Henan is a province located in the central part of the People’s Republic of China. The province is often referred to by the name of its capital city, Zhengzhou, which literally means “central plain land” or “midland.” It is believed that Henan is in the area where Chinese people originated, thus Henan is known as the “cradle of Chinese civilization.”

Henan cuisine, also known as Yu cuisine, is dubbed one of the most traditional Chinese cooking styles. Utilizing ingredients from all around the country, Henan cuisine is characterized by careful preparation and is especially known for its soup. It also produces copious amounts of wheat, rice, and grain, gaining the accolade of being China’s breadbasket.

Cuisine from the province of Henan is a cross between Jiangsu cuisine and Beijing cuisine. Jiangsu cuisine typically features seasonal ingredients, and Beijing cuisine is known for its use of various cooking methods. The result is a spread featuring very seasonal ingredients; it is lighter and airier than dishes from Beijing and is like cuisine from Jiangsu.

The wide utilization of onions is characteristic of Henan cuisine. Similarly, pork is often used in many dishes, though it is seldom used in soup; mutton and lamb are the preferred meat for soups. Rice is often used in the province’s authentic dishes, but its preparation is different from that of other Asian cuisines. Rice that is used in Henan-style dishes is generally served with oil produced from animal fat. While noodles are cooked in a fashion similar to other northern Chinese cuisines, the Henan cuisine is unique in that it uses rice vermicelli, something that is typically used only in southern China and Southeast Asia.

Traditional dishes feature a delicate balance between sweet, spicy, sour, and salty flavors. Cooking methods are diverse and include sautéing, stir-frying, stewing, baking, and others. Chefs do not worry as much about presentation as they do about ingredients and flavors.

You can’t visit Henan without trying out some of its authentic and delicious dishes. Click to check out the restaurants that you need to visit when you tour the region.  Here are 20 foods you absolutely must try next time you are in Henan.

1. Luoyang Water Banquet

Also known as “The Water Feast,” the Luoyang Water Banquet dates back to the ancient Tang Dynasty and has become a tradition in Henan. About one-third of the dishes served are soup or semi-soup, thus the origins of the dish’s name. The soups may include meat and vegetable dishes and can be sweet, sour, salty, or spicy.

Twenty-four courses make up the Luoyang Water Banquet, and each dish has a unique flavor and ingredients. The banquet consists of eight appetizers, four main courses, eight complimentary dishes, and four finale dishes. Eight of the dishes are served cold, and the other 16 are served hot.

Some staples commonly found in the banquet include Hawthorn soup, stir-fried vegetable with savory soup base, sweet and sour pork, and assorted sweet congee.

Restaurant Recommendation: 

Guan Ji

2. Carp on Noodles

Created in 1930 by a famous chef in Kaifeng, carp on noodles is a special local food in Zhengzhou. It is also reputed to be “one of the ten famous Henan dishes” and is designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Henan Province.

The popular dish combines two delicacies: sweet and sour fish and dragon whisker noodles.

First, the carp is fried and then simmered in a sweet and sour sauce. Next, the baked noodles are placed on top of the hot carp. The fish tastes fresh and tender while the hair-thin dragon whisker noodles are crispy and delicious.

Yellow River Carp from the Huang River is the preferred fish for this dish as the sugary and vinegary taste of the fish combine well with hair-thin crispy and tasty dragon whisker noodles.

Restaurant Recommendation: Drum Tower Southern Square, Gulou District, Kaifeng

3. Kaifeng Steamed Stuffed Buns

Steamed buns are a common dish in Chinese culture and are normally stuffed with vegetables or pork and wrapped in a soft flour shell. They are characterized by their delicate shape, thin paste, diverse fillings, and special seasonings.

Once considered a food reserved for royalty, the near-transparent skin requires 32 folds to ensure that the broth within doesn’t leak while steaming. The flour shells used to make Kaifeng Steamed Stuffed Buns are a bit thinner than the typical shell.

Kaifeng Steamed Stuffed buns are made from ground meat with its natural juices steamed inside of a beautifully shaped dough.

