Roaming around a Chinese supermarket can be an exciting adventure with lots of interesting things to see. But working up the courage to try all of the weird things that you spot is an entirely different story. Well, for the sake of curiosity, I worked up the guts to head down to Wal-Mart to taste test Chinese snacks you’re too afraid to. Here is what I found out.
1) Drunkard’s Fish Chunks (酒鬼鱼块)
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s no shortage of fish/seafood snacks in China (or in Asia, for that matter). You’ve got dried shredded squid, spicy anchovies, shrimp cakes, and many more. For my taste test, I decided to choose a fishy snack with an interesting name. This small, but more than adequate, package was purchased at Walmart for 2 RMB. Upon opening the package, the smell wasn’t as bad as I had expected--not really fishy at all. The aroma of Chinese allspice was actually quite pleasant and the fish pieces themselves consisted of meat, skin, bones and all. The package reports that it goes well with baijiu; which explains the name. If you’re a fish person and are feeling adventurous, give it a try! As for me, I’ve had my fill.
2）Haw Flakes (山楂片)
This is a sweet snack made from the fruit of the Chinese hawthorn (much like a cranberry) and is packaged in rolls containing several small discs. The package of 12 rolls I bought was a mere 5 RMB. Some Chinese people eat haw flakes with bitter Chinese herbal medicine (I guess used much like a ‘spoonful of sugar’). Though I really don’t think this one is too bad, it does have a bit of a grainy texture. But, my fellow taste tester claimed that “these quarter-sized discs are so inedible that some people use them to cheat parking meters instead”. Sure, I’d rather have a Snickers bar, but they’re not that bad. The flakes are delicately sweet and somewhat sour. But you should know that this product has been seized several times by the United States Food and Drug Administration for containing unapproved artificial coloring. Buyer beware!
3) Sachima (沙琪玛)
This Chinese snack originates in the Northeast, and I’ve been interested in trying it for awhile. Judging by the picture on the package, it looks something like a Rice Krispie treat, which I would die to have access to here. Well, looks can be deceiving. The taste is very oily and hardly sweet, but the texture is much like the Rice Krispie treat; slightly chewy, slightly crunchy. Since the dough is first fried before being mixed with other ingredients to form the final product, I found the oiliness (in both flavor and feel) to be overbearing. There are apparently many different variations of this snack, but I tried the sesame one myself. It can also be purchased at Chinese bakeries, which I believe would probably taste better than this prepackaged supermarket version. If you want to try the taste first, pick up a small pack for 3 RMB.
4) Wife Cake (老婆饼)
If you go to a supermarket offering baked goods, you will most likely find this one, a traditional Cantonese pastry with thin, flaky skin and a sweet paste in the middle. The filling is generally made of candied winter melon, glutinous rice flour, and coconut flakes, while the flaky texture of the skin is achieved through the use of pork lard shortening. The taste of this pastry, much like the sachima, is not very sweet, but quite heavy from the use of lard. Again, this is probably also something better purchased from a bakery rather than a package of five at Walmart for 9 RMB (which were mostly skin and hardly any filling, by the way). But the legend is quite sweet, about a woman who sold herself as a slave to help cure her father-in-law’s illness. Her husband later created these cakes in his wife’s honor and sold them on the street to earn enough money to buy her back. And yes, ‘Husband Cake’ also exists, but has more of a salty filling.
5) King Trumpet Mushroom with Pickled Rod Chili (山椒杏鲍菇)
The snack aisle at most Chinese supermarkets is filled with vacuum-packed packages of pickled vegetables, spiced tofu, chicken feet, duck neck, etc. Choosing one of them was such a hard decision (and not because they all looked so delicious). Quite frankly, none of them looked appetizing, but I decided on a 3 RMB package of something that I often see my students eating, pickled mushrooms with chili peppers. It can’t be that bad, right? And actually it wasn’t. The texture is slightly crunchy but also slightly rubbery and the taste was more spicy than it was sour. The level of spice wasn’t too bad, it was more of a light chili spice, which in my opinion is much better than that red, oily type of spice. I could personally only handle one bite, but in theory it could be served as a cold appetizer before a meal or as a snack on-the-go.
6) Quail Eggs (鹌鹑蛋)
I had never seen such a strange variety of eggs in my life until I moved to China. So even though I’m not a particularly big fan of eggs, I knew I had to brave them for the sake of my taste adventure. After reading about the thousand-year egg scandals, I decided to avoid those and go for this little package of three quail eggs for a mere 1 RMB. After the messy process of removing the shell, I found that the taste was much like the infamous Chinese tea eggs; not horrible, but also not something I’d eat on a daily basis. I guess it’s usually eaten alone, and perhaps served to children as a snack. If you’ve ever taken a long-distance train or bus in China, you’ll know that it also pairs well with instant noodles, as does the next item on our list.
