You can say many things about Chinese food, but you can’t say it’s expensive. After living in China for more than 2 years, I can tell you that dining out in restaurants is definitely cheaper than cooking and preparing your own meals at home. It’s not always healthier, but who cares about their waistline when travelling!
When you come to China, you will see a lot of food stands and small restaurants places everywhere where authentic homemade food is prepared. The prices start from RMB1 and most of the dishes are served on plates so you can share it with others. Some travellers complain about Chinese food being a bit dirty, but that’s the way locals eat and if you want to experience the real Land of Dragons, eat the way locals eat!
For the cheapest Chinese food eating Chinese street food is an amazing experience as you can discover new flavours and herb combination. When it comes to food choices, they are endless. Everyone can find something healthy, tasty, fatty, salty, sweet or spicy.
Are you vegan or vegetarian? You should definitely try baked sweet potatoes with chilli sauce, baozi (traditional Chinese dumplings) filled with carrot and parsley, noodle soup or qiang bing which are slightly salted dough with chopped spring onions. If you love meat, Beijing duck or deep fried pork should go on your plate.
In today’s post, I would love to share top most delicious and cheapest Chinese meals I have experienced when living in different provinces all over China. As a budget traveller and foodie, I always look for affordable and yummy dishes that are rich in flavours and satisfy my hunger. Here are some of them:
The local currency in China: RMB (Chinese Yuan). RMB1 = $0.16.
Cheap Food in China #1 Baozi
These are traditional Chinese dumplings that come with a great variety of fillings – from fried pork and chopped carrot to sweet jam and grilled onion. Baozi are a great breakfast option on the cheap and although they might be a bit too stodgy for you, you’ll get used to eating them every morning.
Baozi are steamed so they are considered as a healthy meal in China, but when you add sesame oil or chilli vinegar, they are full of fat and extremely caloric. Baozi are served in wooden baskets at every street food vendors. The price depends on their size. Small ones are sold for RMB 0.50 and big ones are RMB1 each. I reckon that 2 big ones every morning will keep you full until lunchtime.
Chinese Cheap Eats #2 Noodle Soup
For cheap eats in Beijing, noodles are a great budget food for a lunch or dinner. Most of the Chinese soups are served with shredded beef or pork, chopped carrot, parsley and of course think noodles. One bowl, which shouldn’t cost more than RMB 8, will certainly satisfy your hunger for a few hours. If you don’t like soups, order plain noodles with peanuts and chopped veggies. If you like it spicy, add some sesame oil and chilli.
Chinese Cheap Eats #3 You tiao
It’s a great idea for a quick snack when strolling down the streets in China. Although you can often get them in the morning, some supermarkets and food vendors serve them 24/7. You tiao are deep-fried bread sticks made of dough and served with soymilk. Some foreigners, who have sweet teeth like me, dip them in chocolate sauce so you can have them as a dessert. 1 You tiao usually costs RMB 1 and 2 should definitely fill you up.
Chinese Cheap Eats #4 Baked Veggies
Veggies are extremely cheap in China, much cheaper than tropical fruits. If you are hungry, you can get a baked sweet potato, a bunch of grilled carrots, sweet corn on a stick or boiled sugar beets. Their prices vary from RMB 0,50 to only RMB 1 a serving. Besides, they are healthy and nutritious.
Chinese Cheap Eats #5 Jiaozi
Similarly to baozi, jioazi are Chinese dumplings but these are not steamed but fried. Their taste and shape are also different as they are much crunchier and smaller. They are extremely delicious when served with chilli sauce and cost only RMB 3 for a plate (6-8 jiaozi). Although jiaozi are served daily at street food vendors, they are usually made for Chinese New Year’s Eve in Spring Festival. Their shape is amazing as they are made into flowers, birds, fish and insects, more like arts and crafts than food!
Chinese Cheap Eats #6 Seafood
The price of seafood differs a lot in each province, but if you are nearby Hong Kong, such as in Dongguan (where I am currently), seafood is extremely affordable. One night, me and 3 of my friends ordered a plate of spicy oysters, grilled veggies (mushrooms, green beans, Chinese cabbage) and small pieces of cod-fish and we paid RMB 64 combined. This price included 2 beers and 2 bottles of mineral water. The best place to look for cheap oysters and fish are night markets.
As you can see, you don’t need to worry about high food expenses when visiting China since here, eating out is cheaper than cooking at home. As long as you stick to local food from the street and local restaurants, you may spend less than $5 a day on your food. Try to avoid places where Western food and fast food is served (McDonald’s and KFCs are 10 times more expensive than Chinese restaurants).
This is a guest post by eTramping – Agness and Cez – best friends and travel companions from Poland. These two are sharing their budget travel tips on how to travel the world with $25 in your pocket. Since 2011, they have travelled the world while teaching English in different Asian countries such as China, Thailand or Cambodia. They are both photography passionate obsessed with Chinese cuisine and culture.
For more China-related articles, read:
– Dreams of Pandora: Touring the Shennongjia Forests in China
– Beijing, China: A Gentle Mix of Old and New
– Ancient Experiences – Pingyao County, China
– Why I love Celebrating Chinese New Years