High salaries and generous benefits are not uncommon for expats working in China. But with regular flights home, pricy accommodation in China’s big cities and perhaps even student loans to pay off, many of us find ourselves budgeting from time to time. Luckily, it’s easy to eat well in China without breaking the bank. Below are six tasty dishes for China expats on a budget.
Disclaimer: The prices below are based on my recent experiences in the city of Shenzhen. Prices may vary by location.
Found in most Chinese restaurants, this simple dish consists of rice, eggs, vegetables and small cubes of ham. In Chinese restaurants abroad, diners may have come across this dish as yeungchow fried rice. Fun Fact: The city of its namesake in Jiangsu province once held the world record for the largest ever serving of fried rice. The record was, however, later revoked when they were found to have fed some of it to pigs (a stipulation was that the rice was fit for human consumption).
One portion of yangzhou chaofan will usually set you back around RMB10-15 (USD1-2), depending on portion size. It’s a good dish for those who want to avoid anything too spicy, although most restaurants will have a pot of chili sauce on the table if you want to add some kick.
Originally from the picturesque city of Guilin in Guangxi province, this dish can be found in most corners of China. The rice noodles are usually served in a bowl of broth with pork, peanuts and sometimes sauerkraut, among other ingredients. The noodles can be somewhat slippery and difficult to pick up with chopsticks, so ask for a spoon. It’ll also come in handy for slurping up the yummy broth.
Many restaurants adopt the same name as the dish, pricing it at around RMB8-18 (USD1-3). If noodle soup isn’t for you, most Guilin rice noodle restaurants also offer an egg-fried version of the dish.
A staple dish all across China, dumplings are commonly said to have originated from the northeast part of the country. Another food for which whole restaurants are established, diners can normally choose from steamed/boiled dumplings (shuǐjiǎo) and pan fried dumplings (jiānjiǎo).
Although typically stuffed with a mixture of meat and veggies, most restaurants also serve leek and egg dumplings as a vegetarian option. Either way, they should come with a small bowl to which you can add vinegar, soy sauce and chili for dipping. In general, thrifty diners can find a small portion of dumplings for around RMB15 (USD2) and expect to pay RMB25-30 (USD4-5) for a larger portion.
A speciality of Hui Muslims, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles can be found in almost any neighborhood of any small town or big city in China. As the name suggests, the noodles are quite literally pulled by hand from the dough. In most restaurants that serve this dish, diners can see all the way into the kitchen where chefs stretch the noodles as far as possible before whacking them into a pile of flour and throwing them into a pot to boil.
The noodles are typically served in a broth, fried or simply boiled with a cold sauce, all of which will contain beef as the base meat. These restaurants are usually halal, so don’t expect to get pork or alcohol. Prices vary from around RMB15-20 (USD2-3), with an extra serving of beef added for RMB10.
Although the literal English translation of “cool skin” might not sound appetizing, this dish from the ancient city of Xi’an is a favorite in restaurants and at street stalls alike. The wide and flat “belt noodles” are served with miànjin, a type of solidified gluten easily mistaken for tofu, as well as peanuts, sesame paste, shredded cucumber, coriander and chili sauce.
As the name suggests,liang pi is served cold, making it a popular summertime snack. And at as little as RMB6 (USD0.80) for a modest sized-bowl, it’s probably one of the cheapest meals in China.
Originally from Taiwan, this iconic delicacy has found favour all across Mainland China. Usually served from small stalls with hotplates rather than restaurants, the hand-grabbed Chinese pancake is perhaps better as a snack than a full meal. A choice of filling, including hot dogs, fried egg, chicken and shredded potato, is usually available.
You will likely come across other varieties of pancake at the same stalls, including cōngyóubǐng, made with scallions, and jīdànbǐng, a crispy egg pancake often eaten for breakfast. Priced at around RMB5-12 (USD0.80-2), these bings, alongside liang pi, are one of the cheapest food options in China.
What other China cheap eats do you love? Tell us in the comments section below.
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Keywords: China expats on a budget China expats
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