet, spicy, herbal. Your inner Cajun would approve.
12. Southern Lu Wei Braise
Given that most of the Chinese food we eat in America comes from southern cuisine, it’s puzzling why this southern street food classic never made it to our shores. At a typical night market, you can pick out your ingredients in a basket, which the chefs will help braise in their house special soup. Every stall has their secret broth recipe typically involving Szechuan peppercorn, orange peel, anise, coriander, fennel, cloves, and Chinese cinnamon. Finish it with chili sauce and pickled mustards and you have the healthiest and best fast food ever.