China is definitely one my favorite places on earth where I discovered awesome nature, unusual Chinese dishes, lovely people and amazing landmarks. It is a beautiful country with a surprising diversity and a long history where food has played an important role in the development of Chinese culture.
Consequently, traditional Chinese cuisine has become famous all around the world for offering a wide range of foods that can sometimes be very strange for most of people who have only experienced eating Chinese food in restaurants.
I used to make fun of this common believe that: “The Chinese eat everything with four legs, except tables, and everything that flies, except airplanes” until I realized during my second trip to China that it is very close to reality. I also discovered countless and fantastic dishes with very distinct styles of cooking depending on the region I traveled to.
Food has such an important place in the Chinese culture that some dishes have particular meanings and symbolic such as good luck, fortune, unity, commemoration… etc
This symbolism of foods in China comes from traditional beliefs in eating to bring blessings. So food are associated with giving a certain “power” depending on their shape, their color, their history and sometimes even their name’s pronunciation. Is not it so interesting?
For example, it is believed that peach means longevity while egg means fertility. That probably explains why I have seen so many eggs sold pretty much everywhere in the streets of China. No one can deny fertility of Chinese people, right? In this field they are the world’s champions!
My own experience
All joking aside, it can be very easy to stick to your culinary comfort zone while traveling with all the international food options. I decided to break my eating habits during my backpacking year in Asia and explore more intriguing and curious cookery options and what a better place to so than China?
Although all these foods sounded almost uneatable to me I did take the challenge and tried them. I cannot affirm that I liked them all, but I am proud of my self as I ate a bunch of dare to try food and I wanted to dive you with me in this little bizarre food tasting experience.
Ready to be astound?
1 Century Eggs (Pidan)
This Chinese delicacy takes its roots back to the Ming Dynasty and takes from 7 weeks to 5 months to make. The eggs (quail, duck or chicken) are soaked in a saline solution made of clay or ashes, black tea, lime and salt. I have to admit that it was very challenging for me to convince my self to eat these eggs because of their disgusting physical aspect but yet I did. I just constantly repeated to my self that it is exactly like eating blue cheese or pickles (even if it’s not the same process in both cases at all) and just swallowed them quickly.
The taste was actually quit good even though the smell is very strong and pungent. The texture is very different from the boiled eggs we know though. The yolk turns into dark green and is very creamy while the white transforms into a dark-colored jelly texture.
I tried it served alone and mixed with scramble cold tofu. I surely prefer to eat it along with something else.
Try it, making sure you go for a lead free century egg. I unsure you that the taste is not bad, you will only have to deal with the stinky smell and the very repellant aspect. That is all…
2 Drunken Shrimp
Drunken shrimp is a very popular dish all over China. Before getting there I read a lot about this dish and most of the articles where describing it as being made of fresh shrimps immersed alive in ethanol served both drunk and alive. And I must admit that the concept of eating animals alive is very strange and almost scary for me so.
I was not very happy about trying this traditional dish. But then, once I got to China I realized that drunken shrimps are not always eaten alive and that alive shrimps are not always served drunk. Let me clear this out. Drunken shrimps can be served in several ways and one of them is alive, but most of the time they are either boiled before being immersed in ethanol or stir-fried with some herbs after being drunken.
Each part of China has its different way of preparing this dish. When I was in Shenzhen, I decided to go for the Stir-fried drunken shrimps because not only I was totally reluctant to the idea of eating them alive, but as well I got kind of all freaked out about the risk of getting a Paragonimiasis infection.
I am not a big fan of shrimps at first place so it is not a food I would usually eat by choice, but the drunken stir-fried shrimps where actually very tasty. The vendors serve them to you along with some gloves to peel them without getting your hands all filthy. Yeah, Chinese are just super efficient and think about details.
3 Stinky Tofu (Chòu Dòufu)
And one more smelly food! Stinky tofu is stinky. There is absolutely no argument about it.
Just like cheese smells as strong as stinky shoes, the stinky tofu almost smells like an acid version of baby poo. No joke! It is fermented and has a very strong acrid odor.
Decades ago, stinky tofu was a military staple for soldiers patrolling China’s borders. As wars ended it became a very famous street food. Traditionally, the “chou doufu” is fermented in brine containing dried shrimps but nowadays, the vegetarian version of it is becoming more popular with a brine made mainly of amaranth, mustard leaf, bamboo shoots and different kinds of Chinese herbs.
