Whether you've just arrived in China or are considered an old timer, chances are you still run into certain foods that make you do a double take. Here are some delicacies that will most likely give you pause and a few tips on how to approach them – if you dare!
1) Thousand Year Old Eggs
Despite the name, Thousand Year Old Eggs aren't really a thousand years old (not even close!). But they're certainly made to look that way. Duck eggs are preserved in a mixture of salt and ash for approximately three and a half months. This combination stains the white part of the eggs a depressing shade of gray and infuses in them an overly salty, almost vinegar-like flavor. These are particularly popular on Chinese New Year, as these sorts of eggs are supposed to bring the diner good luck.
2) Star Fish
Not quite the first thing you'd think to eat from an ocean chock full of fish and crustaceans, star fish are a popular street snack in northern China, especially Beijing. Fried and skewered, I've heard these stubbly snacks described in almost every way, from crunchy to bitter to salty to “creamy” (yes, creamy). Relatively mild in flavor compared to everything else on this list, the cool factor definitely comes from the idea of having such a gorgeously shaped creature as an afternoon snack.
3) Stinky Tofu
The classic “you're not a true expat until you've tried it” food, stinky tofu stresses many people's senses, even some native Chinese's. It is made by soaking blocks of tofu in a solution that consists of vegetables, meat, and fermented (aka: spoiled) milk. The optional addition of things like dried shrimp and bamboo shoots can (slightly) alter the taste. After months in this brine, the tofu can be steamed or even eaten “raw,” but the most common preparation is frying. Slightly crispy on the outside and silky on the inside, chances are you won't get far enough in your taste analysis to come to any definite conclusions before spitting it out. The chili sauce that usually comes with it is no help – this stuff tastes as bad as it smells.
4) Sea Cucumbers
Whether you get them dried from a Chinese medicine shop or fresh from a restaurant, there is no mistaking this odd looking creature for anything than what it is – a cucumber with feet and tentacles. The cold, slippery texture of the fresh sea cucumber is off-putting to a lot of people, but the actual taste is surprisingly mild. Particularly popular around Chinese New Year and other major celebrations, this dish has supposedly been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac (it should be pretty obvious why). Whether it works or not, this is one of the safer “strange foods” to try.
5) Bird's Nest Soup
Although this soup's name may sound like a metaphor for something, it's not – it is literally made from a bird's nest. More specifically, from the swiftlet, a Southeast Asian bird that uses its saliva to create its nest (and no, no other bird in the world does this). Difficult to get (the nests are located mainly in caves that require stilts to reach), this soup is becoming known as as aphrodisiac and an overall health boost for those who consume it.
6) Drunken Shrimp
Considered one of the most cruel dishes in China, these shrimp require the diner to bite the heads off before eating them alive. Order them at any restaurant and you'll be served a bowl filled with baijiu and live shrimp. The bowl is then covered with another bowl while the shrimp jump around – until the alcohol hits them and they become sluggish (aka: drunk). That is when the diner swoops in and bites the head off before eating them whole. They taste exactly as you would expect shrimp soaked in baijiu to taste like, but be warned – eating raw shellfish puts you at risk for some serious parasitic infections.
7) Bee Pupae
Before you begin imagining full grown bees with wings and stingers, keep in mind that these are just the pupae – the stage in between larvae (babies) and bees (adulthood). You're essentially eating adolescent bees, if you will. Battered and deep fried, the smallness of the pupae and the heaviness of the frying process pretty much renders these things tasteless except for the saltiness and crispiness of the batter. They are everything a good bar snack should be.
8) Pig Brain
Most often served in Chinese hot pots (vats of boiling, flavored water or oil with various meats and vegetables), pig brain supposedly contains more iron and calcium than any other part of the pig. They are best dipped in satay sauce, as it tends to hide the vague rancid meat flavor of the actual brain. It is common Chinese folklore that eating the brain of an animal will make the consumer smarter, but there is absolutely no science to back that up. And the texture? Just what you would expect – soft and squishy.
