I know. Everybody loves to crack jokes about how the Chinese will eat just about anything, including Scruffy and Po, your Bichon Frise and your British Shorthair.
It’s true, I’ve seen dogs hanging in meat markets, pig noses dangling from the walls and a table full of still-moving fish, cut entirely in half (it’s fresher that way). My eating habits have certainly changed, but I still refuse to eat cow stomach and chicken feet. As far as I’m concerned, that’s like biting someone else’s toenails.
The Chinese have different eating habits than the Western world. It’s not as extreme as the jokes make it out to be, but there is definitely a level of truth to it.
I had the freakish pleasure of visiting the Wangfujing Food Street, a famous walking street in Beijing known for its…alternative…selection of things to eat. I’d like to say that I’m adventurous enough to eat a scorpion or a tarantula, but the thought of biting into that big, round, hairy, juicy abdomen makes me *hack* a little queasy.
And yes, there are actually scorpions and tarantulas on offer.
It should be noted that, while things like turtle meat do make the occasional appearance on menus, starfish and scorpions are not the most common. But they still make them available!
There is a massive difference between the way Westerners and the Chinese view their food. When we order chicken, for example, we expect a nice, white, chicken breast, cut away from the bones, with nothing other than its name to remind us of what we’re eating. The Chinese, on the other hand, view the whole animal as food, eating everything from chicken feet, beaks, gizzards, and even using the bones in stews and stir-fries. Bone marrow, apparently, has a wonderful flavor.
Just last week, as I was eating a plate of fried chicken, I began poking at a particularly large piece, trying to find the meat on it. When I didn’t have any luck, I picked it up with my chopsticks to have a better look at this strange lump of chicken. As it turns out, it was a chicken head, fried, in its entirety.
Just another dinner in China.
So, to find things like fully roasted animals or BBQ gizzards in China is a fairly regular occurrence, and I’ve had to adjust my stomach to be able to handle the mere sight of some more common Chinese dishes.
Cow stomach, pictured above, is one of those very things.
Even some of the more edible items tip the scale heavily to the “no way in hell I’m touching that” category. Below, this treat is supposed to be some sort of meat balls or dumplings. Or something.
But, this is why I’m here. I came to China because I wanted to experience the weird and unthinkable. I wanted to see new cultures and try new foods. I wanted something that would flip my world upside down, and that’s exactly what China has done to me. I’m out of my element. Every day, I see the weird and unthinkable.
Five years ago, I never thought street vendors in Asia would be telling me I speak great Chinese!
Five years ago, I never thought I’d be walking through the crowded streets of Beijing, or exploring the idiosyncrasies of this eccentric country.
And I love what that means for the next five years of my life.
Read the other side of the story! The Delights of Chinese Food: More From the Famous Wangfujing Food Street in Beijing
Beijing is a very beautiful city. I was there last month!
I lived in Japan for eight years and fell in love with both the culture and the food. There are a lot of Chinese in Japan and you can find many very authentic Chinese Restaurants in Tokyo and Yokohama. Chicken feet are gelatinous and delicious when cooked either Chinese style or in adobo sauce like a Filipino friend does it. The preserved duck eggs, sometimes called thousand year old eggs, are a great appetizer when cut into eighths and served with a combination of grated ginger and garlic, a cold beer on the side of course.
Cow stomachs are popular in the Mexican hangover soup known as menudo and are also quite popular in many European countries. Here in America the dish Philadelphia Pepper Pot helped the Continental Army get through the harsh winter and the main ingredient in that delightful stew was beef tripe, AKA, cow stomachs.
I like fried chicken and mashed potatoes but for serious dining I’ll take Chinese any day.
Well, you just took care of any desire I had to snack before bed! All of this looks pretty gross and while I’ve eaten some strange things, there are just some things I can’t stomach.
Good. Snacking before bed is never a good idea!
Cultural differences are fascinating and while I have tasted some unusual things in my day, others seem hard to imagine biting into. Logically, I don’t understand why insects are so different to eat than are animals, though it is harder in practice than in theory. Regardless, this is a great post and certainly very educational!
Great post Jeremy! Brought back memory of my trip to China. Before going to China, I knew that the Chinese eat everything. But nothing prepared me for the ‘variety’ of exotic food I encountered in Wanfujing and in villages around China. I do try to taste the local cuisine wherever I go, but my resolve was challenged in China. I have no problem eating the chicken feet or pork blood but just couldn’t bring myself to eat dog meat or lizard, etc.
Oof! You’re a braver man than me. A chicken foot is just not happening or going anywhere near my face. Did you find that dog meat was readily available in places? I didn’t encounter it that much.
Here in Korea, I have a favorite place for sundae guk that I go to regularly. It’s a soup that features blood sausage and meat from a pig’s head among other ingredients. It’s very delicious. I think some of my friends would be a bit shocked to see the cooks haul a pot full of pig heads through the middle of the restaurant. lol I haven’t seen anything as exotic as baby alligators or starfish. I definitely wouldn’t touch the insects, arachnids, and dog meat. Great post, Jeremy.
Thanks, Tim! I’ve had people try to get me to eat all kinds of weird stuff, and they claim it’s delicious, but I’m just really not up for eating some of that stuff (like pig’s head…or chicken heads). Hence why I kept my distance from the scorpions and starfish!
The truth is Chinese people don’t eat those things at Wangfujin, and are puzzled why they are on offer there. Ask any Chinese person who’s eaten or dares to eat such things. It’s such a tourist trap totally detached from local cuisine and culture.
You’re right. I know this. I just thought it would be a fun post 🙂
On our first visit to China we also heaved at the sight of a chicken’s head on our plate & rather than eat it, had to cover it up with a napkin! But the 2nd time round we were far more adventurous & we got used to the weird things on offer. We tried starfish (taste just like fish fingers!), deep fried cicadas (tasty covered in chili & cumin) & also scorpion (very little taste but very crunchy!) Still wouldn’t eat a chicken’s head though!!! Dumplings are our favourite, the bread bun kind with a filling! I’m really impressed you are learning
Chinese as it is so difficult! Look forward to reading what Chinese food you do like 🙂
I’m impressed, Danielle! I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to eat that stuff! How did they prepare the starfish? Just BBQed?
Dumplings are my favorite! The ones you’re referring to are called “baozi,” as opposed to traditional dumplings which are called “jiaozi.”