Every country has its own unique foods and recipes. China is no different. In fact, due to its large population of roughly 1.4 billion people over a vast terrain, China is the perfect breeding ground for strange recipes and eating traditions. Having a Chinese boyfriend made me a little more prepared before I went to China, as some of the weird stuff is sitting down in my cupboard right now. But even that didn’t fully prepare me. If you’re going to China soon, you’re going to experience a lot of interesting things. You’re also going to get to see a lot of the things on the list below.
*The things I personally ate are highlighted in purple*
*Not all these things are popular everywhere in China.*
I’m starting the list off easy with something that can easily be found at any Walmart, which is tofu. While tofu is in America, people usually don’t eat it unless they are vegetarian or vegan, and even then, it’s not something people are excited to eat. In China, it is a very different story. Tofu is almost a staple food in China. Mapo Tofu is a very famous Chinese dish made of tofu. My friend, Du Xin, and I have a joke where I call tofu: evil marshmallows, and he calls marshmallows: devil tofu.
I noticed that in China most of the time meat is still attached to the bone along with the fat and skin. I got a lot of stares when I asked for a knife to cut the bones and fat away. When I asked my boyfriend why people were staring, he told me that I was actually supposed to eat the bones, skin and fat.
*The broth of the soup tastes amazing is and is super good for you. My boyfriend makes it for me when I am sick.*
3. Cat Pea Noodles （螺狮粉）
No, there is no cat pea in these noodles. But they certainly reek the odor of cat urine. There have been several times I walked into my boyfriend’s apartment and spent time searching the floor for where their cat relieved itself, only to realize my boyfriend or his roommate just finished cooking the cat pea noodles. I didn’t even come up with the name. My boyfriend and a couple of our other Chinese friends coined the name. They all love eating the noodles, but they all agree they smell exactly like cat pea.
4. Duck Eggs (鸭蛋）
When I saw a hard-boiled duck egg for the first time I was pretty curious and anxious to see what it would look like cracked open. I didn’t think they would be much different than a chicken egg, but they are. They are much larger, juicier, and are yellow-greenish in color. Duck eggs are very popular in China.
5. Pigeon Eggs (鹌鹑蛋）
Out of all of the things on this list, I think pigeon eggs are probably my favorite. I actually had no idea what they were while I was eating them because no one knew the translation for the word pigeon. All I knew is that I was eating mini eggs from some random bird. They tasted exactly like a hardboiled chicken egg, except a lot smaller. My boyfriend’s grandparents cooked them in a curry sauce with beef, which was really delicious. A couple days later as we were walking down the road and saw a pigeon my boyfriend told me that was the type of eggs I was eating. I’m glad no one knew the translation because I probably wouldn’t have eaten them had I known.
6. Moldy Eggs（皮蛋）
If you have smelled moldy eggs before, you will probably agree with me that it’s not something you can forget. They have a very strong odor that scares most people (myself included) away. Some people prefer fresh eggs, however, others prefer moldy or preserved eggs.
7. Any type of Organ Meat （所有种类动物的内脏）
Livers, lungs, hearts, intestines, stomachs, you name it, and if you’re in China, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of tiny restaurants that have it. You can eat organs to your heart’s content. In fact, in a lot of restaurants, they didn’t even serve regular meat, but rather just organ meat. For instance, it’s almost impossible to find a chicken breast. But if you want a chicken stomach, you’ll find that almost anywhere.
8. Moldy Tofu （臭豆腐）
If you don’t like regular tofu because it is bland and flavorless, boy do I got something for you. I kid you not, there is a jar of this Chinese moldy tofu sitting in my cupboard as you are reading this. If moldy tofu sounds bad to you, you’re going to have to trust me that it smells even worse. Anytime we bring back Panda Express or some other type of Chinese food home, my boyfriend eats downstairs and I eat upstairs so that he can indulge himself with his moldy tofu. Not all Chinese eat this, as my boyfriend’s roommate (also a Chinese) agrees with me that its nasty.