It is said that the buns resemble chrysanthemums on the plate and hanging lanterns when held between chopsticks.

We recommend: The First Restaurant on Earth

Source: Instagram @chassiel

4. Jiao Hua Ji

Also known as “The Beggar’s Chicken,” this delicious dish features chicken that is stuffed, wrapped, and roasted.

The origins of the dish’s name are rather interesting. It is said that during the Qing Dynasty, a hungry beggar stole a chicken from a rural farmer. When the thief learned that he had been found out, he buried his chicken on the banks of a river. He returned later that evening and set the mud-soaked chicken directly on top of the flame. As it cooked, a tight clay crust formed over the chicken. When he cracked it open, he found the most tender, aromatic, and delicious fall-off-the-bone meat.

The stuffing for the chicken can vary from restaurant to restaurant, but it typically includes pork belly, cured ham, ginseng and shitake mushrooms.

Recommended Restaurant

Lou WaiLou (GuShan Road) | Address: 30 Gushan Rd, Hangzhou 31007, China | Phone: +86 571 8796 9023

5. Mashed Sweet Potato

Today, China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of sweet potatoes. As such, many of their dishes utilize this delicious tuber.

In this dish, sweet potato is cooked in honey, sugar, and peanut oil and then blended into a puree and served as dessert.

Depending on who is preparing the dish, the sweet potatoes may be boiled and then kneaded by hand until it reaches a smooth consistency.

With chrysanthemums being the official city flower of Kaifeng, these flowers and its petals can be frequently found in many local dishes, including mashed sweet potatoes. Chrysanthemum petals are mixed into the mashed sweet potatoes and are also scattered over the top as a garnish.

Restaurant recommendation: n/a

6. Si Tao Bao (Four-Boxed Birds of Duck, Chicken, Pigeon and Partridge)

Sometimes referred to as “Kaifeng Four Treasures Series,” this savory dish features duck, chicken, pigeon, and partridge delicately layered in a dish. The duck comprises the outermost portion of the dish followed by the chicken and then the pigeon; the partridge meat is the innermost component.

After removing all of the bones, chicken, pigeon, and partridge meat are stuffed inside of a fully cooked duck. The duck is often immersed in a thick soup and served.

The dish is very fragrant and has a fresh and natural taste. The methods utilized during cooking pull out all of the great flavors of the four poultries and create a harmonious blend of delightful essences.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

Source: Easy Tour China

7. Chrysanthemum Hot Pot (ju hua guo)

Chrysanthemum hot pot was common throughout the imperial palace during the late Qing Dynasty and was introduced in Kaifeng nearly one hundred years ago.

This dish’s main ingredients are fresh fish, meat slices, chicken slices, and chrysanthemum. The chicken soup is brought to a boil. Cleaned and shredded white chrysanthemum slices are then scattered into the thick chicken soup.

After the chrysanthemum’s aroma is absorbed into the soup, meat slices and chicken slices are dropped into the hot pot to be cooked.

With chrysanthemums being the city flower of Kaifeng, materials are readily available to create this superior hot pot.

Recommended Restaurant

Youyixin Restaurant Address | Address: No.22 Gulou Jie, Luoyang | Phone: 0379-5956622

8. Donkey Soup

During the winter, temperatures in Henan can drop as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, soup is consumed often in the province.

Donkey soup can be served on a cold winter day but can also be enjoyed in the dry heat of summer. The dish is often paired with luóbo si bing, a pan-fried pancake-like substance consisting of a wheat dough skin filled with shredded radish.

Donkey soup is probably the only dish on the planet that you can describe as tasting like ass and it not be seen as a value judgement. In this particular case, ass tastes quite lovely. The flavor of this savory dish comes more from the spices that the meat is seasoned with instead of the meat itself. Donkey meat is quite lean and has a light gamey taste.

Recommended Restaurant

Zhengyuan Hui Mian | Address: 247 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Wuyuan Lu |  159 0088 0345

Source: Instagram @venylinge

9. Hui Mian (Cooked noodles with mutton and vegetables)

Hui Mian is a comfort food in Henan with a long history dating back more than 800 years. Literally translated as “braised noodles,” hui mian is a wheat noodle that is cut and stretched flat by hand. The noodles are then boiled in a rich and hearty broth made from simmered mutton or goat bones.

