WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA
Duck blood 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 between sips of beer in streetside stalls. In Beijing, you can get silkworms, grasshoppers, seahorses, and scorpions—with their stingers intact. Other weird food favorites include snakehead soup, duck feet marinated in blood, solidified duck blood, pork lungs, peacock and pig face. The latter is made by pouring hot tar in a pig head to remove the hair put not the skin.
Banquet specialties include cow’s lung soaked in chili sauce, goose stomachs, fish lips with celery, goat’s feet tendons in wheat noodles, shark’s stomach soup, chicken-feet soup, monkey’s head, ox forehead, turtle casserole, pigeon brain, deer ligament and snake venom, lily bulbs and deer’s penis.
A typical menu offers things like “goat genitals soup,” “pig hoof gruel,” “old vinegar jelly fish,” “fried goose intestines,” “know taste pork meat pie,” “chicken without sexual life,” “pockmarked old-lady’s tofu.” “fish smell like pork.” “spicy ducks heads” and “lover’s lung.” Some restaurant serve donkey and the entree “Explodes the Stomach, Slides the Tendon and Fires the Sheep’s Internal Organs.”
Some people in China eat dirt as a "famine food." Analysis of samples of eating soil shows that it contains large amounts of iron, calcium, vanadium, magnesium, manganese and potassium—essential nutrients that are in short supply in times of famine.
Huangshan Stone Frog is a speciality of Anhui province. The black-skinned frogs found there are quite large and bear quite a bit of meat. The meat is said to have a light, sweet flavor. Frog fat is enjoyed as a desert. Eating frog is supposed to strengthen your bones and improve your eyesight.
drunken shrimp Weird fish and seafood dishes include fish lips and eyeballs and drunken shrimp, a delicacy in which live shrimp are dipped in alcohol, and their head is pinched off and eaten. Sweet-and-sour Yellow River fish is cooked while it is still alive and served while still breathing. Jellyfish is squeeze dried, processed with diluted acid and the dried in the sun. It can be kept for months without spoiling. Not all jellyfish can be eaten. Some lack the texture to be appetizing when dried.
Thousand-year-old eggs, a Guangdong delicacy, are made from duck eggs coated with lime, ashes and mud and soaked in horse urine for 100 days until the yolks turns green and the whites become gelatinous and dark brown. The eggs have a creamy, cheese-like flavor and a strong smell. Some are aged in black mud. These become partially hardened and are sold in markets as a seasoning for pork products. Thousand-year-old eggs are often served with rice congee or cut in chunks and eaten with slices of pickled ginger to soften the taste. Chinese also eat duck eggs that are packed in a pot and buried in the ground.
The Chinese considered many foods eaten by non-Chinese to be strange. They consider eating a plain cooked steak as primitive and unappetizing. Many regard eating cheese or butter as disgusting and find the French custom of eating snails to be strange.
Good Websites and Sources: Weird Meat weirdmeat.com ; Weird Food.com weird-food.com ; Unusual Food photos travel-images.com Food in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Eating China Blog eatingchina.com/blog ; Chinese Government site china.org.cn; China Tour.com chinatour.com ; Open Directory List dmoz.org ; Nice Chinese Food Blog nicechinesefood.com ;Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Chopstix chopstix.com ; Asia Recipe asiarecipe.com ; Chinese Food Recipes chinesefood-recipes.com
Links in this Website: FOOD IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MEAT, VEGETABLES, SWEETS AND FRUIT Factsanddetails.com/China ; RICE, TOFU, DUMPLINGS AND NOODLES Factsanddetails.com/China ; REGIONAL CHINESE FOOD Factsanddetails.com/China ; RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA NO. 1 Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA NO. 2 Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOOD SAFETY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EATING AND DRINKING CUSTOMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Eating Rooster Blood at a Country Restaurant
scorpions David Sedaris wrote in The Guardian, “By the time we headed back down the mountain, it was almost three. Most restaurants had quit serving lunch, so we stopped at what's called a Farming Family Happiness. This is a farmhouse where, if they're in the mood, the people who live there will cook and serve you a meal.” [Source: David Sedaris, The Guardian July 15, 2011]
As far as I know there wasn't a menu. Rather, the family worked at their convenience, with whatever was handy or in season. There was a rooster parading around the backyard and then there just wasn't. After the cook had slit its throat, he used it as the base for five separate dishes, one of which was a dreary soup with two feet, like inverted salad tongs, sticking out of it. Nothing else was nearly as recognisable.
