7 Flavors and Tastes in Chinese + Must-Try Dishes

by | Oct 8, 2023

7 Flavors and Tastes in Chinese
Many foreigners living in China often discover Chinese food to be captivating. It blends diverse flavors, possesses a long history, and is globally renowned for its unique tastes. Prepare your 筷子 (kuàizi), or chopsticks — in this article, you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to describe 7 flavors and tastes in Chinese.

1. Sweet, 甜 (tián)

Sweet taste | That's Mandarin
Sweet dishes don’t play a significant role in Chinese food culture, but some parts of China do offer a variety of sweet treats and drinks. 奶茶 (nǎichá), also known as ‘bubble tea’, stands out as the most popular.

🍬 Sweet Chinese Dishes to Try


Tanghulu, or candied fruit on a stick, is a beloved Chinese street food from northern China. This treat features fresh fruit, typically skewered on a long bamboo stick and enrobed in a glossy sugar syrup.

2. Sour, 酸 (suān)

Sour taste | That's Mandarin
This taste is achieved through various ingredients, such as vinegar, citrus fruits, fermented vegetables, and pickled ingredients. It offers a delightful contrast to other flavors commonly found in Chinese cuisine, like spiciness.

 🍋 Sour Chinese Dishes to Try

suāncài yú

Sauerkraut fish is a Chinese dish that combines tender white fish with tangy sauerkraut, creating a perfect balance of savory and sour flavors.

3. Bitter, 苦 (kǔ)

Bitter taste | That's Mandarin
Bitter taste is typically paired with other flavors for its best culinary impact. Some examples of bitter food include garlic, mustard powder, star anise, and arugula. Bitter taste happens to be the predominant taste in the herbs used to prepare Chinese medicine. Many elderly people in China believe that these bitter ingredients can help cure sickness.
Chinese Medicine | That's Mandarin Chinese School
(traditional) Chinese medicine

4. Spicy, 辣 (là)

Spicy taste | That's Mandarin
This is the taste that often comes to mind when you hear about Chinese dishes. Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are famous for their love of spicy food, which is influenced by the humid climate of the regions. It’s believed that eating spicy food can help dispel internal dampness and cold, making them feel healthier and more comfortable.
If you haven’t had a chance to try Chinese hotpot, this article will help you gain a basic understanding of some of the most popular types of hotpot in China.

🌶 Spicy Chinese Dishes to Try

Spicy taste | That's Mandarin
Sìchuān huǒguō

Sichuan hotpot reflects the quintessence of spicy Chinese cuisine. It features a bubbling pot with spicy and mild broths, where diners cook a variety of ingredients, creating a flavor-packed meal.

5. Salty, 咸 (xián)

Despite the fact that the intake of an excessive amount of salt is harmful for health, “saltiness” is an essential part of Chinese food culture. Many Chinese dishes have a strong taste due to a large amount of soy sauce used when preparing them.
Soy sauce | That's Mandarin Chinese School
soy sauce

🧂 Salty Chinese Dishes to Try


Soy sauce chicken is a timeless classic in Cantonese cuisine. The chicken is typically served in bite-sized pieces, making it easy to enjoy its savory, slightly sweet, and deeply satisfying taste.

6. Fragrant, 香 (xiāng)

Fragrant taste | That's Mandarin
In China, “香” (xiāng) is used to describe things that smell nice. When a dish is considered perfect, it should be “色香味俱全” (sè xiāng wèi jù quán), which means it looks good, smells great, and tastes delicious.

🥘 Fragrant Chinese Dishes to try

Beijing Duck | 5 Questions For Dining at a Chinese Restaurant
Běijīng kǎoyā

(Peking) roast duck has succulent, crispy skin and tender, flavorful meat. A delightful combination of textures and tastes, making it a beloved symbol of Chinese cuisine worldwide.

7. Stinky, 臭 (chòu)

In China, there are a few kinds of food that smell “terrible” but taste “terrific”. What western people can’t stand about stinky food is its pungent smell which immediately makes them lose their appetites. However, some of them have become addicted to it after taking the first bite.

🥡 Try the Symbol of “Stinky Flavor”

chòu dòufu

Stinky tofu is a dish made from fermented tofu known for its strong smell and unique, deliciously crispy texture, making it a distinctive flavor in Chinese cuisine.

Take it Further!

Which of these 7 flavors and tastes in Chinese is your favorite? Share your opinion in the comments below or our WeChat article. To find out more interesting facts about life in China and Chinese language and culture, check out That’s Mandarin official Instagram Profile.


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