China has a food industry that might force you out of your comfort zone. You might never want to eat bird saliva, chicken feet, or something that smells like dirty socks. But if you aren’t open to challenging experiences, you might regret it for the rest of your life. Something that doesn’t look appealing can taste like the best thing in the world. It might gross you out either a little or a lot but I recommend you at least try some foods that might not be appealing to you. All of these foods are challenging to a Western palate but they are all delicious.
One food item that is popular and unique to China is chicken feet. One of the reasons chicken feet are so popular is because they are usually cheaper than the other parts of a chicken. Chicken feet were consumed by most people in poverty. They can be stewed, boiled, or fried. Spices and seasoning are put on it to make it taste better. Chicken feet have a good taste and texture but the thought of eating chicken feet can be too much for people, so it drives people away.
Most of the poor population was eating chicken feet because they had little to eat. It also tasted good, so this cheap food was a popular choice for them. Chicken feet were also consumed for health benefits. Star2 says “They contain a high amount of collagen. Collagen makes up 30% of human protein”. When you become older, your body is less efficient at producing collagen so people invest in a collagen diet or pill. But the collagen pill is just ground up chicken feet. So it is probably a cheaper and a more delicious choice than the pill.
At first, the US chicken industry didn’t see any use in chicken feet. When they realized that China loved it and would pay an unfair amount for it, Time says that the U.S sold $677 million worth of it. China was paying almost two times the amount they should have been paying. Time also said that when China found out that the Americans were selling chicken feet for more than it was worth they put a tax of 100% on chicken feet. But still China was very fond of chicken feet considering they spent $677 million worth of it.
The next dish may be very difficult for almost any person to try especially because of the price. The dish is called bird nest soup. The reason lots of people don’t particularly like the idea of trying this dish is that it is made with the saliva that birds use for their nests. This obviously turns many people away. China uses the swiftlet bird’s saliva to make the soup. There are also different types of soup like white nest soup and red nest soup, but these are significantly more expensive. Bird nest soup is usually cooked with rock sugars and served as a dessert soup. Some people often mistake the saliva for egg drop because they have the same consistency. Egg drop is a type of soup that is clear and thick. It also as an intense flavour of chicken.
The swiftlet birds are from southern Asia. The birds live in caves and have a hard time surviving outside of their initial habitat. The supply of the nests are low and the demand is high. Business-in-asia states that birds nest soup is expensive there are three different kinds normal birds nest soup costs $100 USD white nest soup is $2000 USD and red nest soup is $10,000 USD. Red nest soup is extremely rare. Birds nest soup is one of the most expensive foods in the world so I would not recommend paying for any of the more rarer and more expensive versions unless you can afford it.
Not very many people will pay this fortune but some people are convinced because people believed that it was good for their health. People eat bird nest soup to live a longer healthy life, have a stronger body, and keep the last of their youth. They believed that only one bowl of soup would do all these things for them. But you need to eat the soup regularly to achieve all of the things I just mentioned. Which probably won’t happen unless you are a wealthy person.
Another interesting Chinese dish pushes people away for a different reason than ingredient and appearance. The dish, stinky tofu, lives up to its name as it is a rather stinky experience. The strange smell of stinky tofu drives people away from trying it. It might smell different to you than someone else–some people say it smells like stinky socks, rotting cheese or manure. Stinky tofu starts with a brine made by fermenting milk, vegetables, and meat. The fermentation of the stinky tofu can take up to 6 months long. the tofu can be cooked in a variety of different ways it can be fried, steamed, or boiled. The brining process adds flavour and tenderness to the tofu. But deep fried stinky tofu is classified as the original way to cook it. Deep fried tofu is the least stinky of them all. Stinky tofu is usually eaten as a snack.
Stinky tofu was created by Wang Zhi at the time of the Qing dynasty. Wang Zhi failed his tests to become a servant for the empire many times. Wang Zhi had little money after he finished the tests so he decided to make tofu but he needed a way to preserve it so it was fermented. When he opened it he was hit with the smell and somehow convinced himself to taste it. He thought it tasted good and decided to sell it.
All these Chinese foods have a characteristic that makes them hard to eat. But if you get through that you will be rewarded with a delicious taste and texture. Also there are health benefits for consuming some of these foods regularly. Trying birds nest soup would be a rare occasion because of how expensive it could get. But if you get through the mental obstacles of the food world, you get to enjoy a delicious and healthy meal.
Journey of Food is a regular column in which Cheese discusses Foods from different countries and where they came from.. Got a suggestion for Cheese? Email us at email@example.com.