Updated: 1 day ago
On our first night in Beijing, jetlagged and delirious, my husband and I decided to eat in the downstairs dining room at our hotel. Perusing a menu of frogs, pigeons and questionable animal innards, my husband frowned at me over the top of the menu. With a hint of disgust and fear he exclaimed,
"I thought I was an adventurous eater, but now I'm not so sure."
We settled unceremoniously on broth soup and white rice that night.
What we found over the next 10 days assaulted our senses in unimaginable ways. We smelled smells we had never experienced before - the kind of putrid back-alley odors that sting the eyes with vinegar and one-two punch the sinuses with eau de dumpster.
The pollution was thick and suffocating. The traffic was denser than I'd ever seen it in my entire lifetime, and I've been to Atlanta!
We discovered a genuine kindness of the people, we shared meals in their homes and in their humble businesses. We reveled in a millennia of history, we climbed the steep steps of the Great Wall, drank cocktails in French influenced Shanghai, and ultimately marveled at China's colorful palate of strange strange things to eat.
Chinese street food ranges from weird to wonderful, and utterly culture-shocking. Anthony Bourdain said "Street Food is the Salvation of the Human Race", but after seeing these weird street food offerings in China, I'm not so sure. What do you think, bugs for dinner?
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Forbes, Time, The New York Times, BBC and other publications all seem to believe the salvation of the human race rests in a diet comprised of insects. Maybe China has known this all along?
Here, on fine display for an afternoon snack we have: scorpions, centipedes, starfish, seahorses and an array of other creepy crawlies on sticks. Yum.
Listen, I'm not going to eat this stuff, but someone does.
Anthony Bourdain, infamous frank foodie, said:
"Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."
I don't think I'm tall enough to ride this ride. Barf.
Lizards and Frogs
While we're on a journey of a dozen things I'd never ingest unless death was threatened upon me: I give you, lizards and frogs.
Frogs are such a common sight in China that we've even seen these massive croakers at our local Asian supermarket in Orlando. I'm not really sure how to best prepare frog, but I'm pretty sure it's no Japanese hot pot. Frog legs anyone?
Stir-fried stones or pebbles have only recently popped up on my radar, and they're making quite the buzz. Called "suodiu", the translation basically means to "suck and dispose".
The river rocks or tiny stones are a little bigger than the diameter of a quarter and are tossed on a hot griddle with spicy peppers, garlic sauce and other yummy flavors.
As if preparing a stir-fry of vegetables, it's all evenly "cooked" until sauce covers the rocks completely and gets absorbed into the hard flesh of the stone.
Served in a rectangular take away tray, street foodies do not bite the rocks, but simply suck on them for the flavor before disposing of the rock.
Rocks are not reused by the street food vendor, so foodies can take home their rocks and try this super weird dish for themselves at home.
After seeing bugs and frogs, this one doesn't sound too bad!
Affectionately called "New York's State Bird", the Pigeon can be found in literally every major metropolis in the world. They seem to love hanging out in the main squares, pooping on sidewalks and shedding their feathers.
The little nuisances breed like nobody's business, so it makes total sense that the Chinese would eat them. They are so abundantly available, it's like catching a lizard in a Florida front yard.
These particular street food pigeons were done up by the dozen, beak and all. Whatever roasting sauce they used looked kind of amazing.
More approachable, shellfish commonly gets steamed up, grilled or poked onto a stick for a snack on the go.
It's not all shocking. Sometimes it's aromatic and amazing, like these commonly found dumpling shops. From soup dumplings to all varieties of dim sum, these were always a welcome treat.
Really every society boasts these classics - roasted chestnuts, things on sticks...
Follow your nose and feast your eyes on some of China's better street foods. The trick is to always go where it's popular!