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CNN Travel: 8 Best Foodie Towns in China

Chengdu Street Food MarketAlthough travelers can try dishes from around China and the globe in renowned food cities Beijing and Shanghai, it is outside these major metropolises where a world of exciting Chinese cuisine awaits the true foodie.

With this in mind and after three years of living in China and writing about Chinese food, I embarked on a six-month journey with my husband and two daughters.

We loaded up a campervan and set out from Shanghai on July 1. We’ve since covered more than 20,000 kilometers and 21 provinces in our quest to see China’s most remote and beautiful areas, and to taste the different regional foods along our way.

Here are eight most amazing Chinese food cities I’ve come across so far. The list is in no particular order…

That’s Shanghai Magazine: Shanghai’s Best Breakfast Street Foods

Breakfast street foods of ShanghaiThe early morning life of the streets is just beginning but already the street food vendors have lifted their awnings and are doing a brisk trade in hot soy milk, steaming baozi and crispy you tiao. The early morning life of the streets is just beginning but already the street food vendors have lifted their awnings and are doing a brisk trade in hot soy milk, steaming baozi and crispy you tiao. So many Shanghai locals buy breakfast on the street, we wonder if anyone actually eats at home. Fiona’s top breakfast hotspot is, not surprisingly, on the corner of Nanchang Lu where it meets Xiangyang Lu, but there’s another great place to try two blocks north at Xinagyang Lu/Changle Lu. You don’t need an address though – every neighborhood has dozens of breakfast vendors clustered together, most open from dawn until mid-morning.

 

Serious Eats: Dispatches From the Silk Road: The Must-Try Uyghur Food of Kashgar

Must Try Uyghur Food of KashgarIn China’s remote far west, Kashgar sits like a punctuation mark between China and Central Asia, along the Silk Road. For two millennia, the oasis city has enticed travelers with labyrinthine alleys filled with the smoke of char-grilled meat, the scent of spice, and the hawker cries of pomegranate vendors. But while it lies in the region of Xinjiang, within China’s borders, Kashgar’s cuisine shares little with traditional Chinese food.

Instead, it’s heavily influenced by the local Uyghur people, a community of Turkic-speaking Muslims. Facing a gallery of sometimes difficult neighbors—Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, India, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan—Kashgar has experienced a turbulent history of outside interference and internal conflict. The Chinese might be the most recent to govern, but Kashgar has been ruled by the Tibetan, Persian, Turkic, and Mongol empires in turn. Thanks to this revolving door of influences, the city’s cuisine is a splendid mosaic of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Chinese flavors.

Kashgar’s food resonates with tastes typically associated with the Middle East—cumin, chili, cinnamon, garlic, saffron, and sesame. The city’s rich culinary life surprises on every corner of its winding streets, as spice-sprinkled lamb sizzles over charcoal pits, bakers haul rounds of bread from tall tonur (outdoor pit ovens), and women sell tiny bowls of tart yogurt sprinkled with sugar…

Serious Eats: Essential Shanghai Street Food: 14 Must-Eat Dishes

Cook Preparing Street Food In ShanghaiWith a population of more than 24 million, Shanghai isn’t just the biggest city in China, it’s also the nation’s street food epicenter. In part that’s thanks to the area’s compelling food culture—the city sits in the Yangtze River Delta where it meets the Yellow Sea, and the often sweet, oily cuisine is especially well known for its use of freshwater fish, eels, and crustaceans, seafood, and water plants like lotus root. But mostly it’s because the city is a magnificent, pulsing magnet for migrants from all over China who come to Shanghai seeking work. When they can’t find the jobs they dreamed of, many start street food businesses, bringing the food culture of their home province and some of the best foods from all over China right into the heart of Shanghai…

Serious Eats: Why Jianbing is China’s Most Popular Street Breakfast

Jianbing Shanghai China Breakfast CrepeJianbing is one of China’s most popular street breakfasts. And while all manner of Chinese buns and dumplings have spread well beyond the country’s borders, it also might be China’s best-kept culinary secret. The savory crisp-fried crêpes are all about bold contrasts of flavor and texture: eggs, spread over the surface of the wheat and mung bean flour pancake as it cooks. Crunchy puffed strips of fried wonton. A jumble of grassy cilantro, peppery scallions, and tangy pickles; a sweet and spicy layer of hoisin and chili sauces. And each one is cooked fresh to order on a circular cast-iron grill, just the way you want it.

