1. Dumplings - jiaozi
You’ll find these bite-size, crescent-shaped parcels sold everywhere across the country, from tiny hole-in-the-walls at train stations to street stalls at lively public squares. Pinch your chopsticks over each piece and dip into a soy or chilli sauce, before sinking your teeth into the thin dough and soft meat and vegetable mix (usually pork and cabbage).
2. Xian pancake - xian bing
Sometimes dry, but always delicious, this Chinese-Islamic snack originates from the eponymous city in central China. Flaked meat is loaded in between two thin discs of dough, accompanied with a handful of cabbage and flecks of fresh ginger, diced onions and a splash of Shaoxing rice wine and chili oil.
One of the best places to grab a xian bing is from one of the small stalls in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, the hub of the Muslim community, just west of the Bell Tower.
3. Beijing pancake – jian bing
This 2000-year-old snack is so popular in the capital that, for those on the go, it’s the one thing that’s worth the wait. First, the batter is thinly spread out onto a hotplate, then various toppings, sauces and spices are generously sprinkled and dolloped on as the batter crunches and curves skywards.
Next, a smaller, golden sheet of crispy batter (bao cui) is placed inside, which crackles as the jian bing is folded up like a parcel and served.
4. Steamed buns – baozi
A popular breakfast choice, baozi are served on bamboo steamer baskets, but you’ll only need one or two to keep you going. Made using the thick dough, it has a fluffy yet heavier consistency than jiǎozi, and feels as if you’re biting into a warm roll. It’s the fillings, from red beans to seaweed to minced beef, that liven up this otherwise plain bun: as soon as your teeth reach the centre, the flavour bursts and ripples across your tongue.
5. Candied fruit on a stick – tang hu lu
Skewered fruits (grapes, hawthorns, strawberries) are doused in sweet syrup that crystallises and hardens. This candied treat was first created over 800 years ago but it’s still believed to help with digestion problems.
You’ll need to crunch through the hard coating of sugar first to get to the sweet burst of fruits inside. It also has a distinctive, lingering smell, so it’s best to try one first at Wangfujing Market in Beijing.
6. Thick rice balls – ci fan tuan
Usually served with soy milk, ci fan tuan is another popular breakfast snack that is enjoyed across Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Piping hot clumps of steamed rice are wrapped in a crispy sheet of thin dough (you tiao), resembling something similar to a sushi roll.
Ci fan tuan can be either sweet or savoury – for a sweet one, try a sugar and sesame seed filling, and for savoury opt for flaked pork, mushrooms and pickled veg. The stalls behind Plaza 66 in Shanghai are a good place to start but get exploring to find your own favourite.
7. Fried rice – chao fan
From east to west, chao fan is one of China’s most well-known dishes. An egg is cracked into the wok first, followed by rice, spring onions and then small pieces of beef, chicken or pork. The spoon clangs against the well-oiled wok as it’s all continuously tossed and turned on high heat.