I'm used to standard butchering: here's the leg, the breast, etc. At the Farming Family Happiness, rather than being carved, the rooster was senselessly hacked, as if by a blind person, a really angry one with a thing against birds. Portions were reduced to shards, mostly bone, with maybe a scrap of meat attached. These were then combined with cabbage and some kind of hot sauce.
Another dish was made entirely of organs, which again had been hacked beyond recognition. The heart was there, the lungs, probably the comb and intestines as well. I don't know why this so disgusted me. If I was a vegetarian, OK, but if you're a meat eater, why draw these arbitrary lines? "I'll eat the thing that filters out toxins but not the thing that sits on top of the head, doing nothing?" And why agree to eat this animal and not that one?
The dishes we had at the Farming Family Happiness were meant to be shared, and as the pretty woman with the broad face brought them to the table, the man across from me beamed and reached for his chopsticks. "You know," he said, "this country might have its ups and downs but it is virtually impossible to get a bad meal here." I didn't say anything. Another of the dishes that day consisted of rooster blood. I'd thought it would be liquid, like V8 juice, but when cooked it coagulated into little pads that had the consistency of tofu. "Not bad," said the girl seated beside me, and I watched as she slid one into her mouth.
Eating Duck Tongues and Sea Horses
David Sedaris wrote in The Guardian, On our first night in Chengdu, we joined a group of four for dinner—one Chinese woman and three westerners. The restaurant was not fancy, but it was obviously popular. Built into our table was a simmering cauldron of broth, into which we were to add side dishes and cook them until they were done. "I've taken the liberty of ordering us some tofu, some mushrooms and some duck tongues," said the western woman sitting across from me. "Do you trust me to keep ordering, or is there anything in particular you might like?" ...I figured the duck tongues were a sort of test, so I made it a point to look unfazed. Excited even. [Source: David Sedaris, The Guardian July 15, 2011]
When I was eventually forced to eat one, I found that it actually wasn't so bad. The only disconcerting part was the shape, particularly the base, from which dangled tentacle-like roots. This reminded one that the tongues had not been cut off but, rather, yanked out, possibly with pliers. Of course the duck was probably dead by then, wasn't it? It's not as if they'd jerk out the tongue and then let it go, traumatised and quackless but otherwise whole.
“Hugh was right there with me, and though he ate the same thing I did, he practically wept when someone in China mentioned eating sea horses. "Oh, those poor things," he said. "How could you?" I went, "Huh?" It's like eating poultry but taking a moral stand against those chocolate chicks they sell at Easter. "A sea horse is not related to an actual horse," I said. "They're fish, and you eat fish all the time. Are you objecting to this one because of its shape?" He said he couldn't eat sea horses because they were friendly and never did anyone any harm, this as opposed to those devious, bloodthirsty lambs whose legs we so regularly roast with rosemary and new potatoes.
Regional Weird Foods in China
Hunan dishes include spicy frogs' legs, tripe and sea cucumbers. People from Sichuan eat duck intestines, pig brains, frog's thighs, green bean seeds and rabbit ears. In Qinghai you can find sheep vein, yak vein, caterpillar fungus, a seaweed-like black moss known as "hair grass," and stir-fried camel's foot.
Among the dishes one can find in Harbin are "yellow flower" (chopped lily stalks), grilled bear paw, stewed moose nose with mushrooms, white fungus soup, and monkey-leg mushrooms. In Manchuria, frog oil taken from frog ovaries is often added to soups and stews served at expensive restaurants.
bugs and maggots from Yunnan Yunnan favorites include live goat fetus, caterpillar fungus, pseudo-ginseng or gastrodia, three-year cured ham, fried goat cheese, and deep fried bee larvae. Delicacies from Hubei Province include snake meat, venison from spotted deer, soft-shell turtle and crocodile claw. Cobra-bile wine is consumed in Canton. People in Beijing like ant soup.
Dogs as Food in China
Dog, known as "fragrant meat," has long been a popular food in northeast and southern China and in recent years has become popular in other places. It is regarded as both a wintertime food and a health food although some Chinese say eating dog meat causes nose bleeds. One dog farmer told AFP, "Dogs have nutritional value, and their meat is tender and has a beneficial effect on kidney and spleen disease," The breed of dog is not that important in terms of the taste of the meat. It is said that all species taste pretty much the same.