7) “Instant Noodle Partner” Sausage (泡面拍档香肠)
This is probably one of the more disgusting supermarket finds, judging by looks alone. The name translates into sausage, but it seems more hot dog-ish judging by the texture and questionable ingredients (what can you expect for 1 RMB). The particular variety I picked up is meant to be partnered with instant noodles, but can also be eaten alone and does not need to be heated. It contains a combination of chicken, pork, fillers, and of course, MSG. These tubed sausages come in a variety of tastes, including corn-flavored, spicy, and even ones tasting like a thousand-year egg. This type of sausage, unlike others, is not made with a casing so the consistency is rather mushy, as you would guess after merely feeling the package. A friend told me that a lot of dog-owners buy these for pet food. I won’t be having any more, thank you.
8) Ma Hua Fried Dough Twist (麻花)
At the supermarket you can often find a line-up of fried snacks in bulk that you bag yourself. Some of them look interesting, but until now, I had never had a chance to try them. A Chinese friend recommended the fried dough twist, so that’s what I opted for. This flavorful snack originated in Tianjin and the most famous version is the 18th Street Ma Hua, named after the original location on 18th Street in Tianjin. The dough is fried in peanut oil and can be paired with a variety of flavors such as osmanthus, ginger, sesame, or walnuts, and can also be sweetened with sugar or honey. I picked up this scoopful at Walmart for less than 3 RMB and the taste was again rather oily. It wasn’t at all sweet and it was only barely salty; perhaps the specialty ones are better. It is sometimes even used in stir-fried dishes to add extra oomph and consistency, especially with dishes containing beef or eggs. I’ve had it before in a meatball dish and it tasted quite nice.
9) Turtle Jelly or Herbal Grass Jelly (龟苓膏 or 仙草)
You’ve likely heard or seen grass jelly on the menu at a restaurant, drink shop, or Asian dessert place, but perhaps have never been brave enough to try some. The one I purchased is called turtle jelly and is a type of Chinese medicine sold as a dessert. The original turtle jelly contained ingredients taken from the bottom shell of the golden coin turtle, but commercially available products today don’t have any turtle-derived ingredients. It mainly contains herbal substances and tastes a lot like Chinese medicine: turtle and grass jellies are believed to have medicinal qualities that are good for the complexion and can fight acne. They are also believed to improve circulation, assist in muscle growth, relieve itching, and aid the kidneys. The black appearance is quit unappealing and the bitter taste definitely needs to be offset by something sweet like honey, mango, coconut, or cream. It’s actually very similar to jello, but without the sugary sweetness. All in all not too bad and supposedly good for the body; it’s worth the 2-3 RMB to try.
10) Fermented Sweet Rice Wine (米酒)
I saved the best for last. This is about the only thing from the list that I would be most likely to consume again. It’s called rice wine, but it’s really just a sweet beverage made from fermented sticky rice. It has just a minor hint of alcohol since it is only partially fermented (though I couldn’t taste it). You can drink it in the form pictured (commonly found at noodle shops) or combine it with other ingredients such as egg, osmanthus flower syrup, fruits, or glutinous rice dumplings to make a type of soupy dessert. In Japan they even use a thicker version combined with honey as a nutritious face mask. And from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, fermented rice can increase blood circulation, which is especially beneficial for women. If you have some free time, you can make a batch yourself at home. But if not, 2 RMB will get you one of these single-serving cups.
Of course this is only a small selection of the many snack foods available in China. So what interesting supermarket snacks have you tried? Share in the comment section below.
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Keywords: weird snacks in China; snacks in China; Chinese supermarket Vacuum-packed snacks Chinese snacks
I don't eat snacks anywhere, bad habit. But about pastries, quality issues apart (and that's actually one huge issue, but yeah let's pass), the main problem is that the best of what they have has an alternative home that's way better looking and tasting. Oh yeah and seriously China, fifteen years into consumerism, how about starting to think on packages that are actually appealing?
The problem I have with most of these Chinese snack foods (apart from the taste) is that they all look incredibly messy to eat when on the go (which is when I'd probably be eating snack food). Even when I find something I don't mind (like latiao) I can't be bothered to buy it over a packet of crisps simply because I don't fancy spending an entire bus ride wanting to wash my hands and worrying about staining my clothes with chilli oil.
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