Every metropolitan neighborhood across the People’s Republic has its own jianbing vendor serving breakfast from dawn through mid-morning, satisfying hungry locals on their way to work. But until recently, you might have struggled to find jianbing outside of China and Taiwan. Now a few Western pioneers, self-taught in the secrets of making jianbing, are bringing them home to America and Britain…

Saveur: Where to Drink in Shanghai

Bar in ShanghaiShanghai is one of the world’s most exciting cocktail cities, a humming metropolis of glittering high-rise bars and intimate speakeasies filled with a savvy, cosmopolitan crowd. You are as likely to rub shoulders with a Chinese eco-entrepreneur as an American designer or French photographer on location. Shanghai’s cocktail scene has long sought inspiration from abroad, notably New York, Tokyo, Taipei, and London. But the city’s own cocktail culture has now come of age. A new wave of homegrown Chinese bartenders is emerging, using unique local ingredients to make creations with a sophisticated Chinese accent.

Aromatics used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries—zesty green Sichuan pepper, honey-sweet osmanthus blossoms, cassia bark, and Chinese cardamom—are now finding their way into complex, layered cocktails along with fruits like mulberry-purple yang mei, goji berries, and lychee. Chinese wines and spirits have found a place in the cocktail maker’s lexicon, too, with grain liquor baijiu and smooth amber haungjiu rice wine adding intriguing new flavor to cocktail classics. Shanghai bartender and cocktail competition judge Yao Lu has noticed the trend, too, saying of recent national cocktail bartending championships, “just like in Chinese cuisine there were huge regional variations in the cocktails—spices and mala (the numbing spice of Sichuan pepper) in Chengdu, tropical fruits in southern Guangzhou, classic elegant ingredients in Shanghai and heavy syrups and liqueurs from the colder northern climate in Beijing.”

Here’s where to meet the next generation of cocktail makers and try a taste of something new, in six Shanghai bars of note…

Serious Eats: How to Host a Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Feast

How to Host Mid Autmn FestivalThis Sunday, people around the world will celebrate China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, or zhong qiu jie. As the last days of late summer fade and the leaves on the chestnut trees begin to turn a golden brown, families come together in the cool, crisp air to enjoy a feast under the glow of the full moon. Red lanterns strung with riddles dance in tree branches, while the sweet fragrance of osmanthus flowers wafts through the evening air.

If all that sounds dizzyingly picturesque, then you have the right idea.

The evening’s dishes emphasize the bounty of fall’s harvest—pumpkin, chestnuts, taro, persimmons, sweet potato, walnuts, and mushrooms figure centrally in most meals, along with traditional celebratory foods like crab, pork, and duck. Feasts also heavily feature round foods like mooncakes, a nod to the full moon’s representation of unity and togetherness for families. In addition to Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an important time for families to be reunited, much like Thanksgiving in the United States…

Saveur: Chickpea Fritters and Spleen Sandwiches: Sicily’s Essential Street Snacks

Sicilian Street FoodIf you walk down the streets of Palermo, you’ll smell and taste something a little bolder than the flavors that Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, is usually known for. Alongside the wild fennel, icy crystals of granita, and tomatoes so red they break your heart is a street food scene alive with almost brutish intensity: spleen, mixed offal, snails, octopus, and grilled intestines.

Squeamish? Don’t be. Sicily is home to one of the world’s most distinctive and delicious street food cultures, built on layers of foreign influences and powerful flavors from centuries of exchange with (and occupation by) Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Normans. It’s original cooking you won’t find anywhere else, and the street cooks here turn humble ingredients like chickpeas and organ meat into something destination-worthy.