Dog has been consumed in China for at least 2000 years. Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han dynasty, among others, had a taste for dog meat. The custom almost died out in the Cultural Revolution when Red Guards killed dogs all over the country because of their perceived association with the bourgeois. Dog is also eaten in Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries.
Dogs are sometimes kept in cages outside restaurants to show the meat is fresh. Many have lowered heads, sad eyes and flattened ears and look as if they now their fate. After they are slaughtered their meat is soaked in cold water for about an hour before cooking. Some restaurants slaughter 30 to 40 dogs a day.
Dog stew served at restaurants in Peixian, a town in Jiangsu province famous for dog, is made in big galvanized caldrons. Heads, paws, tails and other parts are all thrown in and seasoned with a mixture of spices that is a family secret. Intestines are stuffed into the stomach and stewed into something that resembles balls of smoked mozzarella. Sometimes other animals, such as turtles, are thrown in for flavoring. [Source: Craig S. Smith, New York Times, July 7, 2001]
Peixian is located in the heart of the dog-eating region of China. People there regularly eat dog soup, pulled dog meat sandwiches and dog stew and are particularly fond of starting their day with a breakfast of hot soy milk and a pieces of oily, red dog wrapped in a pita-like flat bread. About 300,000 dogs are raised for food. About half are for local consumption. The other are exported to other parts of China and to Korea. Turtle-flavored, hand-pulled dog meat is a local specialty. It can be purchased in boxes or vacuum-sealed plastic bags in gift shops and at the airport in nearby Xuzhou. Portraits of collies, spaniels and beagles are found throughout the town.
Dog meat was banned in Beijing during the duration of the Olympics in 2008. Officially-designated Olympics restaurants were required to take it off the menus and waiters were told to politely suggest alternatives to customers that insisted on having it.
Dog Farms in China
Dog meat is one of the most expensive meats in China, selling for around $2 a kilogram. Raising dogs is generally about twice as profitable as raising pigs. Many farmers switched from pigs to dogs when the price of pork declined.
A typical dog farm houses about 1,000 dogs, mostly crossbreeds, locked in small cages under poor hygienic conditions. The dogs are generally slaughtered when they reach the age of six months. A dog that weighs a five pounds at this age is sold for around $10, about half of that profit. Dog hides are sold to factories that make them into dog-fur hats, fur-lined pants and and blanket used by peasants.
Animal rights activists complain about the way the dogs are killed. Many dogs are dispatched by bleeding them to death after cutting a hole in their paw. A dog farmer told AFP, "It's true, and it take them about 10 minutes to die, but this way the meat tastes better."
St. Bernards as Food in China
dog meat in Shanghai In some parts of China it is becoming increasingly popular to use St. Bernard in the dogs-for-food industry. The dogs are not raised to be eaten but rather as breeding stock for dogs that grow large quickly and can be slaughtered for food. Many are crossbred with Mongolian dogs, which are prized for the leanness of their meat.
One dog farmer told AFP, "This kind of dog grows really fast, even though it eats less than two yuan (24 cents) worth of food every day, and even less if it is crossbred. And the female can give birth to 10 or 12 puppies every year." When the dogs are slaughtered at six months they weigh 100 pounds. Dog farmers are also experimenting with Newfoundlands, Great Dames and even Dalmatians.
It is not known exactly how the Chinese obtain the St. Bernards, which cost up to $1,200 a piece. Many believe they are originate in Switzerland and are purchased through Russian middlemen. Some dog farms import the frozen sperm of St. Bernards.
SOS St. Bernards International is a Geneva-based organization committed to rescuing St. Bernards in dog farms by pressuring the Chinese government. The Swiss government has expressed sympathy for their causes but has resisted taking any action on the grounds that the custom of dog-eating is a cultural matter.
Dog Meat Festival in China Cancelled
The Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival— an event based a 600-year-old local custom in which thousands of dogs are slaughtered and eaten—was abruptly canceled shortly before it was scheduled to be held in eastern China in October 2011 after local officials were shamed by an online campaign begun by animal rights advocates. Gruesome photographs taken at past festivals that show canine carcasses, some bloody and others cooked, circulated on Chinese microblogs, creating popular pressure against the festival. [Source: Edward Wong, September 29, 2011]
cicadas Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “Pet ownership has grown rapidly among the Chinese, as has a greater consciousness of animal rights. In the Mao era, the Communist Party condemned pets as a byproduct of bourgeois decadence. But these days, dogs and cats (and all manner of creatures, including rabbits and birds) have become accouterments of Chinese middle-class living. What was once slated for the pantry is now housed in a playpen.
