My top 5 favorite Chinese foods


Photo credit: Melinda Wang

My parents assemble all the ingredients necessary to make a pork and mushroom dumpling filling. This particular dinner, my mom tried to step out of her comfort zone by making this filling, which she had never attempted before.

By Melinda Wang, Senior Reporter

When I think of Chinese food, I envision rich flavors, satisfying textures and a unique way to connect with Chinese culture. My parents raised me on dishes from all across China, which developed my love for a diversity of textures and ingredients in my food. Chinese food has had a large presence in my life, so I want to share my love for it through my top five favorite Chinese foods of all time. 

1) Shui jian bao or pan-fried buns

As a toddler, I distinctly remember my mom kneading, rolling and cutting out perfect little circles of homemade dough — known as pi, or the wrapper to make these buns. She placed spoonfuls of homemade savory filling on the wrappers and quickly folded the edges to efficiently produce round buns for my dad, who pan-fried them on both sides.

Fillings depend on a person’s diet, but traditionally, ingredients like pork, shrimp and chives are used. Pan-fried buns are my favorite food of all time, but they require a lot of time and energy to make. Trust me, the result is well worth it.

My mom is making noodles for zha jiang mian by hand. While it's more efficient to buy store bought noodles, noodles made from scratch reinforce the concept of home made food.
My mom makes noodles for zha jiang mian by hand. While it’s more efficient to buy noodles from the store, noodles made from scratch often do a better job of tying a homemade dish together. (Photo credit: Melinda Wang)

2) Zha jiang mian or fried sauce noodles

“Fried sauce noodles” is the direct translation of zha jiang mian — “fried sauce” usually refers to yellow or brown soybean paste. This dish ranked a very close second on this list because of how the sauce’s flavor and the noodles’ texture work so well together. My parents always made the noodles from scratch, then fried brown soybean paste into a separate saucepan, to which they added strips of pork, sautéed onions and garlic.

The recipe for zha jiang mian is simple and straightforward since the last step is to combine the cooked noodles with the sauce. I would also recommend adding a little chili oil to this dish for an extra kick of flavor.

3) Jiao zi or Chinese dumplings

Jiao zi is a staple dish in my household. While I have to try and convince my parents to drive to the nearest 99 Ranch Market to buy salted egg custard buns and ingredients for zha jiang mian, my parents willingly make these dumplings because we always have the necessary ingredients and the process is like muscle memory to them.

Similarly to pan-fried buns, dumplings have a wrapper and filling, except a dumpling wrapper is much thinner. My favorite filling of all time consists of lamb, carrot and a multitude of different herbs and spices. Dumplings can be eaten during celebrations such as Lunar New Year and birthdays, but also on regular days when you’re in need of a hearty meal.

4) Liu sha bao or salted egg custard buns

Liu sha means “quicksand” in Chinese and refers to the sweet, gooey interior of a salted egg custard bun. The pillowy and moist exterior is wonderful, but the filling is what makes it one of my favorite Chinese foods. It was love at first bite when I first ordered this dish by accident, and now, I have never failed to order this dessert in a dim sum restaurant.

 These salted egg buns are easier to make from scratch than pan-fried buns, as you only need to steam them instead of frying them. I would also recommend buying these dessert buns from the frozen food section of your local Asian supermarket, as they’re more efficient to cook.

5) Tang yuan or sweet rice balls with filling

Tang yuan are typically eaten on the last day of every Lunar New Year festival, but I eat them whenever because they’re so good. They have a melty, soft outside and a lava-like filling, symbolizing harmony and reunion.

The idea of tang yuan is similar to salted egg custard buns — they are both desserts containing filling — but the process of making the dough and the filling is completely different. Tang yuan filling is often made from black sesame, but there are also flavors like red bean, peanut and sakura. Frozen tang yuan from an Asian supermarket also tastes just as good as homemade ones.

Chinese food plays a powerful role in how I connect to my parents and my roots; I enjoy making these foods as much as I enjoy eating them. I’m always willing to try new foods from different cultures, but Chinese food will always have a special place in my heart.