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Feb 28, 2013 09:10 AM

China- General restaurant/food questions.

Hi. I was hoping someone could give me some feedback on the following questions.

1. what it is like to order food in restaurants (none tourist/western restaurants), street food etc. example- temple Street or Yang’s in Shanghai, will I be able to know what I am ordering off the menu?

2. Is there any foods I should avoid to not get sick? Water, street food, uncooked food cleaned in water?

3. Any other food do/don’t would be helpful!!

Also, I posted the other day about restaurants in HK, Beijing, and Shanghai and sadly received no responses! If you can provide any help I would really appreciate it. I have since read more postings but am still having the same issue of too much information and wading through all the different options.


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  1. I've been to Thailand and had no problems. I was cautioned not to drink the water and avoided salads, ice, that kind of thing. Street food was easy- you can see what's cooking and just point to it. I personally avoided stalls without a decent crowd and that strategy worked out. Restaurants were also ok since many staff in larger cities spoke enough English to get the basics across. I love Thai food and never had a meal I didn't enjoy. I did make sure to download some Thai food words before I went and pointed at various words occasionally. Hope this helps and enjoy your trip!! Asia was amazing and I've got plans to go to Vietnam next year.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Hobbert

      Hobbert offers good advice which is really common sense. Use your eyes: if it looks clean and I busy then they are good signs. Try to stick to the local dishes, the received wisdom is to stick to what the place does best, I have had colleagues "suffer" because they chose more western dishes in India whilst I was fine by staying very local.

      Ice, washed salads, cut fruit etc etc are things to avoid but this is changing as public sanitation improves - if you avoid local water remember to close your mouth in the shower!

      Ordering can be tricky if everything is in English but pointing is good, if the table next to you is eating something good then point and order.

      Remember many of these street places are fast food joints, if you aren't ready to order, hold up the queue by asking lots of questions and generally be indecisive tourists you will find locals lose patience very quickly and will seem rude.

      But think what your reaction would be in your local burger or coffee shop would be if the person in front of you interrogated the server about each dish or variety of coffee: is that butter or iceberg lettuce in the BigMac, what variety of potato do you use in the chips, can I have beets rather than tomatoes in the bun......I suspect the regulars would get feisty!

      1. re: PhilD

        Hi Phil D

        I will do my best not to hold up the queue! I don't expect I will be able to ask many questions and will rely on pointing at the menu and hoping for the best.

        I have traveled a fair bit so I have learned how to not upset the locals.

        My 2nd question was really in regards to my experiences in India. I tried to avoid all items that were washed in water and not cooked. Although I still got sick!

        I was not sure if this was the case in China or I could be a little more casual about eating fruits, salads, ice etc. in restaurants. I only ate fresh foods in higher end restaurants in India.

        1. re: aronbrager

          Compared to India the big cities are better but still use common sense and be careful.

          1. re: PhilD

            My rule if eating streetside would be to choose the stall(s) with the long queues - at least you know the food will be fresh. Anyway, am putting my theory to the test (yet again) when I'm in New Delhi this weekend onwards.

      2. re: Hobbert

        Hi Hobbert. Thanks for reply!! I was concerned there was something wrong with the way I posted comments!!! I appreciate your advice, common sense goes a long way and I should rely on my judgement. Good suggestion on downloading some food words.

        Thanks again.

      3. I am currently at the JW Marriott in Shanghai. I stay here because I can walk to both Yangs and Jia Jia Tong Bao across the street from Yangs. Yangs has pictures on the wall with descriptions in English...simple to order there. You pay first, then pick up the bao from the front window, and then go inside and eat. If you order a soup, and if you love hot and sour soup theirs is incredible!! Across the street is JJTB, and they too have an english record for JJTB dumplings (for breakfast no less) is two orders myself- or 24 XLB!! Enjoy and don't worry! Last tip. bring a bottle of water to drink..