“I once had a pet dog, and I’m not a huge fan of dog meat,” said a 36-year-old man in Guangdong Province who is credited by a Chinese journalist with helping start the campaign against the festival on Sina Weibo, a popular microblog platform. The blogger declined to give his name and agreed to chat only over the Internet. “The reason why I posted that message online is very simple — that is, I don’t want to see dog lovers’ feelings get hurt,” he said.
The dog meat festival, held in the Wucheng district of Jinhua in Zhejiang Province, is part of an annual three-day temple fair. The dog market has been part of the fair for centuries, according to the district government’s Web site. Local folklore says the tradition of feasting on dogs originated when Hu Dahai, a rebel battling Yuan Dynasty rulers in the 14th century, ordered all the dogs in Jinhua to be slaughtered because their barking had warned rebels in the city of his army’s approach. His soldiers were treated to dog meat, the story goes, and eating dog has been a custom at local temple fairs ever since.
> The Zhejiang Jinhua Daily said in an article on Sept. 20 that the market at the annual temple fair was renamed as a “dog meat festival” about a decade ago to increase business. Traditionally, local people brought cooked dog meat to sell, but that changed in recent years because of talk that some of the sellers had poisoned the dogs. Merchants started trucking in live dogs and killing, flaying and cooking them on the spot to prove that the meat was fresh. A local journalist said at least 5,000 dogs are killed.
Microblog posts criticizing this year’s Jinhua festival first appeared about a month before the festival was scheduled to begin. The blogger from Guangdong wrote on Sept. 6: “There are thousands of dog eaters gathering there. People slaughter dogs mercilessly, the blood of the dead dogs flows like a river, the horrible screams of dogs pierce the sky.” The outcry quickly gathered momentum. By mid September, a few Chinese newspapers wrote editorials. The campaign caught on with celebrities who have millions of microblog followers. The Wucheng district authorities said on Weibo on Sept. 19 that they were canceling the fair. The next morning, they explained the decision was “in full respect of the public’s opinion.”
Some food lovers are disappointed. One blogger, Gong Wangping, wrote: “I personally think dog meat is like alcohol. They are both components of our ancient Chinese culture.”
520 Dogs Bound for Cooking Pots Saved by Animal Rights Activists
In April 2011, a man spotted a truck on a Beijing highway that was packed with more than 500 dogs being shipped to slaughterhouses that supply restaurants in northern China. The man put out a call on the Internet to stop the vehicle, and soon it was blocked by more than 200 people; the crowd rescued the dogs after paying $17,000.
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “The mutts were destined for the dinner table — all 520 of them crammed onto a truck hurtling down a Beijing highway toward awaiting restaurants in northeastern China. Then, fate intervened in the form of a passing driver, an animal lover who spotted the truck and angrily forced it off the road. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, May 28 2011]
“From there, things began spiraling out of control. News of the confrontation hit the Chinese blogosphere, sending more than 200 animal activists flocking immediately to the highway. Traffic on the road slowed to a standstill. Dozens of police officers were called in. Animal activists, however, kept arriving with reinforcements, carrying water, dog food, even trained veterinarians for a siege that lasted 15 hours” until the $17,000 deal was worked out.
Fallout of the Truck with 520 Dogs Incident
Chinglish William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “The victory by the animal lovers was quickly eclipsed when they soon realized they had no idea where to house the hundreds of loud, wild and decidedly not housebroken canines. Even after combining forces, the handful of animal rights groups in the region had trouble handling the overflow from the truck. Most of the dogs they unloaded were strays, and many were dehydrated, malnourished or suffering from deadly viruses. Several have died since the rescue. Dozens this week remained under treatment at animal hospitals around Beijing.” [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, May 28 2011]
“We are a small organization. We haven’t even tried to pay the animal hospital bills yet,” Wang Qi, 32, who works at the China Small Animal Protection Association, told the Washington Post . “There was so much enthusiasm when the dogs were first rescued, but our worry is, what happens now?”
