The adventure that is food in China
“I Kina spiser de hunde”, title of the 1999 Danish action comedy says it all. In China, they do really, actually, indeed eat dogs. But hold on a second, before you snub your nose in disgust, dear reader, hear us out.
Whilst other nations pride themselves on their culinary creativity and Masterchef haute cuisine skills, China certainly has something going for it. Pretty much everything edible (and sometimes definitely not edible) will at some point pass through the kitchens of this great country. And don’t be fooled, this has nothing to do with your Friday post-clubbing greasy pseudo Chinese on the corner. Yes, we know you do it.
If you don’t, see the Oatmeal’s wonderfully descriptive sketch of ‘Diarrhea Dragon – the pan-Asian takeaway mystery with an ‘2 star – adequate’ food hygiene certificate every small town has instead of a decent restaurant.
Chinese people really enjoy eating everything, and this is quite admirable as none of the animal that has lost its life for our nutrition goes to waste. As we found out during our Beijing project, local traditional food consists mainly of offal based soups and shredded sheep’s stomach, which with the right seasoning are quite enjoyable. Intestine, eyes, skin and even boiling leftovers such as feet and heads for stock are commonplace, which really means cooks are getting their money’s worth.
Diet goes way beyond traditional western farm animals, with a whole array of seafood to choose from. Tentacles on sticks can be found at any self respecting food market, as well as dried squid, fish, oysters, crabs, all kinds of prawn whether large or small and of course numerous other shellfish, mollusks and sea slugs. Preparation can also get somewhat extreme in the case of beiju soaked live shrimp, that are so drunk they forget they’re being eaten by you.
Insects are of course also on the list, with Zhejiang Province putting enormous deep fried spiders on the plates of hungry punters. And as Kharma would have it, insect eating lizards are also impaled and deep fried. The Rat and Dragon team can confirm that tiny frogs and soft shell crabs are surprisingly crispy and tasty when deep fried, and go very well with beer.
Peking duck is world famous, but how about some duck head soup, chicken feet and testicles, or grilled chicks? And the imagination doesn’t stop there, but goes on to birds nest soup, boiled in-shell duck embryos and ‘thousand-year old eggs’ that are buried in clay for a couple of months until the whites turn to brown translucent jelly and the yolks are a healthily stinking mould green colour. The sight of one instantly makes you forget the slight chronological exaggeration.
But enough of the freak show. After all, the Chinese allegedly invented ice cream, and their confident experimentation with food has led to global hits like Ketchup.
China eats everything, and from a very young age, children are encouraged to do the same, meaning less wastage and a more rounded use of floral and faunal resources (of course you should always steer clear of endangered species!).
You, nose snubber, we know you are secretly bold and would love to taste a bit of the world. And you never know, some previously ‘inedible’ dishes may be your next favourite!