Eating is an ongoing and collective hobby in Nanjing, judging by the number of food stalls on one block and the ever-present aroma of duck soup through the city.
Here are the top ten Nanjing foods (in no particular order) that will drive any local wild.
These steamed dumplings are sublime. Under an extremely thin layer of dough hides a bomb of delectable broth and a ball of tender pork.
To eat these jiggly meat pockets, bite a small “window” on the skin, drink up the broth, dip the rest in vinegar, then munch.
Try it at: Yinshi Jishi Tangbao (尹氏鸡汁汤包), No. 398 Mochou Road, Baixia District 白下区莫愁路398号; open daily 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; RMB 11 (US$1.8) for eight pieces
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2.Shredded tofu in chicken broth (鸡汁干丝)
Gansi, or finely shredded tofu, are a Nanjing food boiled in chicken stock with half a dozen goodies, such as ham, bamboo shoots and de-shelled shrimps.
The soybean-based slices, which can be as thin as 1 millimeter, absorb an appetite-inducing meaty flavor from the broth.
Try it at: Nanjing Impressions (南京大排档), No. 2, Shiziqiao, Gulou District 鼓楼区狮子桥美食街2号; +86 25 8330 5777; 11 a.m.-midnight; RMB 22 (US$3.5) per bowl
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3.Duck soaked in brine (盐水鸭)
A most classic Nanjing food. This cold dish exemplifies Nanjing chef’s unparalleled skills in cooking the fowl. The duck meat is well-seasoned, juicy and tender. Bones are easy to get rid of.
To make the dish, free-range ducks are first simmered in brine, hung to dry for around three days and then served as chops.
Try it at: Plum Garden (梅苑), 2/F, Jinling Hotel, 2 Hanzhong Road, Gulou District 鼓楼区汉中路2号金陵饭店2楼; +86 25 8472 2888; RMB 198 or US$32 per duck
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4.Duck blood soup (鸭血粉丝汤)
Cubes of duck blood come with duck-bone stock with deep-fried firm tofu, vermicelli and bits of duck organs, such as liver and gizzard. The texture of the coagulated blood resembles bean curd: succulent, watery and tender.
This soupy snack is a Nanjing food staple. Locals would order a bowl any time of the day.
Try it at: Nanjing Impressions (南京大排档), No. 2, Shiziqiao, Gulou District 鼓楼区狮子桥美食街2号; +86 25 8330 5777; 11 a.m.-midnight; RMB 22 (US$3.5)
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5.Pan-fried beef dumpling (牛肉锅贴)
These doughy purses, loaded with minced beef mixing diced ginger and spring onion, are fried until golden and crispy.
The fragrant crescents provide a contrasting taste sensation: the outside is crunchy while the inside is moist and soft.
Try it at: Liji Halal Restaurant (李记清真馆), No. 1, Dading Xiang, Pingshi Jie, Baixia District 白下区评事街打钉巷1号; +86 25 5225 7736; 5:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; RMB 4.5 (US$0.7) for five pieces
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6.Sesame pancake (鸭油烧饼)
The crumbly pastry comes in two types. The oval one is savoury, with minced pork and spring onion; the round ones are sweet with melt-in-your-mouth sugar. For both flavours, the local secret is to enclose a lump of duck fat in the dough before baking.
The white sesame topping brings in an aromatically sweet kick.
Try it at: Qifangge (奇芳阁), No. 12, Gongyuan Xi Jie, Qinhuai District 秦淮区贡院西街12号; +86 25 8662 3159; open daily 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; RMB 1.2 (US$0.2) per piece
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7.Pidu noodles (皮肚面)
Get ready for an overwhelming gastronomic experience. Approximately 15 different ingredients, including pidu, mushroom, vegetable and oftentimes pig liver, smother a bowl of steamy noodles. One portion is enough for two adults.
Pidu is a star in Nanjing food. These curly golden strips are actually sliced pig skin, which is boiled, wind-dried then deep fried.
Try it at: Yiji Pidu Noodles (易记皮肚面), No. 103, Mingwa Lang, Baixia District 白下区明瓦廊103号; open daily 7:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; RMB 32 (US$5.1) per bowl
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8.Tofu jelly (豆腐涝)
Chunks of silky and jade-smooth bean curd are served hot with varied seasonings. Common choices include pickles, dried little shrimps, coriander, soy sauce, vinegar and chilli oil.
A few vendors add chicken slices or beef stock for pumping up the flavour.
Try it at: Liufengju (六凤居), No. 144, Gongyuan Jie, Qinhuai District 秦淮区贡院街144号; +86 25 8662 1414; 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; RMB 6 (US$0.96) per bowl
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9.Hairy crab (固城大闸蟹)
The 300,000 square-meter Gucheng Lake in Nanjing’s southern suburbs breeds some of the tastiest hairy crabs in the nation.
Every autumn between mid-September and mid-October, Gucheng County throws a grand festival to celebrate the harvest season of the lake delicacies. The local way to enjoy these crustaceans is to steam them, crack the shells open, then dip the meat in vinegar.
Try it at: Gaochun Old Street (高淳老街); to go to Gaochun from Nanjing downtown, take a bus from Nanjing South Long-Distance Bus Station (next to Nanjing South Railway Station); journey costs RMB 25 (US$4) and takes about 90 minutes.
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10.Dumplings in red-bean soup (赤豆元宵)
This traditional dessert is rich but not overly sweet. The glutinous soup is made with sugared red bean paste and pearls of soft dumplings. Osmanthus honey is mixed in at the end.
It is a popular food in Nanjing and east China and carries the lucky meaning of “family reunion.”
Try it at: Lianhu Rice Cake Shop (莲湖糕团店), No. 24, Gongyuan Xi Jie, Qinhuai District 秦淮区贡院西街24号; open daily 8:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; RMB 6 (US$0.96) per bowl
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