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Why Chinese Food Is So Bad

There is probably a reason why five thousand years of history produced such bad food.

If someone offers to take you to a nice restaurant in China chances are that it’s not going to be Chinese. There are plenty of good restaurants in most Chinese cities, but they tend to be themed off of food in Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Europe, the USA, etc. 

It’s almost phenomenal how bad Chinese food in China is. There are basically two options: oily, salty, and packed with MSG with chili peppers, or oily, salty, and packed with MSG without chili peppers. 
When you first arrive in the country there is a good chance that you think there are a plethora of local style food options … until you realize that everything tastes the same. 

I’m not complaining. I don’t mind simply, filling food, and I don’t really give a shit about anything that I’m writing here. I just find it interesting. 

And I realized that I’m wrong about something. 

I once attributed the low quality of China’s modern culinary tradition to the upheavals of the 20th century — to the Cultural Revolution, to Mao’s rustification program, to poverty, a lack of food options, and famine. It made sense: China’s traditional culinary tradition was lost like so many other aspects of the culture. 

But then I came to Taiwan — to places that didn’t endure many of these social crackdowns and strife — and the food is equally as horrible. People still go to foreign themed restaurants when looking for a good meal. 

I’m all out of theories on this. 

Filed under: China, Food, Kinmen, Taiwan

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3526 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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6 comments… add one

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  • Melissa Popejoy December 26, 2018, 3:27 pm

    I found this article after googling “why is Chinese food so bad in China”. It’s been over 6 weeks of misery and a lot of Indian food. 7 more days until Vietnam…

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    • Wade Shepard December 26, 2018, 3:42 pm

      Excellent! Yes, I believe I once did a search for the same thing. It’s really startling after traveling in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Japan, and many other Asian countries where people really know what good food tastes like. This would probably really anger most Chinese people, but it seems as if the upheavals of the past 60 years+ have decimated the country’s culinary traditions. It’s funny that in order to get good Chinese food you need to go to Hong Kong or Taiwan or to some overseas Chinese community.

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  • Emile Chaz February 14, 2019, 5:42 pm

    It’s funny seeing how people in the western countries complain about Chinese food being “oily, salty, and packed with MSG”. Hmm at least their obesity rate is not as high as it is in the U.S? The culinary view of this author seems incredibly naive and parochial.

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    • Wade Shepard February 14, 2019, 9:47 pm

      Chinese food is oily, salty, and packed with MSG. This isn’t debatable. Also, China is getting fatter and fatter.

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    • Markus March 6, 2019, 3:24 am

      Chinese versions of take-out food is seasoned to levels that would be ridiculous to anyone with a reasonable palate. Incredible amounts of MSG ‘enhancers’ rather than prople flavour profiles being carefully mixed and incorperated.

      “Western countries” “The US?” “culinary view of the author seems parochial?”

      Obesity rates have less to do with cuisine and more to do with addiction and/or a lack of release. What an incredibly ignorant statement to male. I hope you don’t become fat, as such lazy thinking mindset if incredibly damaging.

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      • Wade Shepard March 6, 2019, 8:39 am

        Exactly!

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