There are three ways to cook the stinky Tofu. It is either cooked in a pot, deep-fried or barbecue grilled. I only tried the deep-fried version of it and I really liked it. The taste is very good once you get over the strong stinky smell.
Every little vendor has its own specific sauce. They put a hole in the middle of each tofu peace and then put the sauce over it, which makes it even more tasty. The sauce is usually soy sauce and garlic based. I would not say it is my favorite Chinese dish, but I definitely liked it and would recommend giving it a try.
4 Deep-Fried Crab Soft Shell Crabs
Well, there is nothing strange about eating a crab … True! But eating a deep-fried crab in its shell and actually eating the shell and everything else that goes with it is a little strange for me indeed.
I was very surprised to see the skewers in the streets wondering how people can chew it and swallow it so easily. So instead of keeping on wondering I decided to simply get my own crab, eat it and answer my self to my own question. It was weird, chewy and I spent the rest of the day picking pieces of it out of my teeth.
Was it tasty? Well, everything that is deep-fried is kind of tasty, right? It is salty and has a hint of spicy but I surely did not enjoy the texture. It was a fun experience to have, trying to eat like a local. I would recommend trying it and making your own opinion about it. I am a very picky person when it comes to textures, so maybe you will love it. You will never know, until you try… Good luck chewing the shell!
Well, well, well ! From where should I start?
That experience surely did make me explore my own will power and realize how I do have guts when I want it. We are not talking about eating unfamiliar food anymore… people it is a scorpion!!!! YES A SCORPION!
Walking along any street food market in China will lead you to see all types of food in a stick and scorpions are one of them. They are served roasted, fried or grilled. I even heard they could be served alive, but I personally have never seen it and do not know it for a fact.
The Scorpions still have their stingers but are not poisonous anymore after being cooked in a very high temperature. They are skewered but their little legs move if you shake your stick just to give you one more challenging thing about eating them. Scaryyyyyyyy !
How was it? As bad as I expected it to be. I was worried about two things, the texture and the taste and let me tell you that both are just awful. I could not finish a whole one but I did swallow half of it. It tastes like wet ground. Would I ever try again? No, or at least I don’t want to. But it is definitely worth to try it your self and make your own opinion about it.
That was pretty much all I could take in one trip to China and believe me, all of them where very challenging to me. Now, there is some real deal going on that I could not keep up with but I will still share it with you.
I am not sure I have the courage or the desire to try them all one day since some of the dishes are just way too unappetizing for me or simply go against the life style I have chosen. But I was curious enough to discover a wild range of them that I will be sharing with you.
6 Turtle Soup (exist in a jelly version too)
Yeah! I definitely did not want to try this one. Turtles are my friends ! I used to have them as pets when I was younger, I can’t think of eating them in a soup … I just can’t!
7 Duck Head
Not so shocking to me. In my country it is common for people to eat mouton head. I am pescetarian so duck is not a meat I would eat. But to be totally honest with you it is not something I would try even if I were a meat eater.
8 Chicken feet
Usually served as a snack with alcoholic beverages or as a main dish in several regions of China. People love it. I would skip my turn.
9 Deep-Fried Spiders
Probably something I would try in the future.The spiders are massive and look scary but I am super curious about the taste and texture so, I would probably try it next time I will be in china or in any other South East Asian country that eat them.
10 Deep-Fried Bees
Chinese eating bees probably explains why they are an endangered species ! Joke aside, why ? How? This will remain a mystery for me because that is definitely not something I would try.
They are usually eaten in a soup or as a health supplement. A little eccentric for me but would probably try it under the right circumstances.
12 Dog meat
No comment ! NO! NO!NO!NO!NO!
13 Bird’s Nest Soup (Yànwō)
Chinese people eat the bird’s nest soup as a delicacy or for it’s medicinal virtues. It is actually made out of bird saliva, which has dried and hardened. I think, i would rather have a bird spit than the waiter’s spit on my soup, right?
14 Sea Horse
They are often eaten dry and considered as a medicine in China. I would not dare ! Would you?
15 Monkey Brain
It is a very controversial delicacy from the Chinese gastronomy. It is a special dish affordable only by very rich people. The waiter puts a monkey beneath a table alive with its head popping out from a hole. The costumers then eat the monkey’s brains while it screams! So much cruelty to simply show wealthiness!
This is just a small list of all the unfamiliar, unusual, weird and sometimes controversial food you can eat in China. The options are endless and sometimes very surprising.
And you, what was the weirdest thing you have ever eaten? Leave me a comment below telling all about it!