The noodles are generally cooked in fresh mutton soup. Deep cooked mutton is then added along with Citron Daylily and Agaric (a variety of mushroom) into the soup to braise for several minutes.

This soup-like dish is a popular snack among locals. It features noodles, cooked mutton, a variety of mushrooms, and other vegetables. For added flavor, this dish is usually sprinkled with coriander and chili oil before serving.

​Recommended Restaurant

Xiaoji Hui Mian Restaurant​ | Address: JingSan Road 20, Zhengzhou, China | Phone: +86 371 6599 1847

10. Almond Tea Soup

Almond tea soup is made from lotus food starch, two types of almonds, and sesame. The soup is watery with a sweet almond taste.

Legend has it that imperial concubines loved to drink the soup to keep their skin supple and glowing.

Today, almond tea soup is served as a dessert or a sweet drink. Rice can also be added to create a more traditional soup with a creamier texture.

Generally, two types of almonds are used: sweet and bitter almonds. Sweet almonds are larger and are similar to almonds found in the West. Bitter almonds, on the other hand, cannot be consumed raw and are typically only used Chinese medicine to clear and nourish the lungs and intestines.

The almonds are soaked in water and then boiled down. Other ingredients, including rice, are later added to make the soup more flavorful.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

Source: Instagram @heyyyjudy

11. Hulatang

Hulatang is a kind of traditional Chinese soup invented by the people of the Henan province. This soup can also be found in the United States, where its known as Spicy Soup or hot pepper soup.

Though the exact origin of the dish is unknown, it is believed that the dish was not introduced to China until the Tang Dynasty and perhaps even after the Song Dynasty. This belief is widely held because pepper, the soup’s main ingredient, was not introduced to China until then.

The contents of the soup vary depending upon the cook or the region where it is cooked. However, all hulatang is heavily seasoned with pepper and the broth is always thick and sticky. It also typically features cooked beef, beef soup, flour, vermicelli, kelp, spinach, pepper, ginger, salt, vinegar, sesame oil, carrot, cauliflower, and other seasonal vegetables.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

Source: Instagram @kalsi_shubhkant

12. Yang Rou Hui Mian (stewed noodles with mutton)

Hui Mian, literally translated into “braised noodles,” is a type of chewy noodle made from fine wheat flour.

Mutton is meat from a sheep that is older than a year, preferably three years of age. It has an intense red color and contains a considerable amount of fat. The flavor of mutton is rather strong and is somewhat of an acquired taste.

In this dish, the mutton broth in which the noodles are served is slow-boiled for at least five hours, resulting in a milky, snow-white soup, perfect for a cold day.

Yang Rou Hui Mian contains various savory ingredients including ginger, garlic, boneless lamb, salt, tomatoes, spinach, noodles, and cilantro.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

Source: Instagram @mily0929

13. Water Fried Baozi (Shui Jian Bao)

Shui Jian Bao literally translates into “water fried baozi,” and it is a famous snack in Kaifeng. Only the highest quality ingredients should be utilized when creating these underrated yet delicious buns.

A baozi is a Chinese steamed bread roll with a filling of meat or vegetables. When preparing the ingredients for water fried baozi, the ginger must be peeled and only the white parts of the shallots are allowed to be used. The meat is also chopped by hand.

The baozi filling is pickled in soy bean sauce and salt before being stuffed into the outer shell to be cooked. Flour liquid is sprayed on the surface of each baozi as is sesame oil.

Since sesame oil is used for both the filling and the shell of the baozi, its fragrance can be smelled from far away. Once cooking is complete, the baozi is golden brown, crisp, and delicious.

Recommended Restaurant

Quanta Restaurant | Address: Middle Section of Mangling Lu, Old City Area, Luoyang | Phone: 0379-2305288

13. Chinese Wild Yams

Chinese wild yams have many health benefits and have earned the name of “fairy food.”

