When you’re planning to come all the way to China to study Chinese you start to ask questions. One of the big questions is “what will I eat?”. Eating in China is not a problem as the country boasts arguably the most diverse cuisine in the world. From spicy Sichuan hotpot to the wholesome stews of the Mongolian north you will always find something to suit you. Many of our students ask this question so we’ve decided to answer here.
Do you cook?
If you like to cook or want to learn you will have a great time in Yunnan. The fresh vegetables and ingredients are cheap and excellent quality. Getting your hands on groceries you usually have to choose between two options, supermarkets or open air markets.
When you stay in Yunnan you have access to great supermarkets, students are often surprised to find New Zealand butter and American style porridge oats on the shelves. Luckily for some Walmart has branches in Dali, Lijiang and Kunming where we have campuses. Here you can get a wide selection of international foods to suit you.
Open Air Markets
For a more authentic experience in Yunnan head to some of the great open air markets in the city. If you are learning Chinese this will be a great way to practice and we often take students out to markets to try. These bustling places are excellent for fresh meat and produce at reasonable prices. The friendly stall-keepers will be glad to offer up preparation ideas. If you are vegetarian or vegan just beware you will see animals prepared for eating in a different way to in the West, often live animals can be seen beside butchered meat too. You might also see dog meat.
Eating out is a massive part of Chinese culture and a fascinating experience for many. Because it is so cheap many students don’t cook at all and just enjoy the local establishments.
The food eaten most and staple of the province is Mi Xian ( 米线 ) rice noodles. They come in a soup and can be made with pork, chicken, beef or lamb meat. The soup is amazing and can really warm you up in winter. A bowl costs between 6rmb and 10rmb.
The big 3
Apart from Mi Xian the three next most numerous types of food is La Mian ( Muslim pulled noodles ) , Fujian food ( chicken legs, rice, boiled egg, tofu ) and finally Huang Men Ji ( brazed chicken and rice ). From our experience with students La Mian restaurants are the most popular with foreign students. They are Halal safe and very good to eat. You can get the usual pulled noodles, fried noodles or fried food on top of noodles or rice. A favourite is egg and tomato or beef and potato on top of rice. A meal at any of these places will cost 8-15rmb.
Other than those mostly informal places you can find specialist restaurants with cuisine from every part of China. In Yunnan a favourite is Dai minority food which is amazing. The flavour is spicy and sour with small red chillies and lime juice. Be sure to ask which is the best at each school.
Foreign restaurants are also easy to find in Yunnan. Dali, Kunming and Lijiang also have great foreign communities and Western restaurants have started to spring up around them. If you are learning Chinese it is better not to get into the habit of hanging out in Western circles because it will hamper your ability to practice. But when you are homesick their is nothing better than some home food. Foreign spots can also help you find people who play Western sports and games.
Street food is popular at two times of the day, breakfast and late night. There is a vast array of street food in Yunnan.
For breakfast the popular food is Er Kuai which is a rice kind of tortilla and toppings likes egg, sausage and dough sticks. There is also plenty of steamed bun sellers and porridge sellers. This food is generally safe but try to go to a vendor that has a few people eating from them. Walk around in the morning and try some breakfast foods to find your favourite.
Late night food is Shaokao ( BBQ ) and fried noodles/rice. BBQ usually takes a little longer to cook but you can choose from a wide variety of meat, fish, vegetables and mushrooms. You will have the chance to eat some weird foods such as chicken hearts. If you don’t like spicy food be sure to make sure they don’t cover all the food in chilli flakes.
Contact us if you want to study Chinese in China and have any questions for us.