The best 5 meals in China for under a dollar

Jan 27, 2015

The best and cheapest food you can get in China!

1. 煎饼 (jian bing)


The jian bing is China’s version of the French crepe, but unlike its French counterpart there’s only a savory kind. The jian bing is essentially a thin flour and egg pancake spread on a smooth pan, about 40 cm in diameter. One or two eggs are cracked onto it as one side is cooking. Cilantro and chopped green onions are sprinkled on the still-runny eggs. It’s then flipped over, and brushed with diluted fermented dofu (“the brown sauce”) and some hot pepper sauce if you like. Then a rectangular piece of crisped dough is placed in its center, the sides folded in atop it, and the whole thing is then folded into thirds and placed in a plastic bag. Many varieties exist and if you bring the ingredients they’ll add whatever you ask them to (e.g. lettuce or ham). They usually go for 3 yuan, and for an extra egg (highly recommended) they typically charge you .50 – 1 yuan per egg. Add a cup of soy milk and you’re still spending less than a buck for a hot meal and beverage.

2. 肉夹馍(rou jia mo)


The rou jia mo—also known as the Chinese style hamburger—originated in Shaanxi province, but is now widely consumed all over China. It is a perfect street food with savory filling and chewy bread (mo). Rou means pork, Jia means placing the meat between the bread and mo means bread. For only six yuan you can get a rou jia mo which is a crisp unleavened oven baked cake opened like a pita and stuffed with shredded fatty pork that has been slow cooked in a delicious broth of soy, cooking wine, star anise, and a pinch of cinnamon.

3. 兰州拉面 Lanzhou beef noodles.


Did anyone say beef noodles? The famous Lanzhou dish is ubiquitous in China, and was actually voted “the number one Chinese noodle dish” in 1999. This dish has five main features: clear soup, white radish, red pepper, green caraway and yellow noodles. 拉面 (la mian) means “pulled noodles”, and the chef will stretch and pull the noodles by hand until they’re the desired width. If the noodles aren’t stretched and pulled by hand, they just don’t taste as good. The noodles can be wide or slim to meet different preferences. A bowl of beef noodles can cost as little as 4 yuan and takes only a few minutes to prepare. What’s more, Lanzhou beef noodle eateries can be found on almost every street corner in China—two if you’re in Lanzhou! “.

4. Chou Doufu (臭豆腐 Stinky Tofu)


Many people (especially first time visitors to China) are put off by the strong, pungent smell of stinky tofu, but smells can be deceiving. Stinky tofu, which is most commonly prepared by deep frying bean curd, is one of the most delicious—and cheapest—tofu dishes in the Middle Kingdom. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, delicious tofu for just 5 RMB!

5. Ma la tang (麻辣烫)


Although it was recently voted one of the most unhygienic street foods in China, malatang remains a favorite among both locals and expats. This numb, spicy soup from Sichuan is the cheaper (and much spicier) cousin of hotpot. Simply pick your veggies and meat and the shop owner will cook them together and a delicious mouth-numbing broth. The price of a bowl of ma la tang depends on the number of ingredients (1rmb per skewer) so you can make it as cheap–or expensive–as you like.

Honorary Mention: Dumplings (jiaozi 饺子)

China Jiaozi 3

No list about Chinese food would be complete without Chinese dumplings. The Chinese dumplings (jiao zi) generally consists of finely chopped vegetables or minced meat wrapped in small pieces of dough. They can be sweet or savory, steamed or boiled (or even fried) and are commonly served with a dipping sauce made of vinegar, soy sauce and chili oil. Many families traditionally prepare and eat jiao zi together on Chinese New Year’s Eve, the evening before Chinese New Year. Other types of Chinese dumplings include zongzi (粽子), xiaolongbao (小笼包) and guo tie (锅贴).

By Ginger, Account Manager at Teaching Nomad

About our company: Teaching Nomad is an American owned and operated education recruitment company based in Shanghai, China. Our goal and purpose is to help great teachers find great teaching jobs. Year round, we have hundreds of teaching job vacancies. Whether your goal is to be an ESL teacher or teach in an international school, we have a teaching job for you. You can browse jobs online at www.teachingnomad.com/job-search for the latest job openings. Teaching Nomad is here to make teaching in China easier, so please feel free to reach out and contact us with any questions or inquiries!


Recover your password

Send us your email and we will send you instructions to reset your password

If you remember your password