My 3 Must-Eat Meals in Changde

Following up on my must-eat meals in Beijing, where my mom’s family has been living for the past 30 years, it was only right that I tell you about the foods I needed to eat in my dad’s hometown of Changde 常德. Again, this does not encompass all of my favorite foods or Changde’s specialties, but here are the 3 foods I did not want to leave Changde without eating:

  1. Changde beef noodle soup
  2. 油粑粑 youbaba, a deep-fried doughnut
  3. Fish that I caught myself

1. Changde beef noodle soup

Changde is actually quite famous for their 牛肉米粉 niurou mifen, beef rice noodles. The noodles themselves are very distinct and difficult/impossible to recreate outside of Changde. (For similar reasons to why it’s difficult/impossible to recreate authentic NY-style pizza outside of New York – people attribute it to the water.) The noodles are the perfect consistency and absorb just enough flavor from the delicious soup without getting waterlogged. The soup is hearty and beefy without weighing you down and, in traditional Hunan style, it has a kick! (Hunan province, like Sichuan, is famous for spicy food. The big difference is the lack of the peppercorns that numb your mouth and/or cause extreme pain!)


This is officially my brother’s favorite breakfast food of all time, despite the fact that he usually tends to prefer more Western cuisines. We ate these noodles almost every single morning for breakfast with a splash of vinegar and relished these big bowls of soup and noodles and beef every single day we were with our family in Changde.

If you visit Changde, you must get a bowl. It is the most famous food out of Changde and one of the famous foods out of Hunan province.

2. 油粑粑

There is no direct English translation for this, but you baba roughly comes out to oil cake. If you are familiar with 油条 youtiao, fried crullers, then 油粑粑 will be a familiar food. It is a deep-fried ring with scallion bits throughout the dough and definitely not a health food. I also don’t see these in Beijing, and, as I understand it, this class of fried pastry is fairly unique to Hunan. I like these savory ones that are crispy and fluffy for eating on their own or dipping into my beef noodle soup.


They also make sweet 粑粑 varieties, and I would frequently hear street vendors with speakers advertising these while seeing kids running after them. It’s one of those foods that is really simple that just remind me of being in my dad’s hometown, eating breakfast with my family, who would tell me to not eat so much fried food…

3. Fish I caught myself

Since my grandmother’s passing, I always stay with my aunt and uncle when we visit Changde. My uncle is super passionate about fishing. He goes nearly every day, and whenever I show up at his place, there is fish that he caught on the table. The last time I visited China, he was drying scores of little fish for us to munch on as soon as we got in from the airport!

My grandfather also used to really love fishing, so every time we visit Changde, my uncle will take us to his spot to try our luck with the lines. I have come to enjoy how meditative fishing is, even though the weather wasn’t great the morning we went. It’s relaxing to sit and wait and slow down, which is really difficult for me and my racing thoughts to do.


Unfortunately, I did not catch a fish this time around. I almost got one but it got away. 😢 My brother caught a fish and my uncle caught enough to make up for it, and we were still able to come home with freshly-caught fish for dinner. It always tastes a little better knowing that you had to sit and wait and be rewarded for your patience. (And, in my uncle’s case, his skill!)

The food in Changde is really good and very different from the food in Beijing. Hunan is considered a southern province while Beijing is in the north. While it sometimes takes a bit of adjusting after eating a lot of northern-style food, I always have a great time eating when I visit my dad’s side of the family and the foods above are a big part of that.

Again, I cannot stress how grateful I am to have such amazing family that feeds me so much delicious food, whether they make it themselves, bring it home for me, to take me out to eat it. And I feel so fortunate that this amazing cuisine is part of my heritage. Eating is a big way that Chinese people connect, and it is instrumental in helping me reconnect with family members I haven’t seen in years. Nothing bridges the awkward gap created by time quite like sharing a delicious meal.

Have you ever been to Hunan before? If so, what are some of your favorite foods from the region?
What regional foods do you love, for China or elsewhere?
Hunan and Changde are known for their own variety of stinky tofu, but I just cannot bring myself to eat it, I’m sorry! It smells too stinky! (And I know, I know, the smellier the tastier, but I just can’t eat it after smelling it.) Frogs’ legs is also a dish I always see when I come back to Changde, and I refused to eat them for about 15 yeares after I rescued a frog to keep as a pet! I’ve had to acclimate over several years to the spice levels in the food in Changde, but it’s so worth it.

My 3 Must-Eat Meals in Beijing

After seeing my family (almost all of whom live in China save one branch of our family tree), the best thing about visiting China is the food.

The food game in China is next level. It’s not just about the quality and authenticity, but there are ingredients and entire cuisines that you can’t find in the US. Good luck trying to have homemade frogs legs and haw juice over here.

In Beijing, I had 3 must-eat foods that I didn’t want to leave without:

  1. Peking duck
  2. Hot pot
  3. KFC’s 老北京鸡卷 (or “Dragon Twister”, apparently)

Lemme explain.

1. Peking duck

Peking duck is a meal I can’t avoid when in Beijing, aka Peking, and I wouldn’t dream of it anyway. I used to be obsessed with Peking duck, to the point where I ate too much too fast in one evening and stopped eating it for a long time. The crispy duck skin, the succulent meat, the sweet bean or hoisin sauce, the fresh cucumber and scallion, all wrapped up in a thin little pancake. It’s one of my favorite meals back home, and there are a lot of restaurants that do it well here in the US. (In fact, I had Peking duck for my 24th birthday dinner.)

