WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA---SNAKES, DUCK TONGUES AND RATS

WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA

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Duck blood
Small birds 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. It is sometimes said these are sparrows but more often than not they are quails. 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.

Menus 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” --- albeit many of these are just weird translations. Some restaurants serve donkey and the entree “Explodes the Stomach, Slides the Tendon and Fires the Sheep’s Internal Organs.”

Some people in China have eaten soil and clay 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. While this practice was more common in the 1950s when China experienced a severe famine associated with the Great Leap Forward it may still be practiced. In some places in Central Asia pregnant women eat clay, in part to obtain mineral nutrients.

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.

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.

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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 a briny liquid for 100 days until the yolks turns green and the whites become gelatinous and dark brown. Some say they are soaked in horse urine; others say this is an urban myth. 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. In some parts of China eating snails is as common as it is France.

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. It is hard to find cheese in local shops.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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eating scorpion

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

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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.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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