Have you ever wondered what the equivalents of some of our stranger delicacies like toad in the hole and jellied eels are across the world? What better place to start exploring slightly strange and confusing foods than China – here are just a few examples of strange food in China that you may come across. Try them or avoid them – it’s completely up to you!
Confusing cuisine: from stinky tofu to century eggs in China!
Not usually the part of a chicken you’d think of eating, but in Chinese cuisine, chicken feet are often an option at dim sum restaurants, served as ‘phoenix talons’. The feet are deep fried or steamed first, in order to make them puffy, before being stewed and simmered in a sauce flavoured with black fermented beans, bean paste and sugar. You can also find chicken feet vacuum-packed and ready to eat in supermarkets.
This dish is renowned for its pungent odour. A block of tofu is soaked in brine made with shrimp, vegetables and salt that has been fermented for months. Stinky tofu is like marmite – you either love it or hate it. Asian tourists who follow their nose will have no trouble finding a stinky tofu stand – it’s even known for street sellers to be fined for breaking air pollution laws! Several restaurants have been dedicated to the smelly curd for those wanting to enjoy their stinky tofu in a more formal atmosphere.
Wander into any Chinese medicine shop and you’ll spot what looks like a chunk of cement on display. This is the dried form of sea cucumber, also known as sea ginseng. This strange looking ocean creature looks exactly like a cucumber with the addition of tube feet and a ring of tentacles around its mouth. Unfortunately, its taste doesn’t live up to its appearance though – rather it’s quite bland. Nonetheless, its alleged medicinal value and reputation as an aphrodisiac make sea cucumber a popular dish at Chinese New Year banquets and other celebrations.
Bird’s nest soup
The main ingredient in bird’s nest soup, a Chinese delicacy, is the nest of the swiftlet, a tiny bird that lives in caves in Southeast Asia. The swiftlet makes a nest from its own saliva rather than sticks and straw – the only bird in the world to do so. Harvesting these nests requires skill – men must balance on tall bamboo poles to grab the nests from inside the dark caves. Like sea cucumber, bird’s nest doesn’t actually taste much of anything. It’s enjoyed a rise in popularity from its growing reputation as both a health tonic and an aphrodisiac.
Thousand-year old eggs
Thousand-year-old eggs, a Guangdong delicacy, aren’t really that old. A more accurate name for this pungent hors d’oeuvre would be salted or preserved eggs. To make thousand-year-old eggs (also called century eggs or hundred-year-old eggs), duck eggs are preserved in ash and salt for 100 days. This turns the white of the egg a gelatinous consistency and dark brown colour and the yolk green, giving the eggs their ancient appearance. Definitely an acquired taste, thousand-year-old eggs have a creamy, cheese-like flavour and a strong smell.
Western cuisine doesn’t escape raised eyebrows from the Chinese either – they consider many of our foods strange. For example eating a plain cooked steak is considered primitive and unappetising and many also regard eating cheese or butter as distasteful … not to mention the habit of putting vinegar on chips!