China is blessed with a 5000 year old history.
This bore them a rich culture which was able to stay relatively separate from western influence. That has led to a unique cuisine that cannot be defined as anything but quintessentially Chinese. A popular stereotype of the Chinese and their food is that they will eat anything. This is born out of the struggles and poverty of the people but also the wide variety of habitats the massive country envelops. We may baulk at the idea of some of their choices but there is no real difference in the reasons why they eat certain animals compared to us. Here is some of the most alien, and in our eyes strange, dishes that you could find on someone’s plate in China.
Tofu in the west is derided for being incredibly bland and flavourless. This is not the case in China where stinky tofu is a popular street food delicacy. As its name suggests it is an incredibly smelly food. This is due to marinating in a brine of milk and vegetables before being left to ferment. It has reportedly different smells and tastes depending on where you are, but the city of Changshu is supposedly where the best stinky tofu comes from.
This is sometimes referred to as ‘thousand year old eggs’ though it is never actually this old. An egg is preserved in duck ash or salt for a nice rounded hundred days instead. It turns the eggs common white colour to a dark grey, even black, hue. This is what makes them look ancient and explains the name. They not only have a pungent aroma but due to the preservative are incredibly salty to taste. This makes them a definite acquired taste.
This one does exactly what it says on the tin. Bees are an incredible source of protein and are virtually fat-free. In classic Chinese style they are fried and served on a stick in many street markets. They are originally and famously from Zhangjiajie, which is usually most known for its production of Erhu. In this town in Guizhou they also steam and stir fry the bees. What I want to know though is how they catch them!
Birds Nest Soup
This may sound like a cute name but it is actually more literal than you think. No, they are not eating twigs or leaves, but they are eating the nest. It is the nest of a specific bird called the Swiftlet that produces them in south-east asia. They build not from what they find, but what they make. They are the only bird in the world to build nests from their own saliva. It is thought to be a health benefit and also an aphrodisiac when consumed, but is considered to have a bland taste. It is harvested in the caves that the birds live in by men climbing bamboo poles to reach them.
It wouldn’t be a list of Chinese food without the Scorpion. I am not a doctor or vet but the idea of putting one in my mouth, stinger included, seems to go against every grain in my body. Nevertheless they are a popular delicacy in Hangzhou and Beijing. It may seem strange to us but China is a habitat for scorpions in the desert so it is technically a local produce.