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The average cost of food in China is quite cheap. But it still depends on which city and restaurant you choose. Read on to get a general idea of food and drink prices in China to help you plan your travel budget.
China has a rich variety of breakfasts: noodles, steamed buns, dumplings, congee, etc. A bowl of noodles or a plate of steamed buns costs around 8 yuan. Soy milk and two dough sticks, or a bowl of rice porridge, are cheaper—around 3 yuan.
If you would like a Western breakfast of bread/cake and yogurt/milk, the cost will be about 10 yuan in a bakery. A Western set breakfast in a café is 30–40 yuan. A cup of coffee can be anything from 7 yuan (instant or fast-food outlet) to 40 yuan (coffee shop).
So the average cost for a breakfast in China is 3–20 yuan. But some restaurants may cost more for better service and environment, and the price in prosperous cities like Beijing and Shanghai will be a bit higher.
Rice and noodles are the main food staples in China and they often appear on the table for mid-day and evening meals.
There are many delicious snacks in China and the price is quite cheap. Snacks can be easily found in cities, with corner stalls in busy areas, and large/touristy cities have snack streets, such as 'Ghost Street' in Beijing and City God Temple Street in Shanghai.
Chinese snacks have a variety of tastes: sour, sweet, salty, spicy, cold, hot, and even stinky. The average price for a snack is usually between 2–10 yuan, such as deep-fried dough sticks, roast meat skewers, and stinky tofu.
The cost for drinks in China is at least half the price in the West. The cheapest mineral water is about 2 yuan for a 500 ml bottle, while a similar bottle of cola is around4yuan. A can/bottle of beer is usually below 10 yuan.
You can also see many milk tea / fruit juice shops in cities. The cost for a cup, usually for take-out, is 5–10 yuan.
The price of KFC and McDonald's in China is similar to the rest of the world. You can find them easily in popular cities, if you want a break from Chinese food.
The cost of a hamburger is around 12 yuan, 7 yuan for fries, and a drink costs 7–10 yuan. Usually you can get a meal combo for 40 yuan (6.5 USD) including hamburger, fries, drink, and fried chicken.
There are some very cheap meal combos in small restaurants at the roadside. Chinese 'fast food' (快餐 kuài cān) joints are usually very crowded during lunch and dinner time, when people break from work and have no time for cooking at home.
One type is like a school canteen, displaying trays of food behind a glass window. The cost is usually around 10 yuan, and the food includes rice, meat, vegetables, and soup.
Another type provides set meals from a menu to collect/take-away from the counter, more like KFC, but not as fast. These are more like 20 yuan per tray of soup, rice, and main dish.
These restaurants are not recommended for tourists. They might win the locals with their low price and convenience. However, the food is often lower quality, more oily, and full of MSG. So to enjoy authentic local cuisine, you are not suggested to eat 'fast food'.
Tipping is not common in China. It's never expected at small stalls and restaurants. Most restaurants include the service charge in the bill or the price of the food. It might be an option in the classiest restaurants, hotels, and cafés.
You will usually find higher prices for the same food/drink at:
If you are getting ready to come to China, see How to Plan a First Trip to China for help. Or see our recommended tours below for inspiration: