10 Chinese dishes that foreigners find gross
The other day I read an article on WeChat that was called “10 Chinese Dishes Foreigners Can’t Stomach”. This type of articles are usually not too objective, as what someone dislikes, the next person can love, but nonetheless I sometimes find them entertaining. With this particular list, I realized that I had tried all of the dishes and that I didn’t think many of them were among the most disgusting foods in China. There are things way worse than the ones that appear here. But this list was supposedly published by QQ so did they do some kind of survey? Not too sure about that, as QQ is used mainly by Chinese. Maybe these are the dishes that Chinese people think foreigners will find revolting? But let’s see the list!
1. Century egg (皮蛋)
I can’t believe my beloved century egg is in the first position! Ok, it does look a bit weird, being a green egg and all. But it’s actually not bad. The taste and the smell are not strong. They are not supposed to be eaten in big quantities, but with shredded pork in a rice congee they are delicious. I also like cold tofu mixed with century egg. (By the way, they are not really one century old).
2. Fried pork intestines (猪大肠)
I can understand that this can be a shock for delicate people, as the smell is very strong and the texture is like rubber. It’s definitely not one of my favourite dishes. However, innards are eaten in many countries, not only China, so this dish shouldn’t come as a big surprise. There are more ways of cooking intestines, one of the most popular being in spicy hot pot (where you can choose between your preferred body part: brains, stomach, kidneys, intestines… of pig, chicken, duck or cow). When we have a big family dinner in the winter, one of the dishes always is a soup made with intestines and black pepper. It smells like the bedroom of Satan must smell and the flavour is super strong, but you will get very warm in approximately 5 seconds.
3. Blood (鸭血 and 血豆腐)
I think with this one the worst is actually the name. Blood, ugh. Are we vampires or what? But, actually, blood is eaten as food in many countries. In Spain we have what looks like a black sausage but is in fact made with blood (it’s called morcilla). In China the most popular blood is duck’s blood and it is eaten in cubes with rice noodles, or in the hot pot. I eat it if I have to, but I don’t like it too much, mostly because it doesn’t really have any taste.
4. Chicken feet (鸡爪)
This is probably the dish foreigners gag at the most, together with number 6. I guess it’s because is very obvious what it is, as there are not many ways to disguise the foot of a chicken. For Chinese people this is a delicious snack. To be honest they don’t have much to eat, just a little bit of skin and soft cartilages. I don’t think they are bad (except the ultra spicy version, which burns my lips only by looking at it) but I think it is a waste of time to nibble and slurp for such a long time to get so little food. In Suzhou’s famous old street Pingjiang Rd there is a very popular place that sells them and you might have to queue for one hour to taste them.
5. Fermented tofu (豆腐乳)
This one has a very strong flavour so if you put a cube in your mouth you will probably die. They are not supposed to be eaten by the spoonful, but mixed together with rice: with each bite of rice or spoon of congee, you take a small piece of fermented tofu. I’m not a big fan but I can eat it.
6. Stinky tofu (臭豆腐)
This one is indeed one of the most universally hated by foreigners. Stinky tofu has a very appropriate name, as it smells like a public toilet that had not been cleaned in years (that is, like most public toilets in China, because they are only cleaned with dirty water and no bleach or detergent of any kind). It’s a very peculiar smell that drove me crazy during my first weeks in China as I didn’t know what the stink was or where it was coming from. Stinky tofu is simply tofu fermented in a special brine. When it is being cooked is when it stinks the most, when you eat it the smell is not that strong. I like it.
7. Fish head (鱼头)
I don’t really understand why anyone would consider this disgusting. Have you ever eaten grilled salmon head? It’s delicious. However in China they use white fish (carp or something like that) and they cook it super spicy and with quite a lot of oil. Not my favourite dish by far but I don’t think it’s gross at all.
8. Bird’s nest soup (燕窝)
This is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, and the bird nest is super expensive. I have eaten it but I am not sure if it was the real deal. The ingredient is actually bird’s saliva, which doesn’t sound very appetizing. It looks like a white mushroom that is very popular and cheap, so maybe what I ate was actually that and perhaps it had a tiny tiny piece of bird’s nest. Not sure. Anyway, it was good. It tastes sweet.
9. Hairy crabs (大闸蟹)
I think it’s baffling that this one is on the list. Crabs are a very common thing to eat, no? This variety is called hairy because they have a kind of furry sleeve on their claws. These crabs are actually from Suzhou and when the crab season starts (after the summer) everybody gets crazy for them. C.’s company always gets hundreds of boxes to give to customers and every year I get up one day to find my fridge full of small black eyes staring at me and doing weird sounds with their tiny mouths. They are good, but I am very lazy to eat them. All that cracking and slurping to get such a small piece of meat!
