You Ate What???
This isn’t an article about patriotism, or lack there of. No, this is an article about Chinese foods that you typically don’t find in the Western Hemisphere. Unless you know where to look for them. And, we intend to find them. And try them all. Consider it a side Quest. Or, would that be a Sidequest? I think I just made that word up. It wouldn’t be the first time I butchered the English language… but, speaking of butchering, let’s start with some meats:
- Water Buffalo – A popular meat in Malaysia. It’s tougher than beef but with a similar taste. The key ingredient for rendang. Interestingly, the milk of the water buffalo is the classic ingredient for mozzarella cheese due to its high fat content.
- Chicken Feet – Your biggest obstacle here is the appearance, these wrinkled, claw like chicken feet look like something from a witches cauldron. Luckily, they taste better than anything else the wicked witch could cook up, if a little crunchy.
- Chicken Testicles – Chicken testicles pop up on many a Hong Kong menu. The testicles themselves are boiled or fried whole and look a little like chipolata sausages, with a soft interior. They’re served with rice, or noodles and broth. I would try many things, but I won’t eat THAT!
- Sparrows – Sparrows are a common street and snack food. They are skewered, roasted and fried and served on sticks. They are often eaten bones and all.
Then there’s seafood. And then there’s seafood. Normally when I seafood, I eat it. <rim shot> That would explain, perhaps, why I was so interested in Vegan Chinese food. Nonetheless, here are some seafood’s that you might not have ever come across before:
- Cuttlefish – Ingredient in Malaysian and East Asian cooking. Cuttlefish are often dried, shredded and served alone as a snack.
- Eel – Used in sushi and sashimi, and in soups and stir fries throughout East Asia, especially in China and Japan. Both freshwater and ocean eels are used.
- Gizzard Shad – A small shiny fish similar to herring or anchovies. Used in sushi and Chinese and Korean cooking. The caviar of the gizzard shad is highly valued.
- Shark’s Fin – A highly valued luxurious food item that is considered a delicacy in China. It’s one of the many ingredients used in the World’s most expensive soup, “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall” soup. It has a unique texture that is enjoyable, but it has very little flavor. Considered a controversial food item due to the mistreatment and declining populations of most shark species.
- Sea Slugs – You’d think Sea Slug would be slimy and slightly rubbery and you’d be right. Not unlike biting into a trampoline, Sea Slug definitely doesn’t taste like chicken. Beginners should try it fried, which takes away some of the slippery texture, on a bed of noodles or rice with an accompanying sauce.
- Fish Maw – The air bladder of a fish. The bladder of large sea fishes is considered a delicacy in China.
- Jellyfish – The scyphozoan jellyfish is a common salad ingredient. Often eaten cured. It has a jello-like texture.
- Turtle Jelly – Like Shark Fin Soup, Turtle Jelly is another naughty delicacy that doesn’t impress the World Wildlife Federation. Hong Kong and China’s penchant for these shelled creatures is having a devastating effect on their numbers and you should give Turtle Jelly soup a miss. You can spy the Turtle Jelly shops in Hong Kong by the empty turtle shells piled up inside. The turtles are boiled for up to twelve hours, mixed with herbs and lotions and served up as a type of jelly like soup. The draw here is, again, the medicinal properties, certainly not the taste.
- Sea Cucumber – A marine animal that is considered a delicacy in China, Japan and other East Asian countries. The intestines are considered a particularly valuable culinary ingredient.
Legumes, Beans, Nuts and Seeds
- Douchi – (a.k.a. fermented black beans) Fermented soy beans, also known as “fermented black beans” because the fermentation process turns the soybeans black. These beans have a sharp, spicy flavor and are used to create Chinese black bean sauce.
- Ginkgo – The nut of the maidenhair or ginkgo biloba tree. It has a subtle sweet taste and is usually cooked before eating. A common ingredient of Chinese congee and Buddha’s delight. Also eaten in Japan. Sometimes used to make tea or used as an herbal supplement.
- Lotus Seeds – Sweet, juicy seeds of the lotus flower, or water lilly. Can be eaten fresh, or boiled with sugar and served as a dessert. When mashed, can be used to create a filling paste for mooncakes. Should be soaked for a day before consumption.
- Mung Beans – Small, green-colored beans with a mild flavor that are popular in Chinese cuisine. Can be dried and ground to create a flour that is used to make mung bean noodles. Can also be sprouted. The sprouts are an integral ingredient in chop suey.
- Tofu – Bean curds created from curdled soy milk that is pressed into blocks. A popular ingredient in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. Tofu has very little flavor, but quickly takes on the flavor of other ingredients being cooked. Available fresh as soft, firm or ultra-firm tofu. Also available fried or fermented. Fermented tofu is also called “bean curd cheese” and is often served with congee – Asian rice porridge.
Dairy, Egg and Other Ingredients
- Bird’s Nest – An ingredient in “bird’s nest soup,” a Chinese dish made from the saliva of the cave swift birds, who create their nests with the saliva. It has very little flavor, but is said to have a pleasant, gelatinous texture. It is considered a delicacy in China.
- Hundred Year Egg – (a.k.a. century egg, thousand-year egg, preserved egg) A duck, chicken or quail egg that is coated with a preservative, then buried and left in the ground – or covered with a mixture of rice hulls, clay, ash, salt and lime– for at least 100 days. This gives the egg a rich, cheesy flavor. The egg is then eaten raw. The egg is not actually a hundred or a thousand years old.
How many of these dishes have you tried?
And you wonder why Americanized Chinese restaurants have flourished in the United States?
Humbly submitted for your consumption,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)