There are a lot of weird Chinese foods. I’ve heard of people eating scorpions, snakes and spiders in China. Truth be told, however, when we lived there for 3 years we didn’t see so much of these stranger foods.
Admittedly, China (being a big country) does have a wider variety of foods than we see in the west. But then, when we asked around, we found that most Chinese would stay well away from cats, dogs and bugs.
But there were other weird foods. Some of these, we didn’t even want to try. Sea Worms in Jelly just didn’t take our fancy. But then, we found some foods that we’d never even thought of eating that we liked a lot.
Here’s a list of 6 weird Chinese foods that we found tasty and learned to love.
Weird Chinese foods #1: Spicy Frog Stew
We came across this by accident, due to a ‘feature’ of the Chinese language. When we were just starting out in China, we didn’t know how to navigate the menus. Often, we’d have to contend with a cascade of Chinese letters, without pictures to tell foods apart.
If you never want to try frog in China, be careful. The Chinese word for frog (田鸡 — translates literally to ‘field chicken’) is only one character away from the Chinese word for chicken (鸡). So, you can imagine our surprise when the waitress brought us a dish with alabaster white meat, that actually had the texture somewhere between fish and chicken.
The stew was a Hunan recipe, meaning it was swimming with green chilies and was incredibly spicy. This, coupled with a kind of fermented red cabbage, gave it a sour taste. It was fantastic.
Whenever we caught a cold, we found ourselves hunting down this strange Chinese dish, as it’s rich in vitamin C, makes you sweat and clears the sinuses. Honestly, if there’s one dish in China I recommend you try, it’s this.
The picture above was taken in Mrs Chou’s restaurant in Fuzhou.
Weird Chinese foods #2: Tripe Soup/Hotpot
Many are put off by tripe’s leathery texture or just the sheer thought of what it is (cow’s stomach). Admittedly, the only time I’d had tripe before China was when I had hotpot with some Chinese friends in Nice. Without knowing what it was, I tried it and quite liked it. But my wife, Ola, hated it when she was a kid. She couldn’t stand the stench of it.
Tripe in China, I feel, is done quite well. We had a local restaurant underneath the school where we taught, that served knife-shaved noodles in a spicy soup. It’s also commonly served up in hotpot and in other types of soup restaurants.
The smell and taste blends well with the chilies and it’s usually well cooked, so you don’t notice the texture so much. This is one to try, if you have the stomach for it (pun intended).
Weird Chinese foods #3: Wormwood Dumplings (Qing Ming Guo)
We first found some local women rolling these in Chengcun village just outside of Wuyi Shan. They let us try and the blending of tastes (spicy, a spinach like ingredient, and pork) in our mouths was tantalizing.
But we didn’t know what we had eaten until we looked it up on Wikipedia. Turned out that the spinach like taste was wormwood, the same substance they put in absinthe. After a bit of research, I’ve discovered it’s a bit of an urban myth that the wormwood oil in absinthe causes you to hallucinate.
Interestingly, wormwood is used in Chinese medicine and has also saved many lives as a malaria beating drug. So, these dumplings are effectively medicine.
They’re called Qing Ming Guo and are made every year for Qing Ming (tomb sweeping day) across the country. If you have a chance to try these, do. But I wouldn’t recommend using them as a replacement for anti-malarials.
Weird Chinese foods #4: Barbecued Conch
My grandmother used to have a huge conch shell in her bathroom. As kids do, I used to place it to my ear to hear the sea inside. But my experience was only of the dead shell, which felt as lifeless to me as a rock. In those days, I never imagined it could hold food inside.
But when I tried conch on Xiamen island, in China, I really enjoyed it. They pulled the huge snail-like organism out of it’s shell, diced it up into bite-sized pieces and then grilled it on the barbecue.
If you’re in China and want to try conch, you can find a whole load of seafood restaurants, serving all kinds of interesting seafood, just off Zhongshan Road on the west side of the island. Make sure to try the oyster pancake too — a local delicacy.
Weird Chinese foods #5: Softshell Turtle
The Chinese softshell turtle is a strange creature endemic to China and Taiwan with a much longer neck than normal turtles. Nowadays, they farm this turtle in China and in many areas its considered a local delicacy.
We tried it in Wuyi Shan, in a restaurant adjacent to the Chongyang River. Because of its soft shell, it’s much easier to cook than other turtles. The meat inside kind of tasted like a much more tender version of braising steak. Unfortunately, there was only a limited supply of that, nestled against layers of fat.
The turtle was much more expensive than most foods in the area. But still, only $13 for the turtle made it well worth the novelty.
Weird Chinese foods #6: Tea Egg
Tea eggs have always struck me as a bit odd, but I’ve become quite partial to them. Basically, they’re eggs boiled in strong tea. After they’ve hardened a bit, the the shell is cracked so that some of the tea leaks inside. It’s a strange mix of flavours at first, but one that grows on you.
You can find them all over China, and are common with baozi (steamed buns) for breakfast. This is one of the cheapest street foods out there, while still being healthy. Just let’s not talk about the cholesterol.
And one I didn’t like: Pickled Jellyfish (served cold)
My Chinese friends seemed to love jellyfish, but it really wasn’t for me. Imagine an incredibly sour octopus without the chewiness. Or perhaps a soft jelly sweet/candy where you can feel the tentacles on your tongue. The texture just didn’t work for me.
But then some weird Chinese foods, I feel, are best left for local palates. Don’t let me stop you trying this, though. You might actually like it.
Thanks for reading my post about weird Chinese foods at Being a Nomad.
What weird foods have you tried around the world and how was it for you? Let us know via comment below.