10. Turtle jelly (龟苓膏)
This one I have eaten only once and I didn’t know what it was. It’s a black and sweet jelly served as a dessert. I’m pretty sure I got it for free with my lunch or it was included in the set menu, so I don’t think it was the real deal. The original recipe contains an ingredient from the shell of turtles, but it seems many of the cheaper ones offered in restaurants are just made with herbal extracts. Which is totally fine for me. I don’t want to eat turtles.
Have you tried any of these foods? Which is your least favourite Chinese dish?
You’re right, those don’t seem universally disgusting. Except for the chicken feet. Andy LOOOVES those, but I maintain that any food involving the spitting out of toenails is only to be eaten in times of famine.
Hahaha, yes, toenails, argh. Just yesterday I cooked a chicken and it included the feet, here they sell you the whole thing. I ate the feet because I hate wasting food (and Nico cannot eat chicken. Dangerous bone splinters and stinky farts).
I have to agree with you. Not all of these dishes are disgusting, at least to me. I’d eat the stinky tofu, fish head, hairy crab and the turtle jelly. I’ve had bird’s nest soup a few times and all of the times, I felt I was drinking sugar water. There was nothing I didn’t like about it :D
Yes, about the bird’s nest I actually think the worst part is when you stop to think about it and the words “bird’s spittle” appear in your mind xD
It’s not actully bird spit. It’s basically a type of mushroom that grows on trees. We call it “wood ear”
Hi Z! I know that fungus, but that’s actually a different thing which is used instead of bird’s nest because the latter is too expensive. In this recipe the fungus is called “the poor man’s bird’s nest”, hehe: https://www.xinshipu.com/zuofa/140786
When I first saw your list, I thought, only 10? Hahahahaha. Surely, we can come up with a top 20 or 30, as Chinese cuisine is vast and varied. You should do a survey! Alright, it’s settled, come back with an updated list next time :P
Hahaha, there’s a problem, I don’t have many foreign friends in China. I could ask the ones who already left, though. But my opinion definitely is not the best on this matter, as I like pretty much everything, haha.
You’re well suited to China then! :D
Century egg is great with soft tofu! Yummy! We have lots of blood sausages so I’m not really scared of blood itself. I also tried duck tongues but they were quite tasteless and very dry :D And stinky tofu is HK Classic!
The duck tongues are a complete mystery to me. Why would anyone like to eat them? It’s tasteless rubber… But, again, they are super popular, hahaha. Also duck’s neck… Chinese people seem to enjoy licking bones.
Sing told me that the interaction between human and the meat, touching it etc is part of the pleasure and if he can have exactly the same taste with or without bones he would always chose the bones… Eeeewwww:D
Na, didn’t try any of these and will never ever do so. For me these things are all a no no. Sure similar things exist as well in Germany and Finland (blood sausage, intestines, fermented fish) but these I akso wouldn’t try/ be in the same room with :)
Timo, you have to be more adventurous! You might be missing many delicious dishes! :P
I think I am fine without getting close to those dishes :)
Great list! I’ve had most and like most (or at least don’t hate – minus the intestines). I had fish head with peppers and noodles in Wuhan and it was amazing (just OK everywhere else). I can’t stomach the century eggs but I think it’s mostly a visual thing. Haven’t tried shark fin soup because it is so unethical but I bet it tastes good. My personal least favorites are pig lung and pig ears. The texture on both is just too much for me.
I was served shark fin soup in a dinner with a supplier but I am not sure it was the real deal (I hope it wasn’t). I can totally live without it.
Can’t remember the texture of pigs lungs right now, but pig ears are ok in bbq haha. So crunchy! :P
I ate dog once at a banquet on accident – it was horrible (greasy and sweet) but still better than pig lung. I only wish that dog meat was fake. Ahhh! China PTSD flashbacks!
I read that list on WeChat too and didn’t agree with all the items on there. Like you say, it would be interesting to know where they got this list from, I’m guessing it was posted by an editorial office of foreigners living in China and they just asked people in the office what foods they can’t stand. Saying that, I haven’t tried all of those on the list.
You still have time to finish the list :D Jia you!
I can confirm that at least some Americans will find the century egg disgusting. I don’t think it is the taste but just the idea of eating it. I’ve brought my counterparts out for dim sum breakfast once when they were in Malaysia and I ordered the century egg and shredded pork porridge for them. They simply refused to touch the “disgusting black egg-looking-things”…
Also, if this is a Malaysian list instead of China list, there would be: 11. Durians.
Hahaha, yes, durians, I think they smell worse than stinky tofu!
Not had century egg but as a carnivorous child, had chicken’s feet at dimsum. Also had many varieties of fish head. Fermented and stinky tofu. Also had birds nest soup that was probably not authentic.
