When I told a group of my English friends that I was moving to China, they literally cried with laughter at the thought of me having to regularly rely on chopsticks when eating in public.
This revealed to me two things. First, that I had obviously not been able to sufficiently disguise my inability to eat with those slippery sticks and second, that I needed to look for a group of more supportive friends!
Despite my lack of ability with chopsticks I didn’t starve whilst living in China and this was for two reasons. You don’t need to speak Chinese to order at most restaurants, as you can just point at the pictures of what you want to order. Secondly, because some waitresses couldn’t bear to see me struggling anymore and would sidle up to me and discreetly deposit a fork on the table to put me out my misery.
Given all of this you won’t be surprised to see that my top 5 kid friendly Chinese foods do not require the use of chopsticks.
1. Sesame bread
If you need a super tasty snack to keep the whole family going, my kids loved sesame bread. Look out for the vendors that sell this king of carbs from carts in the streets all over China. A word of warning though, try and get it when it is fresh from the oven, as otherwise it may break your jaw!
2. Xiao long bao
Another firm family favourite was xiao long bao, a delicious dumpling with a fried bottom and soupy interior. Someone once introduced them to my kids as Chinese hamburgers, as they have doughy bread on the outside and a meat filling. You could even get them in lots of cute animal designs. I couldn’t resist pigging out on these!
3. Peking duck
If you are in Beijing you should go on the hunt for a restaurant that serves the capital’s specialty, Peking duck. Once you’ve answered all the questions about the ethics of eating a feathered friend, the kids will enjoy rolling this crispy meat with cucumber and spring onions in thin mini pancakes. I love the hoisin sauce that it’s served with, but my little ones often prefer it without.
Jiaozi, or dumplings as you may know them, have been around for over 1,800 years. These little parcels consist of minced meat and vegetables wrapped up in thin dough like skin, and often come boiled and then fried. Dip them in soy sauce and vinegar to make them even more moreish.
If you are looking for a bite to eat for breakfast, look no further than the street food stall selling jianbing. This Chinese equivalent of the breakfast burrito consists of a crispy fried crêpe packed with crunchy wonton, coriander, tangy pickles and hoisin or chilli sauce – yum!
Food and regions in China
As you would expect from a country as vast as China, every region has its own type of food. If you head to Shanghai you are likely to find light and sweet foods. If you see that the food is from the Sichuan province, unless your children are really used to spicy foods or have flame resistant mouths do not feed this to them! It took about two days for me to regain full feeling in my mouth and for my eyes to stop watering after I sampled a delicious dish from this region.
It’s fun to let the little ones try eating with chopsticks and you can pick up the kid friendly ones that are joined at the top to make life a bit easier. However, for the sake of your sanity you may also want to carry around a plastic fork. They are not always available and you may turn grey and old watching your child pick up individual noodles or grains of rice with their chopsticks!
A further word of warning, a lot of meat dishes will come still on the bone, so if your children are not fans of this type of food you may want to try to avoid it.
Also some of the labelling of foods are not always entirely accurate. Like the meat section I came across in a local supermarket that was labelled ‘Dairy’.
And finally, if you like me are not a natural with chopsticks, I feel it’s only fair to warn you that in some parts of China they are not used to seeing Westerners and so they might start to take your photos when you are struggling to snare your food. I am sure that more than one person has a photo of me with a face full of soy sauce that had splashed onto me after a dumpling had escaped back into my bowl.