No trip to China is complete without trying the local food. From the crispy Peking duck to the street breakfast par excellence jianbing, food is an integral part of experiencing China and its culture.
In terms of food safety, China has seen its fair share of high-impact food scandals. One of the main reasons why these scandals make headlines is because the public health authorities are actually becoming more adept at detecting and stopping food safety threats on time. These are good news to Chinese people and tourists alike, since everyone can enjoy food without much worry.
It’s recommendable not to drink the tap water, and drink only bottled water. Most Chinese restaurants offer free hot or warm water that is safe for human consumption, and since many have a high turnover, chances are that the ingredients they use for their food are fresh.
Many Chinese cooks don’t use their hands for cooking, and there are very few Chinese dishes that you can eat with your hands. In China it’s rude to touch the food with your hands. However, since you may at some point use a public restroom that lacks sinks, it’s important to bring hand sanitizer along to use whenever needed.
There’s an almost universal rule when it comes to choosing a safe restaurant: pick a place packed with local people. Noon is like the national lunchtime in China, and almost every place will be busy; take note in case you’d like to go back and try some dish during a less crowded time. If you prefer to enjoy a more relaxed meal, then try to avoid noon and eight in the evening.
Chinese food smells and looks different from other world cuisines, possibly including the Chinese food in your own home country. This means that it might be hard to advise travelers not to eat something that smells bad, as some dishes such as stinky tofu are inherently foul smelling.
In any case, it’s best to eat less meat when in China, as some unscrupulous people may not use quality meat to prepare the food they sell. The same rule applies for seafood. It’s best to eat seafood when visiting a coastal city, and not the inland, far away from the sea cities.
Many street vendors sell sliced fruit, and while this might sound convenient, it’s best to ask them to cut the fruit in front of you to ensure it’s fresh. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the shinier and perfect looking they are, the more artificial they probably are.
Just like in many other Asian countries, China has a strong street food culture. Experienced travelers know that street food is for the most part safe, and you shouldn’t be too scared to try Chinese street food. If you see many locals crowded around a street vendor, it’s safe to assume that the food is safe to some extent. The most challenging part about eating street food is actually knowing how to eat it.
Sometimes people take a little bit of time to adjust to new spices, and especially after a long flight, our stomachs might be more sensitive. An upset stomach on the first day in a foreign country is not too uncommon, and it’s not a sign of food poisoning or a disease.
However, if you present symptoms that last for more than three days, or your symptoms appear to be severe, then head to a hospital. Big Chinese cities offer international-standard healthcare, and local health care facilities are also of high standards, although you may experience long wait times or language problems.
Some hospitals do have English-speaking staff; so make sure to read information about them just in case you find yourself in need of medical attention.