        7 Replies
        1. re: sockster

          Hi sockster. Thanks for input! If I only have chance to visit Yangs or JJTB which would you recommend?

          1. re: aronbrager

            This is what I do when I'm pressed for time. I start at JJTB, and get an order of the pork XLB..they're small, so it's like an appetizer. Then, walk across the street and get one order of Yangs. (4 to an order), and you've done both...Seriously, if you're there, TRY BOTH!!!

            1. re: sockster

              Hi Sockster. I thought I already asked this question, but can not seem to find it. Which Yang's location is across the street from JJTB? Want to make sure i go to the right one!


              1. re: aronbrager

                Here is the link:


                Go ahead and visit the lobby of the historic Park Hotel while you're at it, just down the street.

                1. re: aronbrager

                  I really don't which one it's called, but when you're at JJTB, just look out the window and you'll see the pink Yangs sign, literally right across the street. Have fun!!

              2. re: aronbrager

                No such thing as only one or the other. It is super-quick to eat at both. I prefer the crab or crab and pork XLB, available in season. One steamer basket of xlb is not that much food. They really are xiao (little).

            2. Street Food in Shanghai is tough one-- I avoid it at all costs. Its not like Taiwan or Thailand where you can eat off the street stalls and be somewhat ok.

              I do have a weak stomach though and the only exception I've found to be are the skewers late night off the street or the morning "jian bing" which is a breakfast pancake that they put egg, crispy tofu skin and other bits into a pancake.

              Use your discretion and just go to the street food places that have been previously frequented by bloggers and guides.

              You'll be fine at any of the Yang's dumplings. When in doubt just point and look and they'll get it.

              Buy bottled water to be safe.

              1. We were in China a few months ago - English speakers with very virtually no Chinese language skills. Even in the big cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Chengdu) in nice restaurants, most of the staff spoke virtually no English. Generally there was one employee (e.g., the manager) with sufficient English to communicate about food. There are picture menus but it's not always easy to figure out exactly what is depicted. So there were challenges that involved pointing and pantomime. In Xi'an we put ourselves in the hands of the English-speaking manager & ordered dishes that he recommended, after a basic description of the ingredients, and that was great. Did the same thing the next night in Chengdu and were disappointed. Go figure.

                We never got any sort of intestinal illness the entire trip, but we did not do street food or any real hole-in-the-wall type places. We did stick to bottled water, which was regularly supplied by all of the hotels where we stayed.

                1. In HK it's more friendly in general to non-Chinese speakers than China. For example, the restaurants around Temple Street are full of tourists. So they are used to dealing with non-Chinese. Yang's fried dumplings in Shanghai has a very limited menu, so it's easy to order.

                  For street food, make sure it's cooked through and hot off the grill or wok. I wouldn't eat anything that's been sitting around. In China only drink bottled water or beer or hot tea. Chinese beer is weak like water.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: PeterL

                    "Chinese beer is weak like water." - Tsingtao one of the common beers is 4.8% which is a touch stronger than water...!

                    1. re: PeterL

                      I've never gotten sick in China in 10+ trips (I hope I didn't just jinx myself :)). I wasn't brave enough to try the street food in Shanghai though. They were washing the dishes right on the sidewalk and the whole thing looked fairly iffy. But Temple Street in HK was no problem at all. Next time, I would check out what other tables have ordered and point because their "picture menu" items were pretty basic and I want to try the great fresh seafood I saw around me. There are Chinese tourists there so just order what they're having! The staff didn't speak English but were really friendly.

                      The only places I see raw vegetables are in high end Western restaurants or hotels. This has been no problem. In Chinese restaurants, they sometimes serve a plate of fresh fruit for dessert. It is always peeled and cut up so again shouldn't be a problem.

                      The place to be cautious is smaller hotel buffets. Never had a problem at big Western hotels but my colleague got sick at a smaller Chinese hotel. Anthony Bourdain actually says the only times he's gotten sick it was from hotel buffets.