The trucker, Hao Xiaomao, told the Washington Post he has not fared any better in the aftermath. Reached by phone in his home province of Henan, Hao said he lost a small fortune, more than $3,000, after being forced into the deal. Worst of all, because he failed to deliver, no one has been willing to hire him since. “I still don’t understand what was immoral about my shipment. People also eat cow and sheep. What’s the difference?” he asked. Of the activists, he said, “They were just a group of rich bullies who own pets and have nothing better to do.”
Impact of the Truck with 520 Dogs Incident
Chinglish The standoff of over the truck with 520 dogs incident has sparked the widest-ranging discussions to date in China over animal rights. Pictures and videos from the incident have spawned endless arguments on e-mail groups and blogs, Web polls and news stories delving into each side’s points.
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, several others beside the truck owner “have raised the specter of class warfare — a common meme in modern China amid the widening gap between rich and poor. In online debates, many have noted the symbolic nature of the confrontation: a working trucker forced off the road by a black Mercedes-Benz whose driver was on his way to a resort hotel with his girlfriend. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, May 28 2011]
The issue comes with historical baggage as well, notes Jiang Jinsong, a philosophy professor at Tsinghua University. “During the Cultural Revolution, having a pet was seen as a capitalist activity. Only the rich and arrogant had dogs and allowed them to bite poor people,” he said. “So there’s this implication that if you treated pets well, you will treat those who are weaker badly.”
At least one netizen has taken this argument to the extreme. Enraged by activists fighting for animals while ignoring the plight of so many rural, impoverished Chinese, a man in Guangzhou posted threats online to kill a dog a day until animal activists donate the money they raised to peasants living in poverty instead of to dogs. “I felt I had to do something to represent the grass-roots people,” said Zhu Guangbing, 35, who recently plastered his threat on Twitterlike microblogs in China. “I grew up in a poor village. We raised one dog to watch the door and one to be killed in the Lunar New Year because we were too poor to buy pork. I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.”
Within days, Zhu found his name, cellphone number, office number, and even his parents’ number posted online. “My parents got calls condemning them for raising a son like me,” he said, having logged more than 200 threats so far. “One elementary school teacher even called me and had her students insult me over the phone one by one.”
English article for more But dog activists have defended their fervor as a necessity. China does not have any laws against cruelty to animals, and by some estimates, as many as 10 million dogs — some vagrant, others stolen pets — are sold for consumption each year and are often kept under horrible conditions. “People are saying it’s a silly thing protecting animals,” said Wang, the activist. “But it is a question of civilization. “By teaching people in this country to love little animals, maybe we can help them to love their fellow human beings better.”
But Zhu scoffed at that notion. Last week, he was forced to quit his job after his company began receiving threatening phone calls as well. “I didn’t even intend to kill dogs. I was just making a point,” he said. “The animal activists claim to have the moral high ground, but look at what they did to me. Can they really say they have love at the front of their heart?”
Cats as Food in China
eating live animals Cats are only eaten in Guangdong but not elsewhere in China. They are considered a delicacy in southern China and are sold live in markets and slaughtered fresh for customers. In Guangzhou markets you can find them in stacked metal cages alongside cages with rabbits ducks and quails and buckets with live turtles and scorpions. One cat seller told the Los Angeles Times, “You just to have to boil the cat a long time. It has a very nice, fresh taste.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times , October 2009]
Cat meat is said to give one a lively spirit, ward off rheumatism and be good for a man's health and libido. It is also regarded as a food that will keep you warm in winter. When asked why she eats cat meat one woman told the Los Angeles Times, “Winter is coming I need to eat something furry.”
A local government office worker told the Los Angeles Times, “Cat meat is good for women. You can eat it in the summer or winter. It is very light. Men usually prefer dog. It is like yin and yang. Cat is yin and dog is yang.” One Guangdong resident recommended the dish “Dragon Fighting Tiger,” made with snake and cat.
Most of the cats eaten in Guangdong are shipped in from the north. So many have been caught it is now rare to see strays wandering the street anywhere in China. One single group of catchers is said to be responsible for capturing 10,000 cats a day, The cat snatchers are typically former unemployed men who use large fishing nets and earn $1.50 per cat. Not surprisingly cat owners in places where the catchers are active don’t want to let their pets outside the house.