9. Eels （鳝鱼）
The most shocking experience I had in China occurred when I was in a Walmart and walked right into a tank full of live eels (which I thought were snakes at the time). It was equally shocking a couple weeks later when we were staying at my boyfriend’s grandparents” house, and they came home with a basket full of those eels. They got about thirty of them and kept them in a mini pool until they were ready to eat them. Then they would kill and cook a handful and leave the rest in the mini pool for another day. I never realized how similar eels and snakes are.
10. Thickened Blood （猪血，牛血，鸭血，鸡血，羊血）
No, my friends, that is not a picture of a chocolate cake (that was my first guess when the waitress brought the dish to the table). Thank God that my boyfriend warned me of that before I dug into it. He then informed that the plate sitting in front of me was straight blood. The chefs turned it into a thick jelly type of substance. I had the choice of putting it in my soup or just eating it whole. To my boyfriend’s disappointment, I chose neither. But he enjoyed eating it, and that was the important thing for me.
When I first started dating my boyfriend he thought he could impress me with his “manly” stories of all of the weird things he ate. He was a little surprised when he saw I wasn’t all that excited about the fact that he ate a tarantula on a stick. He told me that while he was visiting a certain city in southern China where eating insects is common, he and his friend had a competition. Even he admitted that the tarantula tasted very bad. On a different note, he said that centipedes are just like crunchy shrimp. I’m just going to take his word for that.
12. Duck Neck and Duck Tongue（鸭脖, 鸭舌）
“Like a kid in a candy shop”, is the wrong saying in China. It should be “like a kid in a duck meat shop”. There are duck meat shops all over China. If you go there, you’ll see it. It’s a yellow package with a smiling duck. I never saw my boyfriend more excited to eat something than when his grandparents welcomed him with a pouch of duck tongues. His face was priceless.
13. Fish Head （鱼头）
I’ll never forget the day I was sitting at the dinner table with my boyfriend and his Grandparents and his Grandfather asked me if I wanted to eat giant the fish head that was on the plate in the center of the table. My naive, small town, American mind thought he was joking with me, as I politely declined in my broken Chinese. Next thing I knew, he skillfully picked up the large fish head, stuck the whole thing in his mouth, and chomped down on it (bones, eyes, skin, and all). My boyfriend later informed me that the fish head was his grandfather’s favorite part.
14. Birds with Their Heads on (鸭头，鸡头）
It doesn’t matter if you’re dining at a cheaper, more casual restaurant, or a fancy and more expensive restaurant, there will probably be a page dedicated to various kinds of fowl, all with their heads on. My boyfriend defended it as the proper way to decorate a bird. He didn’t even want me to put this on the list because he thought it was normal.
15. Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin is a very expensive dish that someone ordered for me, which is the only reason I tried it. It was cold, wet, and had a unique texture. It was definitely not one of my favorite dishes.
16. Pig and Chicken Feet
Being from Polish descent, pigs feet is something I am a little familiar with. I don’t like them, but my grandma does. The house does smell pretty good when my boyfriend is cooking them. Chicken feet or claws are a little bit of a different story.
17. Whole Minnows
My boyfriend’s grandfather was so happy to present this dish to Andy and me. He caught and cooked all of these fish himself. He was so excited when he asked me to try it and I couldn’t not oblige. They were crispy almost like a fish potato chip. I ate the body and I gave the head to my boyfriend to finish.
18. Pig Ears
My boyfriend ordered this big bowl of pig ears in a Chinese restaurant in New York City. It was the first restaurant in America he saw pig ears on the menu. My boyfriend loved them. I wasn’t too fond of the texture. But the dumplings right below the bowl of pig ears were some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had.
While most of these foods were super weird for me, I had to remember that a lot of food that I eat is weird for my boyfriend (venison, sauerkraut, pickles, buffalo sauce). It’s also important for everyone to remember that not all Chinese food is this weird, and I did eat a lot of great tasting, new things. I was happy that we got to go to China for my boyfriend’s sake, because as weird as these foods are, my boyfriend enjoys most of them, and you just can’t get most of them here in America. As you can see, I didn’t try a ton of the weird things. I always prided myself in not being a picky person, however, I definitely cannot do that anymore.
Have you ever heard of or eaten any of these things? Would you ever eat them? What is the weirdest thing you have eaten while traveling? Share in the comments below!