They are good for the kidneys and spleen and also help to lower blood sugar. Chinese wild yams also have a moisturizing and lubricating effect on the lungs, helping to reduce cough. Another benefit of the Chinese wild yam is its ability to soothe your mood and regulate sleep. It is even believed to promote longevity as well.

Traditionally, the wild yams from Henan are believed to have the highest medicinal properties and nutritional value.

In Henan cuisine, Chinese wild yams are cooked in a variety of ways. They can be steamed, fried, used as the base for a soup, made into a snack, or even blended into a drink.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

14. Liyu Sanchi

This traditional Zhengzhou dish features carp prepared in three different ways.

Generally, Huanghe Cyprinoid (a type of carp from the Yellow River) is taken and submerged in clear and fresh water for about three days to remove the earthy scent. This type of fish is usually selected for its availability as well as their fresh and tender meat and their nutritional value.

The carp is then divided into three parts; one fillet is fried, the second fillet is cooked in a sweet and sour sauce, and the third fillet is boiled with slices of radishes and used to prepare a nutritious and flavorful soup.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

15. Braised Yellow Carp with Brown Sauce

The Zhengzhou section of the Yellow River features smooth terrain, sluggish current, a wide riverbed, and rich sediments. This creates the perfect environment to nurture the growth of carp.

As such, carp, cooked in various ways, is a very popular food in Zhengzhou, as the Yellow River teams with thousands of yellow carp. It is characterized by its fine, fresh, and tender meat, rich nutrients, and unique flavor.

In this dish, the carp is fried and then cooked again in a thick brown sauce with a mildly sour taste.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

Source: Instagram @thelittlegoji

16. Chinese Wolfberry

The Chinese Wolfberry (or Fructus Lycill) is bright red, fleshy, sweet, and has few seeds. It is very similar to the goji berry.

The berry is popular throughout Henan for its tonic properties. The Chinese Wolfberry has been known to protect against various forms of cancer, nourish the liver and kidney, and improve eye function.

The wolfberry can be blended and turned into a drink. It can also be used as a tea. Dried wolfberry is also a relatively popular snack in the province of Henan.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

17. Steamed vegetables (zheng cai)

Vegetables are an integral part of the daily Chinese diet. Various cooking methods are utilized including frying, braising, stewing, and pan-frying. Unique to the central plains of Henan, however, is the steaming of vegetables.

The Henan approach to steaming vegetables is pretty straightforward and similar to the steaming method utilized in the West. Various vegetables including peppers, carrots, bok choy, and onions are chopped, sprinkled with a little salt, and steamed in a small amount of water.

Steamed vegetables are great because the loss of nutrients is less as compared to other methods of cooking. The dietary fiber is also more easily digested and absorbed by the body. Also, the taste of steamed vegetables is a lot lighter and lack of or minimal seasoning promotes health.

Restaurant Recommendation: n/a

18. Mayuxing Bucket-shaped Chicken (ma yu xing tonh zi ji)

Bucket-shaped chicken is a popular dish among the locals in Kaifeng. The main ingredient in this dish is local-raised hen stewed with thick soup.

The dish gets its name from the chef who first created the dish, Mayuxin, as well as the dish’s bucket-like shape. The chicken is light yellow in color, crisp in taste, and very appetizing.

Restaurant Recommendation: Mayuxing Duck and Chicken Restaurant

19. Pan-Fried Pork Dumpling (Shengjian bao)

The pan-fried dumpling is a special cuisine that is known for its tender meat, yellow crisp surface, and incredible flavor.

Making the dumpling is relatively straightforward. Simply mix yeast, flour, and warm water in a bowl until it becomes a fluffy dough. Let the dough sit and rise until it’s two times its original size. Slice the dough into pieces to then be rolled into logs. The logs should then be cut into uniform pieces and filled with meat stuffing.

The dumplings are then fried in peanut oil and make great snacks, side items, or entries.

20. Fried Jelly

This dish is typically made from sweet potato or green bean powder and then made into a jelly which is pan-fried in sesame oil. Sliced green onion is scattered atop the finished dish as a garnish and to add extra flavor.