Chinese food is such a large part of Western cuisine, that some dishes like chicken feet and bird nest soup would’ve seemed odd a few years ago, but are common place on the restaurant table these days – but there are still quite a few that aren’t!
Over the past five years, China has seen massive expansion with a skyscraper built every five days, 30 airports opened, and over 6,000 miles of high speed railway lines and 26,000 miles of motorway developed – but they’ll never waiver on their demand for traditional foods, most of which are believed to have health benefits associated with them.
1. Blood Clams
These clams are like your regular clams, they just produce large quantities of hemoglobin, so bathe in pools of their own blood like a scene out of a low budget horror film!
If that’s not enough to make you squeamish, they’re also eaten raw and diners have a 16% chance of contracting Hepatitis from the contaminated blood, or even dying as a result – which is why the Chinese Government has made them illegal.
2. Chicken Blood Soup
Sticking with the blood theme, this chicken, or sometimes duck, blood soup is a popular dish in Shanghai, especially for its believed health benefits.
As with many unusual dishes in China, the congealed and cooked blood is believed to have medicinal elements that contribute to longevity of life and virility – and with so many ageless and fit vampires on TV these days, maybe they’re on to something here!
3. Deep Fried Spiders
Not for the faint hearted, and if you suffer from arachnophobia these long legged furry morsels could give you nightmares forever, but in Hangzhou they are the specialty of the house. No bugs are safe from the deep fryer in China, with honey bees, grasshoppers, and stick insects all meeting the same fate.
4. Barbecued Sea Horses On A Stick
Like the deep fried insects, you’ll find plenty of street stalls serving all sorts of creatures barbecued on a stick, and oddly enough, most of them do taste like chicken! Other fast ‘sticked’ foods include bats, lizards, and the always popular extreme cuisine, scorpions.
5. Century Eggs
How do you like your eggs done? Brown and green?! These eggs aren’t really one hundred years old, although they sure do smell like it!
Preserved for up to a few months in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls, the eggs transform so that the yolk turns green and smells of sulphur, and the white turns into a dark brown, salty jelly – I’ll stick with mine scrambled, thanks!
6. Tong Zi Dan
While we’re on the subject of eggs, perhaps one of the most unusual foods to still maintain an age old tradition is Tong Zi Dan, aka Virgin Boy Eggs.
This delicacy comes from a spring ritual in the city of Dongyang, and involves the boiling of eggs in the urine of pre-pubescent school boys, and is believed to reduce blood pressure and improve circulation by the locals – and at twice the price of normal eggs, let’s hope they’re right!
7. Snake Wine
After so many tasty delicacies you’ll need to wash it all down, and our sommelier recommends the snake wine!
Perhaps not, as this beverage of snake and entrails steeped in rice is not pleasing on the palate, but the perceived restorative properties make it a popular drink in China.
8. Baby Mice Wine
Similarly, if snake’s not your thing how about a nice shot of baby mice wine? This is pretty self explanatory, and like the aforementioned snake wine, is believed to have medicinal benefits that outweigh the fear factor elements!
China is famous for its cuisine, and although we have adopted many of its wonderful dishes into our own diet, the above probably won’t feature in your local Waitrose any day soon – and we’re grateful for that!
If you’re heading to China and want to make sure you know what you’re eating, a good grasp of the Chinese language will make sure you’re getting chicken soup, not chicken blood soup instead! Why not see how good your current level is with this free Chinese level test?