Cats are sold to restaurants for about $7.31 a piece or around $2.80 a kilogram. The age and sex of the cats doesn’t seem to matter that much. What is most important in determining price is the weight.
Wires wrapped around the cats to keep them from running away leave behind ugly red scars. Sometimes the cages are so crammed the cats have difficulty breathing. In the restaurant the those selected for meals are clubed into semi-consciousness and thrown alive into a pot of boiling water.
David Sedaris wrote in The Guardian, “I remember reading a few years ago about a restaurant in the Guangdong province that was picketed and shut down because it served cat. The place was called The Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant, which isn't exactly hiding anything. Go to Fangji and you pretty much know what you're getting.” [Source: David Sedaris, The Guardian July 15, 2011]
Cats and Animal Activists
cat and do market in China Many Chinese outside Guangdong find eating cat to be going too far even by Chinese standards. Cat lovers have staged protests at the Guangzhou train station, holding banners that read “Cats are your friends, not food,’ and stood outside the Guangdong government offices in Beijing with signs that read “Shame on Guangdong.”
After an article about cat snatching was run in the Southern Metropolis Daily the Internet light up with outrage. One person quoted by the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Guangdong people are the most unprincipled of the human species. They would eat their mothers-in-law of they was no law.”
In July 2007, word got out over the Internet among cat lovers that a truck with about 800 live cats was about to make a delivery in Shanghai. The cat lovers surrounded the truck in a parking lot while enough money was raised to purchase the cats. A home for many of the cats was found by posting their pictures and profiles online.
in August 2009, animal activists confronted the driver of a Guangzhou-bound truck carrying about 1,900 cats while the driver stopped at a rest area. The stand-off lasted more than a day and ended when activists opened the back of the truck, allowing 1,600 cats to escape while the driver and police were arguing with other activists. Almost 300 dead cats were found in the truck.
In another incident, animal activists that saved 300 cats in 22 bamboo cages told AFP, “The cats are abused. They threw the cages on to a truck instead of loading them properly. Some of the cats were dead or had broken legs. “The cats that survived ended up in soups in in Guangdong restaurants.
A side effect of the fondness for cat is an overpopulation of mice.
Insects as Food in China
Bee larvae Some restaurants serve tiger, dragon and phoenix soup with cat for tiger, snake for dragon and chicken for phoenix. The mix is said to have more health benefits than the benefits associated with each individual animal. Chinese also eat horse sausages and kittens.
In some places Chinese still eat cicadas, crickets, giant water beetles, stinkbugs, silk worms, cockroaches and fly maggots. People that eat these things tend to be poor and have no other sources of protein.
In some places Chinese eat live scorpions doused in baijiu,a potent Chinese liquor. Giant water bugs are boiled and soaked in vinegar. Their shells are cracked open like the shells of crabs and the flesh inside is eaten.
The scorpions sold on the streets in Beijing are grabbed live by the sales people, dipped in boiling oil for second and skewered on a stick.
Grasshoppers are widely eaten in China and other places around the world. Insects are rich in protein and are a far greener way to get protein than eating chicken, cows and pigs, which produce greenhouse gases and consume much of the world’s grain.
Rats as Food in China
People in some parts of China are fond of eating rats. This custom has been around a long time. Chinese in the Zhou dynasty who ate rats, calling them "household deer." The rats that Chinese eat are not regarded as dirty animals. They don’t come from the cities but come from the countryside and are said to consume all natural foods such as fruit, grass and leaves.
Rat meat cost more than four times more than chicken or pork and twice that of beef. Eating rat is said to prevent baldness. The owners of a rat restaurant told Peter Hessler of the New Yorker, "If you have white hair and eat rat regularly, it will turn black. And if you're going bald and you eat it everyday your hair will stop falling out. A lot of the parents around here feed rat to a small child who doesn't have much hair, and the hair grows better."
Rats are regarded as a winter dish. One waitress at a restaurant in Guangzhou told the New York Times, that they “carry too many diseases in the summer.” Live rat embryos from Guizhou province are nicknamed the "three squeals" because they squeal when they are picked up (1), dipped in soy sauce (2), and popped into the mouth (3).
Most of the rats served are trapped by farmers in the nearby countryside. Many of the farmers grew crops but switched to rat catching because there was much more money in it. The rats are brought in sacks. The wriggle around and squeak as they are placed on scales to determine how much the farmers are paid.
