Tuesday, July 23rd 2019

Chinese food or what (not) to eat in China

Travelling around China needs some survival skills, provided that you are travelling independently. Many things will not be easy in China including one of the most vital ones as eating. In my previous post I told what we liked in China.  You will definitely enjoy Beijing duck, Chinese dumplings, hairy crabs or dim sum dumplings. But a lot of other traditional Chinese dishes may be too “floating in oil” for you. Or you may get a piece of food which you will not be able to identify what it is. Especially if you eat some street food or on food markets. Both are one of my favorite places to get real local food. And i always eat there. Many people prefer clean looking restaurants being afraid of hygiene and what they eat. Frankly speaking I think that the close you are to the locals the less risk you have. Especially when street food is being cooked right in front of you. But as they say: Many men or women, many minds.

There are countries with “easy eating”. China is not one of them. What I mean by easy eating? It is when you go to any food stall, food shop or restaurant and eat. and food is good and tasty. China is not the case. Some food smells like you will not come close to it. Other food looks like you will never try to eat it.

When we had a stopover in Jinan, we came across a small place with food kiosks surrounded by tables. People were preparing for breakfast i guess as it was between 8-9am. We were a bit hungry and decided to eat a bit. We approached the first food stall and saw big bowls full of something.

Strange Chinese food in Jinan

Strange Chinese food in Jinan

After I had a closer look my appetite vanished. And you know people can discuss food which can be suitable for breakfast and not suitable for breakfast. Here there was no place for discussion. My appetite was killed.

Would you like some breakfast, Sir/Madam?

Would you like some breakfast, Sir/Madam?

Do you think you could it? It is quite difficult to say what ingredients were used for these balls and rolls. and then the nice broth they are floating in.

The food in the other bowl was easier to identify. But my appetite was not resurrected from the dead.

Pieces of pork floating in greasy broth in Jinan, China

Pieces of pork floating in greasy broth in Jinan, China

I believe it was pork. At least it looks like port. In any case it is our of my not only breakfast menu but my menu in general. I get strange looks from some European when I eat soup or fish for breakfast. I guess they should visit China to lose their prejudices :-)

Talking about food markets or street food in China I would not recommend you to ear anything which does not look like a piece of meat or vegetable. If it is ground, mashed or mixed, and then fried or grilled, I would not take a risk. Any type of sausage looking snacks of food should be taboo.

On the picture below the lady sells sausages wrapped in pancakes with vegetables and sauces. The sausage is what you should avoid. You will be most probably fine if you eat the pancake, but not the sausage. Once i bought a similar looking sausage on a bus station in Bangkok. It resulted in two nice days spend in toilet.

Street food stall close to the Summer Palace, Beijing

Street food stall close to the Summer Palace, Beijing

Since the case in Bangkok i don’t eat anything which is not a solid piece. I don’t even eat sausage in Europe let alone in Asia.

Street food is safe when you choose it with some precautions. Especially if it is cooked right in front of you. Besides if you see a lot of local people, it is both safer and tasty. Safer because ingredients do not stay for long and tasty because it is popular.

Typical street food stall in China

Typical street food stall in China

Below you can see some meat, insects, vegetables and balls, squares & other unidentifiable forms of life….oh, sorry…food. I am sure you will be fine with some fried chicken, even if in reality it is pigeon, or some aubergine. Though i am not sure about the rest of the flora and fauna on this stall.

Skewers on the night food market in Kaifeng

Skewers on the night food market in Kaifeng

Talking about flora and fauna, we have not eaten anything outrages. Some frogs, some pigeons, some snails and that is about it. No snakes, no dogs, no cockroaches or bugs. After Bangkok I am not a big fan of insects. I just cannot find what to eat in them. If we were not provided with some spicy soy tasting sauce, there would have been only dry shell to chew on. Since then I let locals and other tourists eat them. I resort to some snails or pigeon. The latter actually was not that bad. It does not really taste like chicken and the texture of the meat is stronger and more elastic. At least they told us it was pigeon. Well maybe it was a cat, anyway we have survived.

Of course, you will have a menu of insects and other strange food to choose from in China.

All sorts of cooked insects in China

All sorts of cooked insects in China

It is your choice what to eat. My recommendations would be always to choose  what you can watch being cooked and choose pieces over ground food. Soups seem to be safe, but choose them at your own discretion. Another good method to protect yourself is to eat properly spiced food. Spices like peppers kills certain part of unwelcome visitors to your body. If my food does not look too safe I always spice it properly. Sometimes to the point of becoming a fire-throwing dragon.

You can reasonably exclaim that you will eat in clean place where people speak English and there are English menus, that you will never touch any food on a street stall or outside food market. And you will be right in your right to choose. But my experience of travelling experience says that one can eat street food, and in most cases it is safe if you follow some rules. Besides food in some clean places will not be as good as on street stalls. And sometimes it will not be as safe as you think. I have met a number of people who stayed in 4* – 5* resorts and complained that they had problems with stomach or digestion for up to a week.

Our next report will be Travel around China survival guide.

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7 Comments on “Chinese food or what (not) to eat in China”

  1. Hi. Have you tried dog meat ?
    Is it widely available ?

    1. Hi Debbie, we have not tried dogs. We even have not seen dog restaurants. But i guess if you want to try you just need to look for them. I think they must be popular among locals.

    2. Hi Debbie,
      Yesterday i talked to my friend who just came back from China. He told me that dog restaurants and eating dogs is already illegal in China. Though you can still find places where to try it. Here http://www.pedrodon.com/2012/01/15/china-2011/ you can see some pics of place which still offer dogs.

  2. […] The taste is ok, not bad, not good. I still prefer the tongue and the cheek. All in all the taste was better than I expected, not unpleasant or anything. It is not a usual type of food in Ukraine, or Czech Republic. But it is far from being as bad as some of the Chinese dishes. […]

  3. Good article but “Since the case in Bangkok i don’t eat anything which is not a solid piece. I don’t even eat sausage in Europe let alone in Asia.”

    That’s a little laughable? Not eating Sausages in Europe, home to some of the finest examples of Sausage? German/Polish Sausages are a national dish and will be some of the best Smoked Sausage you can eat.

    UK/Irish Sausages are exceptional due to the local farms and high quality standards…

    1. People have different tastes, some don’t eat meat at all. I make an exception for some good sausage from time to time. But considering that a sausage can contain basically anything, i prefer to avoid them.

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