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Keywords: Strange foods China how to eat strange food China the strangest food China bizarre foods China
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China is a pork culture. When they think of meat, they think of pork. Steak is hard to buy from your local market because it's just meat. Lamb is also not available in most markets until winter.
I've had to buy my steak in METRO because the rest is imported, expensive or kept too long in a fridge.
I also can't understand why the Chinese think their food is the best in the world when every piece of meat has bones in it. My teeth are much worse now than ever.
Jan 28, 2012 06:30 Report Abuse
This might not come under "bizarre" but rather, "dangerous". We all know what "you tiao" (deep fried breadstick) is. Pretty ordinary and far from bizarre, right? What most of us don't know is what many (or most) vendors do to make them crispy (or stay crispy for longer time). They melt plastic bags or plastic straws in the hot oil before frying the you tiao. Personally, I'd rather eat the so-called bizarre food than to eat ordinary, everyday food that's been treated this way.
Mar 10, 2011 20:57 Report Abuse
When I saw the title, I was expecting some bizarre stuff. How disappointed I was. Even to a diaspora Chinese such as I, these are not bizarre at all. The only ones I wouldn't eat are the pig's brains and the drunken shrimp, not because of their bizarreness, but just because I don't like the texture of brains and the rawness of the prawns. But I don't find them bizarre.
The least bizarre is the "thousand year old" egg. Where I come from, we call them "century egg" because supposedly they are cured for 100 days. It's so so commonplace. Not bizarre at all. Have it in my kitchen right now, to be eaten anytime I fancy. Sold in grocery stores everywhere.
Mar 08, 2011 21:12 Report Abuse
I've had it all. The only thing that I still can't handle is the chicken feet. It is something to do with crunching through soft little bones. Cow stomach, goat intestines, chicken kidneys, pig brains, pigs feet, eh, no biggy. Wait, I too don't like the 100 yr old eggs. They're just gross tasting, not worried about how they're made, if so I would worry much more about other meats that have been hanging outside on a hook.
Mar 09, 2011 16:03 Report Abuse
Yeah i agree with Tommy Tucker about the stinky tofu...the stuff i've had in and around the streets of Shanghai and Nanjing isn't that bad! Definitely not repugnant. It's got quite a mild taste compared to the smell!
But it's the chilli sauce i do it for. I don't know how they make it, but i could happily have that on any meal any day!! Delicious!
And a restaurant called Southern Barbarian here in Shanghai does the honey bees if any one wants to try....i've not been brave enough yet!
Mar 08, 2011 20:21 Report Abuse
My experience has been a little different from the authors.
1000 yr old eggs.
Very strong and pungent smell and taste, sulphur and ammonia. Gives me the squits.
Stinky tofu comes in different grades. The fried stuff on the street, sold with chilli (as in the pic) is not so strong and is off white in color when raw. The flavour, and process, is akin to blue cheese.
The aged stinky tofu can have a blue/green tinge and is much stronger. There is also a preserved stinky tofu in jars. This comes in tiny cubes, and the flavour is so strong it can only be used for seasoning.
Sea Cucumber. Very bland and texture much like whelk or gently cooked squid, not chewy really, more soft. I have only had it served warm, with the gravy, as in the pic.
Birds nest soup. Never had it, not allowed to. In SW China it is for women only.
Drunken shrimp/prawn. The shrimp acrually change color, do to chemical cooking (yes not all cooking requires heat. As the meat has changed color I think the shrimp are dead, not just drunk. certainly not raw. Effects of alcohol on any parisites not known, they may well get 'cooked' as well.
If they are still moving, you have not left them in the alcohol for long enough.
Pig brains. Eaten them lots of times. Like any other brains, slight sweet taste and soft. No rancid taste at all. I can only assume the rancid tase the author noted was either because the hotpot seasoning clashed (often the case in China) or the brain was not fresh.
Mar 08, 2011 18:51 Report Abuse