Before sitting down to a traditional family style dinner of sticky rice, boiled dumplings and lotus roots, travelers to China will almost certainly encounter another category of cuisine: street food.
Guidebooks commonly urge tourists to proceed with caution when sampling lesser-known snacks, but that didn't stop me from grabbing barbecued lamb on a stick from what looked like a charcoal-filled gutter or a sandwich from the back of a grimy bike during my strolls through China's cities.
Simple pleasures like these formed a large part of my diet during a recent six-month stay, as I hunted for food with basic presentation and a modest price.
Although vendors might not use the most quality ingredients or the cleanest carts, their fare is their livelihood and an integral part of the local culture.
By day, I often found myself sitting on kiddie stools slurping down large orders of noodles for a mere 50 cents alongside businessmen in slacks. By night, I saw families and friends play chess and cards in the streets fragrant with smoke from nearby grills.
I traveled to seven cities in four provinces, each with something new and exciting to offer the palette. Although connected by ancient, dynastic traditions, different regions feature their own flavors, as well as an eclectic street-food experience.