Rat Restaurants in China
rats restaurant Highest Ranking Wild Flavor Restaurant in Guangdong offers simmered mountain rat, mountain rat curry, spicy and salty mountain rat, simmered mountain rat with black beans, steamed mountain rat, rat soup. During an outing there Hessler was asked. "'Do you want a big rat or a small rat?” What's the difference? "The big rat eats grass stems, and the small one eat fruit.” Which tastes better? “'Both of them taste good." [Source: Peter Hessler, New Yorker, July 24, 2000]
Customers often examine the caged rats and pick the ones they want. Describing how they were killed Hessler wrote, "Suddenly, the worker flipped his wrist, swung the rat into the air by the tail, and let go. The rat made a neat arc. There was a soft thud when is head struck the cement floor. There wasn't much blood."
Hessler order a small mountain rat with black beans, which was served in a clay pot. "I ate the beans first," he wrote. "I poked at the meat. It was clearly well done, and it was attractively garnished with onions, leeks, and ginger. Nestled in a light sauce were skinny rat thighs, short strips of rat flank, and delicate toylike rat thighs. I put a chunk of it into my mouth, and reached for a glass of beer. The beer helped...It wasn't bad. The meat was lean and white, without a hint of gaminess. Gradually, my squeamishness faded, and I tried to decide what the flavor of rat remind me of. But nothing came to mind. It simply tasted like rat."
Competition is keen in the rat restaurant business. Hessler said the Highest Ranking Wild Flavor Restaurant cost $24,000 to build. Soon after it opened another rat restaurant, the New Eight Sceneries of Wild Flavor Food Restaurant, which cost $50,000, opened and third massive three-story air-conditioned rat restaurant was under construction. But that doesn't mean they don’t make money. Each of them serve 3,000 rat dishes a day on the weekends and attract customers from all over China.
Turtles as Food in China
Turtles have long been associated with longevity and health. Widely consumed in soups and stews, the Chinese believe they provide lots of nutrition and replenish energy.
The Chinese fondness for turtle soup and turtle stew has caused turtle population across Asia to decline. In recent years the Chinese have begun importing hundreds of thousands of turtles—mostly softshells and snappers—from the southern United States and now there are worried the large number of wild turtles captured could have disastrous impact on turtle populations there.
Soft shell turtle dishes are generally soups made with turtles braised in a brown sauce. There are lots of bones. The jelly-like flesh on the edge or the hard top shell is said to be tasty. The turtle soften come from Lake Hingfu in Hubei Province. The dish became famous when it was revealed that the coach Ma Junren served it to his world-record breaking female runners.
Snakes as Food in China
Snake eating is especially popular in Shanghai and Guangdong Province. According to one survey over 6,000 specialized restaurants in Shanghai serve snake dishes made with pit vipers, cobras, freshwater snakes and sea snakes. These restaurants serve up to 4,000 tons of snake a year. One Shanghai supplier, who provides two tons of snakes daily to restaurants, sells cobras for $14 a kilogram and pit vipers for $42 a kilogram.
Snake meat is often referred to as dragon meat on the menu. Many of the snakes served at Chinese restaurants come from the Snake Repository in Wuzhou, Guangxi Province, where more than one million snakes are raised each year. The repository is favorite tourist attraction for Chinese tour groups from Taiwan and Hong Kong who sometimes have special snake versus cat fights staged for them.
Snake eating is nothing new. Describing the practice in Canton in the 1320s, the Friar Oderic wrote: "There be monstrous great serpents likewise which are taken by the inhabitants and eaten. A solemn feast among them with serpents is thought nothing of."
Snake and Crocodile Restaurants in China
Skinning a snake Tourists who order snake in southern China often are treated to watching the poor reptile killed, skinned and drained of blood right before their eyes. Snake dishes offered at the Snake Restaurant in Canton include fricasseed snake with cat meat, snake breast meat stuffed with shelled shrimp, stir-fried colorful shredded snakes and braised snake slices with chicken liver. The bill for four people is often less than $30. [Source: Lonely Planet]
The Flying Dragon Snake Farm in Panyu (near Shenzen) serves snake skin with peppers, snake semen liqueur ("good for a person with a weak body"), baked cobra and five-step snake ("take five steps and die"). The farm also features a snake stage show, sells snake-based traditional medicines, and has a cobra petting zoo, a bath with hundreds of snakes and a snakatorium that offers "extended snake-diet therapy.”
