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.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
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…
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.
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.
January 31, 2021, 5:52 am
No obesity has to do with rubbish food that Americans eat full of corn syrup and sugar it sounds like you are naive as for Chinese food products
I wouldn’t touch them in a million years.
As for local cuisine in China there must be plenty of good places to eat local cuisine but let’s bash China.
- January 31, 2021, 5:52 am
- March 6, 2019, 3:24 am
April 5, 2021, 9:34 am
Chinese restaurant food is generally garbage these days, unless you can find a restaurant that makes food from scratch (fresh ingredients) using authentic methods. Otherwise, you will get some reheated frozen “Chinese” vegetables (like you can buy at Walmart) with some sickening pre-made sauce over the top. Eggrolls with be reheated frozen types. In short, it is low quality school lunchroom grade food. Our last meal from such a restaurant (and it will be our LAST such meal) resulted in us throwing away all the leftovers we had in takeout containers. For 3 of us, $50 down the drain!
May 13, 2022, 4:17 pm
It’s because most Chinese people can’t cook. They make terrible food and season with plenty of msg to trick them into thinking it tastes ok.
April 5, 2023, 10:49 pm
Nothing says “I ‘live in China’ but have never set foot outside of Shanghai or Guangdong Province” like asking this question.
Chinese food is not bad. Visit Chengdu. Visit Xi’an. Visit anywhere in Hunan Province. Saying all Chinese food is bad on account of the food available in the biggest cities is like saying all European food is bad on account of the food available in London or Amsterdam.
No variety? In the north they don’t even eat rice with their meals! Northern China is a wheat culture, not a rice culture. The staple grains, meats, cooking techniques vary significantly across the country. Some places (like where I live in Guangdong Province) have bad food like what you describe, but you can’t judge the entire country’s cuisine based on just those places.
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