When most people think of Chinese food, they think of chicken and broccoli, General Tsao’s chicken, and, of course, fortune cookies.  Unfortunately, despite being delicious, none of those foods are traditional Chinese food!

Broccoli isn’t a Chinese vegetable, most Chinese people have never heard of General Tsao’s chicken, and fortune cookies come from Japan.

While that realization can be devastating, the good news is that a traditional Chinese food menu is leagues apart from an American-Chinese one. The dishes may look unfamiliar, but they’re fresh, tasty, and come packed with incredible flavors. 

To help you understand some of the more popular ones, we’ve put together this guide. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be ready to dive into the world of Chinese cuisine. 

Read on to learn about seven traditional types of Chinese food you probably won’t find at the local Hong Kong Buffet. 

1. Dumplings

Most Westerners have heard of dumplings but don’t quite know what they are. These are some of the oldest types of Chinese food, with origins dating back to almost 2,000 years ago. 

Most dumplings feature an outer shell made of flour and water wrapped around an inner filling. Depending on the region (and what people had available throughout history), the filling can be anything from pork and vegetables to chicken and seafood.

Dumplings are an entire category of food themselves. Some of the most popular varieties include jiaozi, xiao long bao, and shui jiao. The XCJ features a great selection of dumplings to choose from. 

2. Wontons

Wontons are similar to dumplings in that they feature wrappers enclosed around filling. However, there are a few things that set them apart from their culinary cousins. 

Whereas dumplings don’t contain excess wrappers, wontons have a lot of it. This creates a consistency different than dumplings. Most Chinese people also eat wontons in soup. 

Like dumplings, there’s no limit to the variety of wonton fillings. Meat and vegetables are common, but you can even find wontons stuffed with things like egg yolk and spam. 

3. Steamed Buns

Steamed buns or baozi are one of the most popular Chinese breakfast foods. Like the previous two dishes, Chinese steamed buns feature a flour dough wrapper and inner stuffing. They’re much larger than the other two, however.

Given that most people eat them for breakfast, Chinese steamed buns feature fillings that are a bit more standard. Meat, vegetables, and fried eggs are some of the more common types. 

If you’re ever in China, you can find steamed buns at anywhere from a five-star restaurant to a tiny stall on the street. People from all backgrounds enjoy starting their day with a warm and chewy baozi

4. Moon Cakes

Yue bing (literally moon cake in Chinese) is a special treat eaten by Chinese people during the Mid-Autumn Festival. This occurs sometime around late September or early October. 

Moon cakes have their origins in Ancient China. However, it wasn’t until the later Ming and Qing dynasties when they became popular, and their making improved.

Like most Chinese foods, moon cakes come in many different forms. Most of them, however, have egg, red bean paste, and nuts. Some special moon cakes come with fruit, while others feature pork floss. 

Many local Chinese stores sell yue bing around the Mid-Autumn Festival. Make sure to buy a pack so you can try them! 

5. Chinese Noodles 

Whereas rice dishes are more popular in the south of China, noodles are more popular in the North. Along with dumplings, Chinese noodles provide Northern residents with hearty and warm meals that help them power through the cold winter months. 

Given that Chinese people have been enjoying noodles for thousands of years, the endless variety shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thick, thin, dry, in soup—if you can imagine a way to eat noodles, Chinese people probably have a dish for it. 

6. Zongzi

There’s not really a good translation for zongzi, but that’s not a problem. Once you try one, you won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

Zongzi is another traditional Chinese dish that people eat during the Dragon Boat Festival. It features glutinous rice wrapped around filling that’s then steamed in reed leaves. 

While zongzi has ancient origins, it remains a popular treat to this day. 

You can choose to eat sweet or savory versions. Sweet zongzi uses red bean paste and other similar ingredients as sweeteners, while savory ones feature ingredients like meat and shrimp. 

7. Chinese Pancakes 

Most Americans hear the word “pancake” and think of sugary mounds of deliciousness loaded with syrup. Chinese pancakes are just as delicious, but bear almost nothing in common with their Western counterparts.

The Chinese pancake or jian bing is a popular breakfast that people buy from street food vendors. Its batter comes from a combination of flour and egg. After a cook whips it together, they then add ingredients like lettuce and meat.

Whether you’re in Beijing in the north or Shenzhen in the very south, there’s a good chance you’ll see Chinese people grabbing a tasty jian bing on their way to work. 

Traditional Chinese Food: Unfamiliar But Superior in Every Way 

A lot of traditional Chinese food might look unfamiliar to you—especially if all you know is General Tsao’s chicken. Trust us when we say that it’s some of the most delicious food in the world.

Consider trying any of the traditional Chinese food recipes on this menu. Whether you order take-out or try your hand at cooking it yourself, we promise that it won’t disappoint. 

Are you craving some Chinese food now? Before you go and order some, make sure to check out the rest of our site for more great content.