Christmas dinner, a few hours after I landed in Beijing

But Beijing takes it to that next level, because it is the birthplace of this famous dish. First of all, the history of the dish in this city is extensive. There are several restaurants that have been around for hundreds of years and are household names for Peking duck. Second of all, Beijing hasn’t let tradition keep them from mixing things up, and during my 2014 visit to China, I learned that the toppings game for Peking duck has been elevated. In addition to scallions (mandatory) and cucumber slivers (optional but so common that they’re mandatory for me personally), you can expect to find additional toppings like cantalope melon, rhubarb, mango, and pop rocks.


Pop rocks! This was a thing I discovered a few years ago but the novelty hasn’t worn off for me just yet. The crispy duck skin is served separately from the meat, and you have the option of dipping the skin into pop rocks for a really fun textural party in your mouth. Some of the more traditional restaurants won’t have pop rocks but will have sugar for you to dip the duck skin. Some places have both, like above. (The green thing next to the cucumber is green pop rocks. Pop rocks!!)

Also, Beijing knows that if you have Peking duck, duck-shaped dinnerware makes 100% sense. I don’t know why US restaurants don’t really serve duck on little duck-shaped platters but it’s super logical and I am a little put out that I can’t have duck on a duck-shaped plate in America.

2. Hot pot

Hot pot is one of my all-time favorite meals anywhere. I love doing hot pot at home, because it’s so warming, you control how your food is cooked because you cook it yourself, you control the flavors with your dipping sauce, it’s a communal experience with everyone around a table. I always eat it the northern/Beijing way, and of course, Beijing is the perfect place to return for that.


I’ve been meaning to write up a post about how I like to do hot pot, but Beijing has a ton of hot pot restaurants in many different styles. Above is lunch, less than 24 hours after I landed, and they had all of my favorite condiments for making my dipping sauce, these intestine skewers, and prawn chips which I think are brilliant and will try to include in my home meals from now on! (That crunch!) Hot pot warms you from the inside out, especially if you eat mutton, which is considered to be a “heating” food according to Chinese medicine. Make sure to order a LOT of veggies!


Hot pot is one of those meals with a fairly famous story behind it. Kublai Khan was preparing for battle and, in his hunger, demanded meat, but the hunters were unable to find anything besides a herd of sheep. They brought back lambs and the chef started preparing when Kublai Khan stormed into the kitchen and demanded to know why he was still not eating. He saw that the meat was already sliced and threw it into boiling water, cooking the super-thin slices almost instantly. The meat was served to him with just a little bit of seasoning, he went on to win his battle, and he requested that his chefs prepare lamb for him this way in the future. Above, you can see the traditional way to do hot pot in a traditional steamboat, which isn’t my favorite because the thin slices of meat occasionally stick to the metal in the middle.

3. KFC (… in China)

KFC may be cause for a few raised eyebrows, so let me explain. A few years ago, my cousin took me to a KFC and ordered me the 老北京鸡卷 (laobeijing jijuan, or Old Beijing chicken wrap) and I absolutely loved it. It is Peking duck – pancake, sauce, scallions – but instead of roast duck you have fried chicken. I was eagerly looking forward to eating it during my last trip to China, and was told I’d get to have it.

But I didn’t. And that disappointment had been sitting in the pit of my stomach for over 2 years. I knew that when I finally got to eat it, it wouldn’t be as good as the hype that was building but I couldn’t help it. Fried chicken AND Peking duck?

I told my family during our first Peking duck meal that I wanted to get my KFC this time and I was gonna do it, dangnabit! And get it I did, thanks for my wonderful aunts who were all too happy to oblige my weird American-ness.


We went to the first KFC that was opened in China, which was in fact the first Western fast food restaurant to open in China. To be honest, I don’t eat KFC in America, but I love KFC in China. I love that they were the first ones there, I love how they’ve adapted the menu to cater to local tastes with dishes like the Dragon Twister (I honestly had no idea it was supposedly called that). Once my dad came back with breakfast a few years back and said he got it from KFC. I thought that was excessive and weird and opened my eyes to see traditional Chinese breakfast foods that I know and love!

And I finally got my chicken wrap. And yes, it wasn’t that mind-blowing, partly because it seemed to have been sitting for a little bit and wasn’t very fresh. But I still think it’s a beautiful thing, to take all the fun of Peking duck and then throw fried chicken in there.


I ate so much good food in Beijing, and had a lot of great dining experiences. But when I was in the air, I wanted to make sure I ate these 3 things before I flew back home.

I’m very grateful to my family for making this happen for me, and for spoiling me silly by feeding me so much wonderful, delicious food.

What are some of your can’t-leave-without-eating-this foods and meals?
Do you have any for China?
Previously, I had 拔丝地瓜 (basidigua, yams covered in caramel that pulls away from the plate when you try to eat it) on my must-eat list but I think it’s getting too messy for me to enjoy as much as I did when I was a lot younger. However, I still have yet to see anywhere in America offer it on their menu, while it’s still hugely popular in China and I did get to eat it when I went back this time!