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There are many differences between Western culture and Chinese culture, and once you venture into their land, you will definitely see that food is one of them. Chinese food culture revolves around wasting as little food as possible and using every material available. Because of that, we are bound to find some surprising ingredients in their food, that we might have never thought about trying, let alone using in our own kitchen.
Eating meat off the bones is not such a foreign concept for westerners, but even so, they might be taken aback by the frequent use of bones in Chinese food. Any types of bones, from chicken and pork to ducks can be used, and they are considered an essential ingredient in most foods. What might seem strange is that the bones are cut with the meat altogether, leaving the shards of bone in the food for you to find.
The Chinese believe that the meat found closest to the bone is the tastiest, which is why they leave the smallest bones inside the meal. Not only that but by cutting the bones the marrow is released into the dish, making it tastier and healthier.
2. Bamboo shoots
This is a very common ingredient in Chinese cuisine. Bamboo shoots can be seen on any bamboo stand, at the base of the plant. Bamboo stalks can also be eaten, although they are slightly drier. Ingredients that come from bamboo are considered extremely beneficial for one’s health, as they have lots of minerals and proteins, and are very low on sugar.
3. Lotus roots
Another well-known ingredient for food, lotus roots has a very firm texture before they are cooked. However, “taste and texture are very similar to lettuce leaves,” says Susan Snowden, lifestyle writer at Draftbeyond and Lastminutewriting. You can easily recognize this ingredient by its circular shape, and the holes found in the middle after it is cut.
4. Deep-fried scorpions
This very unique street food dish is fairly popular in China. You can eat it whole, with its sting still attached, as the frying process destroys the poison inside. If deep-fried scorpions are a bit too much for you, you can always consider other types of insects such as cicadas, which supposedly taste like nuts, or even ants, which have a tangy, acidic taste comparable to limes.
5. Snake soup
A very popular dish in Hong Kong, snake soup is also considered a very gourmet dish, and many people love eating it especially during winter to warm up. It is usually served with shredded snakes inside the soup itself, but people claim it tastes just like chicken.
6. Roasted street birds and whole pigeons
You will probably see this a lot if you explore local street food places in China. Do not be scared by their appearance: they taste very good, as they are prepared in a tasty marinade and roasted afterward.
Another unique dish, that many people may have trouble bringing themselves to try is Balut. Famous in other countries such as the Philippines, Cambodia or Vietnam, Balut is essentially a duck embryo, boiled and eaten from the shell. Many locals prefer tipping the top of the eggshell and sipping on the liquid inside afterward.
8. Dried lily flowers
This is another ingredient Chinese people love to use, especially in vegetarian food. “It is used as a flavor enhancer, and on its own, it tends to have an earthy flavor. Just like bamboo shoots, dried lily flowers bring a crunchy, chewy texture to every dish they are mixed in”, claims Margaret Garret, food blogger at Writinity and Researchpapersuk.
9. Bitter melon
This vegetable can certainly be considered an acquired taste, as it is a distinctively bitter ingredient. It resembles a wrinkly old cucumber, and it is used in a lot of vegetarian dishes but not only.
Chinese people love using really healthy ingredients in their foods, and bitter melon is no exception, as it is considered to be good for your heart, good for people with diabetes and supposedly good for preventing Alzheimer’s.
10. Dried wood ear mushrooms
You must have this ingredient if you wish to experiment with cooking traditional Chinese dishes. It is commonly used in popular dishes such as moo shu stir-fry, egg rolls, noodle gravy, and various soups, as it adds a lot of texture. Although they don’t have any particular taste by themselves, wood ear mushrooms will absorb the flavor of the other ingredients.
For Westerners, these might seem like very unconventional ingredients for cooking. However, you should definitely give them a try during your visit to China, or even just in your own kitchen, if they are available to you.
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