Of these, fermented tofu but more of an Indonesian style preparation would be my pick to eat!
I haven’t tried the Indonesian style! :)
Oh you must!! Yummmmm!!!
I really like century eggs, but I haven’t eaten one recently. I’ve tried pork intestine once. Never again. I understand stinky tofu is very healthy. My grandfather-in-law made a fortune on the birds’ nest trade, buying in Malaysia, selling in China.
When we lived in the Philippines a certain restaurant was famous for its fish head soup. They made it from a very large lapu lapu head (giant grouper) served in a bowl large enough for 8 or 10 people. It was fantastic! My Chinese painting teacher introduced some of his students to the dish, and no matter what country the students came from, they always liked it.
Oh I think I ate lapu lapu when I was in the Philippines, it sounds very familiar!
Really dislike stinky tofu. And my friends hated the slug in that brown sauce. I never had to eat it because it’s not regarded as vegetarian. Thank goodness by all accounts. Loved your post Marta.
Slug in brown sauce? Is it the sea cucumber? I’m also not a big fan. And I can’t understand how it can be so expensive. Not worth it at all.
Yes it is the sea cucumber. I am like you, have no idea why it is so expensive.
I love hundred-year eggs! I don’t know why so many people think it’s gross.
I will never ever ever eat chicken feet, but I don’t eat chicken anyway
Well then you have an excuse :P
I have eaten all kinds of crabs (who doesn’t love them?!) and even fish heads in Japan. Delicious. Some of the other items I have seen similar versions or similarly disgusting-seeming things in Japan and nope I don’t want to try.
Do Japanese love intestines as much as Chinese people? Here it is like a passion xD
Yup, very popular among the Japanese. My husband is not a fan though, so he never dared me to try any. His father and brother on the other hand love the stuff.
Thankfully I was already a somewhat recovered picky-eater by the first time I went to China, or I wouldn’t have touched most of those! I’ve pushed myself to try most things put in front of me, but I haven’t tried stinky tofu and chicken legs because I generally strongly dislike pungent and/or gristle-y foods. Even if I did appreciate cartilage, chicken legs seem like too much work–and seeing as I didn’t grow up tearing through crabs and shelled shrimp and uncracked nuts, it’s the work involved in eating Chinese food that bothers me most!
Haha I did eat unshelled shrimp (well we shelled it with our hands) and uncracked nuts but I still think crabs are extra annoying. The shell is very hard and you always eat small pieces of it when you crack it with a small hammer or something.
The things they eat in Sichuan are a little more hardcore.
When I worked at a school close to the mountain region, the men in the village where the school was located used to sit out the front sucking on rabbit heads.
When I said that that was foul, my co-teacher commented that the brain has a nice flavor, it just looks bad.
China is still in the process of persuading their citizens that things aren’t so bad as they have to eat anything that moves.
Rural Chinese consider eating the bits that, with modern living standards they don’t need to, their cultural right;same as spitting and defecating in front of supermarkets.
Many ‘modern’ Chinese frown on it, the government doesn’t like it.
There really is enough good food in China that people don’t have to eat any of that crazy shit.
But if it makes them feel good, you really can’t stop them.
I think it’s fine if they want to eat the strange parts of an animal, after all, if you kill a chicken to eat its wings, it’s better if you don’t waste any part, right?
In Europe we also eat things that other people consider strange, like snails and frogs! They are considered delicacies!
I’ve been to many cultures and it’s really up to you what you eat.
I guess if the guys were eating rabbit’s heads in a village, that was fine.
But coming to the city, many of my workmates didn’t hear of that food before.
Duck’s head maybe.
But rabbit head, no.
Ps. (I thought it was a rat head to start with, because of the big teeth.)
I’ve tried stinky tofu, fish head and the century egg. It was very interesting, but I’m pretty comfortable trying new things. Actually most of the time I don’t ask what it is until after I try things so that way I can at least say I tried it, haha!
Yes haha! The problem is when you can tell what it is by looking at it… like bugs!! I haven’t tried those yet.
I’m such a typical foreigner because I dislike half the things on the list. I can’t eat the pig innards (mostly because of the smell), I’m not a huge fan of blood (but I do love the European style blood sausages! maybe congealed blocks of blood eaten Asia style is just not my thing), I can’t stomach stinky tofu (too stinky!), and chicken feet just plain isn’t good! Not enough meat!
I LOVE century eggs (especially in zhou!), and while I’m not a huge fan of hairy crabs they’re definitely not that weird…? And the yutou is one of my favs (especially with Hunan cuisine!).
