I moved to the US from China — and I'll miss these 15 American foods the most when I leave

Zirui YanThe author, Zirui Yan, moved from China to the US three years ago.
  • I moved from China to the US when I was 19 to go to college.
  • One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between the two countries is the food.
  • Some of the American foods I’ll miss the most include Southern fried chicken, bagels and cream cheese, and omelets.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Three years ago, I moved from my hometown of Guiyang, China, to North Carolina to attend college.

My experience in the United States exposed many of the cultural differences between China and America.

But ever since I returned to China for summer vacation, I’ve realised an even more glaring difference between the two countries: the food.

From Southern-style fried chicken to bagels and cream cheese, there are several foods I tried in America that are very difficult, if not impossible, to find in China.

Although I’ll be back state-side by the end of the summer, I’m already craving certain foods that became a regular part of my diet in the US.

Here are 15 common foods in America that I’ve missed the most.


Southern-style fried chicken

Flickr Creative Commons

In the South, where I go to college, there’s nothing tastier than a classic piece of juicy, crispy fried chicken.

Fried chicken is popular in China, and fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s offer fried chicken that is more savoury and spicy than you’ll typically find in America. But it’s nothing compared to the extra crispy and crunchy texture of Southern fried chicken.


Omelets

Unless you stay in a luxurious hotel that offers Western-style breakfasts, it usually takes some effort to find a restaurant that serves omelettes in China. Although China has oyster omelets, a popular street food, I miss the typical American omelet with cheese and bacon that you can find in pretty much any diner or brunch place.


Sweet tea

Shutterstock/Teri Virbickis

Other than fried chicken, sweet tea is another thing I love about the South. At first, when I had sweet tea with pork barbecue, I found it too sweet. But now I’m to a point where I’ll order it no matter what type of food I’m eating – even with lamb calzone or a bowl of pho. I sometimes put a slice of lemon to it to give it a little tanginess.

China is certainly a place for tea lovers, especially if you like boba. You can find “sweet tea” everywhere in China (think sweetened green or oolong tea), but it is hard to find true Southern-style sweet tea.


Steak

Shutterstock

Since I’ve lived in the US, I’ve taken advantage of its world-class steak scene.

You can order a fresh, quality steak in the US for a fraction of the price you’d get in China. Back home, higher-end places import their meat from the US, Australia, and Japan, which adds to the bill.


Bagels and cream cheese

A Chinese breakfast consists of both sweet and savoury foods, like pork buns and fried dough sticks with sweet soy milk. My family eats both Chinese and Western-style breakfast, so sometimes we have toast and milk as well.

Something you’ll never find on a Chinese breakfast table, however, is a bagel and cream cheese. It’s one of my favourite American breakfast combos, and I see it offered at diners, cafes, and shops like the one on my college campus, where the line stretches for dozens of people every morning.


Gourmet coffee from local roasters

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I don’t buy my coffee from Starbucks in the US anymore – local coffee shops are so common that it’s easy to find one that makes your favourite blend the way you like it.

In China, however, tea culture is huge, and coffee takes a backseat. Most privately-owned coffee shops import beans from abroad, and few cafes roast beans themselves. That means there aren’t a lot of surprises when it comes to coffee flavours. Starbucks and Costa coffee are pretty much the only go-to places for coffee in China.


Cajun fries

Brent Hofacker

You can find fries everywhere around the world, but Cajun seasoning puts a whole new spin on it for me.

Fast food places and Western restaurants in China offer fries too, but never with zesty Cajun seasoning – garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, and onion powder, among other spices. They’re a perfect match with an order of fried chicken.


Red wine

Good wine is never cheap, but it can get even more expensive in China because of the high tariffs. China isn’t a world-renowned wine-producing country, so the affordable bottles I find in China are usually not as good as the ones in the US. You’re more likely to find a better selection of spirits and beers in China.

Meanwhile, in the US, you can find assorted wines at tons of grocery stores, and they usually range from $US7 to $US30. Lots of these wines are either made in America or imported from other wine-making regions around the world, such as France and Italy. There’s a huge variety of wine available in the US, and while not all of it is amazing, it’s not hard to find a good bottle if you try.


Ice cream from a local dairy farm

One of my favourite summer experiences in the US is going to a local dairy farm with friends and eating ice cream while spotting fireflies in the field. That’s something I’d never be able to do in my home country.

Ice cream in China isn’t bad, but the quality you’ll get at a US farm is better than what I’d get back home. The idea of a local farm is just reassuring to me – every day, you know the ice cream is made with fresh milk and without preservatives.


Cheeseburgers

Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker

Many people in China don’t know the difference between a burger and a sandwich. The heavy influence from KFC, the most popular fast food chain in China, means people usually prefer chicken sandwiches to cheeseburgers. Whenever I go to a new city in China, it takes some time to find a restaurant that offers an authentic burger.


Etouffee

Flickr Creative Commons/Kurman Communications, Inc.

When I visited New Orleans, I immediately fell in love with etouffee. It has two things familiar to me: rice and crawfish.

Even though crawfish is an extremely popular food in China, I’ve never seen a “crawfish over rice” dish that tastes exactly like the Cajun and Creole delicacy. It is already a niche dish in the US, so it’s safe to assume it is even rarer in China.


Snow crab legs

Getty Images

Snow crabs are primarily found in Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean, so if a Chinese restaurant wants to serve them, they have to import from abroad, driving up the price. The crabs also lose some freshness on their way there.

They’re nowhere near as common as in the US, where you can find snow-crab legs at grocery stores as well as buffets and seafood restaurants. All you need is to squeeze some lemon on a tray of crab legs and you have yourself a feast.


Macaroons

You don’t really find macaroons at Chinese supermarkets, even at Walmart or Carrefour, a popular French grocery chain. Macaroons and cheesecakes are usually reserved for gourmet dessert places or the occasional coffee shop.

But in the US, I frequently buy macaroons from grocery stores like Trader Joe’s or Costco, often made in France. I’ll usually have them with a cup of black tea or iced coffee as my afternoon dessert on the weekends.


Burritos

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Although not originally from the US, burritos have taken on a life of their own in America. Practically every Mexican restaurant serves them, and even school cafeterias have burritos. For me, burritos from Chipotle are good enough. I miss my go-to steak burrito with rice, corn, and sour cream.

KFCs in China have the famous “Dragon Twister” with fried chicken, cucumber, and lettuce, as well as its “Mexican” chicken burrito with fried chicken and mayo. Trust me, they’re not bad at all. But it is not the real thing.


Chips and salsa

Corn chips and salsa are my favourite snack food in America. It’s a snack I can enjoy when I’m at parties or just hanging out at home watching Netflix. Common Chinese TV snacks are pretty different from salsa (think beef jerky, squid jerky, spicy dried tofu, and the like). To find salsa in China, you’d have to go to a high-end supermarket that sells imported goods.

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