Asides from its intriguing culture and history, China is also known for its wide variety of cuisines. In fact, the Chinese pride themselves in being able to turn almost anything with legs or wings into a delectable meal. As you travel from one side of China to the other, you’ll be sure to encounter endless varieties of different delicacies, all infused with unique regional persona and flavor.
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Today, we’ll be examining some of the strangest (yet also most delicious) dishes found throughout the country. Most of these interesting dishes will be served hot and fresh from various street vendors across the nation, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled on your next visit!
10 Stinky Tofu
If you smell rotten eggs as you’re walking through an old Chinese street, chances are the smell isn’t from nearby flatulence. Instead, you may be lucky enough to find a delicious snack at the source of the aroma! Created in the Qing Dynasty, this tofu is soaked in a mixture of bamboo shoots, spices, fermented milk, and meat for as long as several months before serving.
Stinky tofu is usually fried to order and topped with fresh scallions and a traditional spicy sauce. It features a rough, savory exterior and a soft, tender interior that holds the original light flavors of the tofu. Although this snack may smell like your brother’s dirty gym socks, the taste is simply divine!
9 Thousand-Year-Old Egg
Contrary to its name, this delicacy doesn’t actually take a thousand years to prepare. However, traditional methods involve fermenting the egg for several months in a mixture of wood ash, clay, salt, and calcium oxide. The result is a smooth, almost crystal-like black egg with a bouncy, jello-like egg white and a smooth, buttery yolk.
Although eating a months-old egg may not sound appealing, the flavor is actually clean and leaves a cool taste in your mouth. You can eat the egg peeled as is, or add some soy sauce for a more unique taste. Locals also enjoy the egg mixed into pork congee or served over cold tofu!
8 Pig Brain
As is tradition, the Chinese try to use as many parts of the animal as possible within their meals in order to avoid waste. Over the centuries, these customs morphed into creative delicacies that remain a crucial part of Chinese cuisine today, one of which being boiled pig brain! Although the photo may seem a little disturbing, the brains are usually cooked in spicy hotpot broth and have the consistency of soft tofu.
Locals love this dish for the rich, buttery taste and delightful texture. Just make sure you cook it thoroughly in the hotpot for the best possible flavors and consistencies!
7 Chicken Feet
Chicken feet may be what most people think of when they picture weird Chinese delicacies. Contrary to many Western beliefs, chicken feet are actually very sanitary and super tasty, coming in a wide range of different flavors and preparation techniques. Among the most popular is the sweet and savory dim sum chicken feet, although some people prefer the extremely spicy pre-packaged variety.
The locals enjoy chicken feet as both an appetizer and a household snack! Usually, the toenails are taken care of and the tough, scaly outer skin is removed for convenience. You can usually find these succulent and savory morsels at any street vendor and request your desired flavor!
6 Duck Blood Soup
Duck blood soup is a common street food prevalent throughout the entirety of China, and you can usually find this option at any noodle shop as well. Before preparing the soup, fresh duck blood is cooled into its congealed state, and the result is somewhat like a semi-firm block of tofu with a smoother texture.
After being sliced into bite-sized blocks, the blood is cooked in a savory soup and served with the popular glass noodles, pickled mustard root, and cilantro. Locals love this dish as a quick and easy lunch option or as a late-night snack. The duck blood adds both flavor and texture to the soup and pairs extremely well with a cold glass of Tsingtao beer, too!
If a waiter carries a plate of what seems to be ordinary hard-boiled eggs to the table in China, chances are they are actually a delicacy called Balut. These eggs are fertilized, with a half-developed chick embryo being found inside! Combining both the savory texture of chicken with the light and fluffy taste of scrambled eggs, a Balut egg could be described as the best of both worlds.
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However, there is a hint of fishiness to the egg that isn’t welcomed by everyone. With that being said, any local will recommend trying the unique dish at least once. The favorite part of the experience for many people is tipping the eggshell back to taste the broth found inside!
4 Pigeon On A Stick
You might have tried turkey legs at various Western festivals, but have you ever seen an entire pigeon roasted and served on a stick? This delicacy is another street food popular in northern China, with many flavors available such as spicy or barbeque. The birds are relatively small, so the serving size is usually one per person.
Vendors usually have an entire handful of birds roasting at once on site for you to see, and the pigeons are known to be savory, succulent, and tender. If you’re not into pigeons, most vendors will also have whole quails, crabs, and squids on sticks available too. Furthermore, the prices are very affordable, averaging around 5-10 yuan, which is less than one USD!
3 Fried Cicada
As a kid, you might have played with the shells that cicadas molt out of and leave behind on trees. In certain parts of China, these cicadas are available deep-fried and threaded on a stick! In fact, eating these bugs are strongly recommended to save certain species of trees from their harmful attacks. Although eating bugs may not sound appetizing, give these cicadas a try before turning up your nose!
Locals love them for their crispy, crunchy exterior and buttery, delicious aftertaste. The cicadas are cleaned and prepared before they’re fried, so you can crunch away in peace! They've been known to provide an excellent source of protein, too!
Bingtanghulu, or candied hawthorn berries, served as the staple sweet-food for generations of Chinese children. Its history dates back to the dynasties and remains beloved by children and adults alike today. Usually served on a bamboo skewer, each serving consists of 5-10 hawthorn berries dipped in sugar glaze.
Locals love the snack for the sweet and sour flavor combination as well as the unique texture of the berries. In more recent years, there has been a trend to use other fruits, such as strawberries or kiwis, instead of hawthorn berries as an alternative snack. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, definitely try this infamous street snack on your next visit!
Finishing up on a lighter note, we have the douhua, also known as tofu flower, tofu pudding, or just plain old soft tofu. Unlike its cousin stinky tofu, douhua presents a light, mouthwatering aroma coupled with a clean flavor and silky texture. There’s nothing not to love about the delicacy, and it can be used in a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory.
Douhua actually couples extremely well with a thousand-year-old egg and a dollop of soy sauce, although it also works well served warm with ground pork and fresh scallions. Folks also love to enjoy douhua as a dessert by simply pouring a sweet concoction of syrup over the dish.