Americans usually don’t eat meat similar to what the original animal/fish looked like. Even eating a whole fish is strange for Americans. We like to get something cleanly packaged at a store and in a fashion that doesn’t resemble the fish/animal. I invited an American friend to Japan and when he saw me tear a crab a part (like the hairy crab up there) he was thoroughly disgusted (especially when I cracked open the crab head and drank the brains, mwahaha!). In the U.S., again, we just sell crab legs and no one ever sees the head/eyes, which makes them feel more distant from the animal…? I dunno.
Oh, if Americans prefer to eat foods that don’t look like the animal then it makes sense that they will dislike many of the foods in China!
Actually now that I think about it I remember when I was a kid my cousin told me she didn’t eat shrimp because they had eyes and stared at her haha. So it’s not only Americans!
That list of food has nothing on casu marzu (aka maggot cheese). Now that’s hardcore. I would gladly eat all 10 of the dishes, instead of 1 serving of casu marzu.
Well, this list was only about Chinese food! Regarding that cheese, I think I’m more scared of the strong taste it must have than of the worms themselves hahaha.
I feel sick just from reading your post. :(
Hahaha noooo! You have to try some, at least :P
I tried the eggs, and that’s more than enought. xD
Eating bowels is still quite common in Austria too – but no thanks. Were forced to eat them as a child way too often by my grandma.
I love most of the things you wrote except for Century egg and hairy crab. There was a joke about century egg, the reason it is so black is because they cooked it in horse urine.
I’m chinese despite my name
Is horse urine black? Hahaha!
Actually, I think crabs are the least weird thing on the list. Lots of countries eat them!
I love me some 1,000 year old eggs. I do cringe at the thought of chicken feet. I actually tried chicken feet for the first time a few months ago (after 7 years in China on avoidance mode) and they were kinda gross. And like you said, too much work for what you actually get from them.
Great post! I can think of some nastier foods too than QQ.
A couple of nights ago we went out to eat in a Xinjiang restaurant and ordered that dish of chicken with potatoes and veggies. I was the one eating the feet haha! They were pretty good because of the sauce :P
Haha! Was it Da Pan Ji?
YES!! I had not eaten that in a long time!
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I love chicken feed and fish heads and I don’t think tripe is all that bad. Also I don’t find those 1000 year old eggs all that revolting. The one thing I did have that people may find gross is congealed pig’s blood.
I think stinky tofu is worse than blood! At least the blood doesn’t smell xD
I forgot about stinky tofu. I’ve had that. Yeah the smell is strong but it doesn’t taste as bad as it smells.
A lot of these foods can definitely take some getting used to if you didn’t grow up with them. I still have yet to get my husband to try the hundred year old egg or the fermented tofu. I LOVE fermented tofu on my mantou or mixed in some fried rice. It’s definitely important to keep an open mind about other culture’s foods. I know there have been times when people have commented on my Chinese food, “What is THAT??” made me feel very ashamed and insecure.
Sorry you’ve had to feel that way! It seems many people are scared of trying new things to eat. I don’t remember how I was before coming to China, maybe I also said things like those sometimes. But now I am a big fan of the hundred year egg (cold with tofu and vinegar or hot in rice porridge) and I am not scared of trying new things. If other people eat them, they cannot be that bad!
I DONT LIKE THESE AS A CHINESE TOO.hey not all chinese like these stuff
It doesn’t say anywhere that all Chinese like these dishes :)
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I like most of the things mentioned hahahaha!
I think it is a culture thing, for instance I found the stinky cheese, uncoocked meat (rare steak, steat tartar..) disgusting too :D
Yes, it all comes down to what you are used to or grew up with. My mother in law shivers when she sees my son eating yogurt straight from the fridge because she cannot stand cold things.
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I would. I definitely would eat… everything but the furry crabs and the fish head. I don’t know if I would enjoy all of them (I’m talking here about fried intestines -I don’t appreciate rubberlike food- and bird’s nest soup -sweet soup!?-) but I want to give them a try. I also would love to eat durian and nadou (I know this one is not from China, though). Also, I think I tried once the century egg, but I’m not sure. It was a dark egg, which I didn’t like, and it was supposed to be a breakfast. I was surprised to find a “Huevo Kinder” (chocolate egg) in my rice, and the flavor was… not really kinder.
I am hungry now, let’s eat! :P
If that dark egg was for breaskfast, it must have been a tea egg! It’s a normal egg but boiled with spices. But those eggs don’t differ much from a boiled egg in flavour, at least to me hahaha.
Really? Not sure then. I remember I was forcing myself to finish it (the classic “Do you know how many kids die of famine in Africa?” question stuck to me), it was rather small but I couldn’t because it was ruining my soup of salt-free rice. Besides I love boiled eggs, so you can imagine my surprise and frustration… Anyways, I have to say it was the only Chinese dish I couldn’t finish, including the delicious spicy Hunan food :)
Ok then I’m having doubts… maybe it was something different that I’m not aware of, hahaha!
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