The owner of the immensely popular snake farm is Chin Lung Fei, the self-proclaimed "King of Snakes. He told National Geographic that his motto is "treat snakes as friends." A Hainan Island food stall vendor who specialized in snake delicacies should have followed this advise. He was killed by poisonous bites to his hands from the heads of two snakes that he had just been beheaded. The bites were inflicted when the vendor tried to pick up the heads.
Crocodile is believed to cure coughs and prevent cancer. It is available steamed, braised or stewed at the Yuim seafood restaurant in Guangzhou, were crocodiles with their jaws taped shut roam the restaurant’s floors. A manager at the restaurant told National Geographic, “People don’t care about the cost. They just care about health.”
China’s No. 1 Snake-Producing Village<
Royston Chan and Aly Song of Reuters: “This sleepy village nestled in the heart of vast farmland in China's eastern Zhejiang province hides a deadly secret. A step into the homes of any of the farming families here brings visitors eye-to-eye with thousands of some of the world's most feared creatures — snakes, many of them poisonous. [Source: Reuters, Royston Chan and Aly Song, June 20, 2011]
Cobras, vipers and pythons are everywhere in Zisiqiao, aptly known as the snake village, where the reptiles are deliberately raised for use as food and in traditional medicine, bringing in millions of dollars to a village that otherwise would rely solely on farming. "As the number one snake village in China, it's impossible for us to raise only one kind of snake," said Yang Hongchang, the 60-year-old farmer who introduced snake breeding to the village decades ago. [Ibid] "We are researching many kinds of snakes and the methods of breeding them."
In 1985, Yang started selling snakes he caught around the area to animal vendors. He soon began to worry that the wild snakes would run out and thus began researching on how to breed snakes at home. Within three years, he had made a fortune -- and many other villagers decided to emulate his success. Today, more than three million snakes are bred in the village every year by the 160 farming families. [Ibid]
Yang has now started his own company to make his business more formal and build a brand, and also to conduct research and development for his products, which range from dried snake to snake wine and snake powder. "Our original breeding method has been approved and recognised by the province and the county. They see us as the corporation working with the farming families," Yang said. "So the company researches on the snakes and they hand them over to the farms for breeding. They said this model was working very well."
The original breeding method was simply putting males and females together, but now meticulous research is done on how the snakes breed, how to select good females, investigation into their diet, and how to incubate eggs so survival rates rise. [Ibid]
Snake Business in China
Royston Chan and Aly Song of Reuters: “Snakes are renowned for their medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine and are commonly drunk as soup or wine to boost the person's immunity. With rising demand for snake products from restaurants and medicine halls due both to rising wealth and a government push for breeding the animals to be used in traditional medicine, Zisiqiao villagers are now boasting a annual income of hundreds of thousands of yuan per year. [Source: Reuters, Royston Chan and Aly Song, June 20, 2011]
Yang Xiubang, 46, has been raising snakes in his home for more than twenty years and said his annual income has been steadily rising. "The demand for traditional Chinese medicine is quite high in China," he said. "After we finish producing the dried snake, most of them are sent to medicine factories. This also includes snake livers and snake gallbladders." Yang added snake products from the village are currently being exported globally to countries such as the United States, Germany, Japan and South Korea. [Ibid]
Closer to home, snake products from the village are sold in the bustling Zhejiang city of Hangzhou, where the Hangzhou Woai Company offers a plethora of goods including snake powders. "Each part of the snake is treasured," said store manager Gao Chenchang. "China has a strong snake culture, there are a lot of people -- like in Guangzhou -- who like to eat snakes." With such a special product, Zisiqiao's million dollar business is the envy of other rural communities. But Yang Hongchang said competition is stiff from other breeders who are rearing snakes on a larger scale than his village. [Ibid]
In addition, rearing the snakes comes with obvious risks. The snake farmers said they had been bitten, some by deadly snakes, and were saved only by injection of anti-venom medicine. Yang Wenfu, 55, gave up rearing species of venomous vipers after being bitten by one of them earlier in his career. "After that, I no longer dared to raise vipers. I am still scared today," he said, adding that his arm grew hugely swollen after the bite. "Life is valuable and making money is secondary."
Image Sources: Weird Meat blog except skinning the snake, Perrechon, Wiki Commons and rat restaurant Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ; YouTube
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012