Chinese family dishes are prepared and eaten daily. Different from complex restaurant dishes, Chinese family dishes are always easy to cook and are delicious to eat.
The ingredients and flavors of Chinese family dishes vary by region and according to the tastes of different family members. The same dish may even have different flavors between two neighboring families.
For many Chinese people, the best dishes are not prepared by a Michelin-starred chef but by his or her mother!
Differences Between European/American and Chinese Family Dishes
Chinese people have their own ways of preparing family dishes, which can be very different from your family's way.
Look at the flames and listen to the sizzling wok — some find it looks like a fierce battle when the Chinese are preparing a meal!
Europe/America: Typical meals involve roast meat topped with a sauce with boiled/roast vegetables.
China: Wok-frying is the most commonly used cooking method. In addition to frying, the Chinese also cook dishes by steaming, stewing, pickling, or roasting them.
Europe/America: People use flat-bottomed frying pans and ovens. As there is less oil used and less cooking fumes, Western kitchens are much cleaner.
China: The standard cooking equipment in a Chinese family kitchen is a gas hob and a large black round-bottomed frying pan (a wok).
A high-powered extractor fan is also required to remove the cooking fumes, otherwise the kitchen will soon become smoky and greasy.
Europe/America: Dishes are generally cooked strictly according to recipes. People add seasonings, set a cooking time, and set the oven temperature carefully to make sure each dish tastes exactly how the recipe says it should.
China: There are no set recipes. Chinese people prepare their family dishes using intuition and experience.
You will not find "5 grams of salt, 1/2 tbsp. of oil, 5 grams of sugar" written on a Chinese recipe, just "some salt, an appropriate amount of oil, and a little sugar". Chinese people like to customize the flavors of their dishes for their family members.
10 Top Chinese Family Dishes
No one can count how many kinds of family dishes exist in China. However, the following are the most classic Chinese family dishes, which are prepared and enjoyed by millions of Chinese families.
1. Braised Pork Belly (红烧肉)
In other countries, pork belly is cut into thin pieces to make bacon but, in China, it is cut into cubes to make braised pork.
The earliest record of the dish can be dated back to the 5th century. The main ingredient for this dish is called wu hua rou (五花肉).
What is wu hua rou? It is pork belly meat with five layers: skin, fat meat, lean meat, fat meat, lean meat. The Chinese consider it the best ingredient to cook braised pork with.
The well-cooked braised pork has alternate fat and lean meat, with an appetizing brown color and a sweet, soft taste.
See more Chinese pork dishes.
2. Mapo Tofu (Sautéed Tofu in Hot and Spicy Sauce 麻婆豆腐)
In Sichuan Province, people cook the spiciest food in the world. Originating in Sichuan in 1862, mapo tofu was considered to be pungent and spicy.
Nowadays, mapo tofu is not only a family dish for Chinese people but is also a popular dish in the rest of the world.
The ingredients used to make mapo tofu are simple: tofu cubes, ground beef (or pork), chili, and Chinese red peppers, with the latter two being the most important. A dish of prepared mapo tofu must be red and hot.
If you are not enthusiastic about spicy dishes, you can ask the chef to put less chili in your dish. Mapo tofu with less spice but a fresher flavor will also be delicious.
Read more about the hottest Sichuan cuisine.
Find another way to discover Sichuan cuisine — in Sichuan Cuisine Museum.
3. Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce (鱼香肉丝)
The dish is also called fish-flavored pork slices. Even though fish is in the dish's name and it's fish-flavored, no fish is used or any other related ingredients.
The main ingredient is lean pork (tenderloin is preferred), with black fungus, bamboo shoots, and carrots. Cut the ingredients into shreds and cook them with salt, chili, vinegar, and other seasonings.
The prepared dish contains silky soft pork shreds with a rosy color and an appetizing flavor.
4. Stirred Egg with Tomato (西红柿炒鸡蛋)
This might be the most common Chinese family dish. The dish is easy to cook: fry the stirred egg and sliced tomato, and then add salt, sugar, and onion for flavoring. The prepared dish looks good, is tasty, and is nutritious.
See some more easy recipes from China.
5. Braised Pork with Vermicelli (猪肉炖粉条)
This is a representative dish of Northeast China. The preparation of the dish includes frying the pork slices and other ingredients, then adding seasonings and braising them with water-soaked vermicelli.
The traditional recipe only uses pork belly (wu hua rou) and sweet potato vermicelli. However, locals have customized their own versions of this recipe by adding sour cabbage, tofu, or carrot.
More choices of ingredients enriches the flavor and nutritional value of the dish.
6. Kung Pao Chicken (Spicy Diced Chicken with Peanuts/宫保鸡丁)
This dish originated in China and its popularity has spread abroad, being elevated from a family dish to a main course in a state banquet, being loved by political leaders.
Using chicken as the main ingredient, the dish is cooked with peanut kernels, cucumber, and chili. This dish looks red and hot but only tastes mildly spicy with the fragrant combination of tender chicken and crispy peanut.
Nowadays, the dish is served in Chinese restaurants all over the world. If you want a taste of Chinese cuisine, a dish of kung pao chicken will be an excellent choice.
Learn how to make kung pao chicken.
7. Double-Cooked Pork Slices (回锅肉)
This cooking method can be dated back to about 1,000 years ago. The method of "double-cooking" is to boil the pork in water and then fry it with seasonings.
Boiling it in water reduces the fat and oil in the pork, and people can customize the flavor with all kinds of seasonings.
If you have the chance to enjoy double-cooked pork slices, remember to tell the chef about your taste preferences.
8. Fried Chinese Cabbage with Vinegar (醋熘白菜)
This is another easy but delicious dish. Use the tender leaves of Chinese cabbage and fry them with vinegar (add some chili if you prefer), then your dish of Chinese cabbage is ready to be enjoyed.
Some regions and families use shredded potatoes instead of cabbage.
This dish is healthy and nutritious as the vinegar prevents the vitamin C in the cabbage from being destroyed when frying it. With a low calorie count, this dish is also suitable for anyone on a diet.
9. Sweet and Sour Fillet/Pork Chops (糖醋里脊/排骨)
Sweet and sour dishes are popular among Chinese families. Although the ingredients and cooking methods can differ by region, the core procedure is the same: use sugar, vinegar, cooking wine, and soy sauce to make the sauce, then braise the sliced fillet or pork chops with the sauce.
This dish can be eaten hot or cold — some people believe that sweet and sour dishes should only be enjoyed cold. No matter how the dishes are cooked and served, sweet and sour fillet or pork chops are favorites for many Chinese people.
See how a Chinese chef cooks sweet and sour pork with pineapple.
10. Moo Shu Pork (Fried Sliced Pork, Eggs, and Black Fungus 木须肉)
Moo shu pork is a typical family dish in North China. The dish is a salty delicacy and is easy to prepare.
Besides pork, egg, and black fungus, some people will prepare cucumber and other vegetables to make the dish even more delicious, nutritious, and suitable for everyone.
Have a Taste or Learn to Cook Chinese Family Dishes with Us
Our food-related itineraries are a great chance for you to visit the must-see attractions, taste family dishes, learn about the dining culture, or even try to cook using Chinese methods. See our most selected private cuisine tour for inspiration:
A Broad Taste of China: Beijing – Xi'an – Chengdu – Guilin – Hong Kong in 12 days
Just like Chinese family dishes, our tours can be customized. Feel free to tell us your requirements, interests, and tastes, and your guide will ensure every aspect is well prepared and customized for you.
We offer regularly offer opportunities to learn Chinese cooking in Beijing and Yangshuo: