Good food is very important to having a nice (and interesting) trip. Give yourself a chance to taste authentic local Chinese cuisine, away from the tourist restaurants. Read on to find out the differences between tourist restaurants and local restaurants in China.
Tourist Restaurants — Convenient, Over-Priced, Mundane Food
Tourist restaurants are set up around tourist areas and routes. The customers are almost all travelers, and you can see them having meals with cameras and bags (and their coach parked outside). The restaurants are filled with different accents from different areas, and the dining environment can be very crowded.
Travelers may be tired, hungry, and perhaps in a hurry to get to the next destination. Tourist restaurants offer a quick solution to such tourists. The menu is simple and easy to order from. They usually mass purchase the same food material from big suppliers all year round.
The largest benefit is that travelers can finish a meal quickly and continue the trip or sightseeing. But quick service might be a down side if you have special dietary needs. For example, staff don't have the time (or mandate) to prepare food differently if you have an allergy.
Over-Priced — But Maybe a Good View
There are some well-located tourist restaurants in areas like West Lake. You can get a good view of the lake from a restaurant window while you eat. But the food is often over-priced (you pay for the location). This sort of restaurant is avoided by Chinese who appreciate good local cuisine.
Not all tourist restaurants have a good location, but then the food should be cheaper…
Standardized, Predictable Taste
Chinese people often say that food served to tourists "all tastes the same". Dishes on the menu at tourist restaurants are usually standardized to suit as many (Chinese) people as possible. You won't get Western food, but these might be good options if you really don't like the local taste (e.g. too spicy).
Snack streets can be examples of "tourist restaurants", and nearly every popular city has one. Travelers search for a snack street to taste delicious (local) snacks. But actually the snacks may all taste the same as in other cities: fried food, barbecue, hotpot, milk tea, etc. If you have visited one in China, don't expect novelty in the next city.
"Some of the lunch locations, like the stop near the Great Wall seemed touristy. The food seemed more like American Chinese than anything with a local taste."
— Victor and Mary Ann Cognato, China Highlights customers
Local Restaurants — Food in Season, Authentic, no English
Local restaurants have many loyal local customers. It's not that local restaurants are only for locals, but people in the know generally prefer local restaurants, that's for sure.
Fresh Food in Season
Dishes of local restaurants vary seasonally. The cooks generally prepare fresh local produce for customers in season. Or you can ask the waiter, e.g. what vegetables are available at the moment.
The food in local restaurants is authentic and original. Chefs have their own secret recipes, passedon through the "generations". You can taste genuine local food, though it might not be to your taste.
Don't expect any English to be spoken. The menu is usually only in Chinese characters, though some restaurants display pictures of the dishes. When you enter the restaurant, you will probably hear loud chatting in local dialects, which you may find a little noisy.
Get the Real Thing, Not Touristy Food
You may have grown used to the bland Chinese food you get at the restaurants in your country, and that is the sort of food you'd find at a tourist restaurant, except more "Chinese" than Western in flavor.
When touring China, experience the real tastes of the many regional cuisines. Chinese love a variety of tastes and sensations during a meal, and they eat many foods you will not be accustomed to. You'll miss this culinary experience at Chinese restaurants geared to serve busloads of tourists.
Have Local Food with China Highlights
We take our customers to carefully-selected authentic local restaurants, not to "tourist restaurants" that serve the same old boring food in the same old boring way.
Just as we make our "no shops" promise to steer our tours away from the tourist trap markets and shops, we try to choose restaurants for our customers that will be a memorable local experience in a nice authentically Chinese environment.
China Highlight's tours are designed to reveal the "local colors" and give you a chance to experience the local tastes. Try some new flavors and food. See our recommended tours below for inspiration:
- 8-Day Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai Tour — the Golden Triangle
- 12-Day Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong Cuisine Tour — the Flavor of China
Not interested in the above tours? Our tours can be customized. Just tell us your interests and requirements (including any food preferences/needs/allergies), and China Highlights will create a China tour for you.