I seriously hope you're not eating breakfast while reading this post. In fact, if you are, I apologize.
Now... On with the show! Er... article.
China's known for a myriad of things. Communism, pandas, Chinese food. On that last thing, Chinese food—it covers literally everything. With over 5000 years of history, China's culinary culture is vast and deep, but one thing that's completely weird and shocking is what passes for tourist food in China. So for the sake of this Snacktaku, let us walk through Beijing's famous Wangfujing Snack Street!
Located in Beijing's Wangfujing neighborhood is one of Beijing's most-visited tourist destinations, the Wangfujing Snack Street. Built to look like the markets of the olden days, the food street serves some of the weirdest and nastiest fried foods ever.
It's unclear why this sudden strange and weird food craze began. People in South China eat insects and the like all the time, so there, it's pretty common, but eating fried scorpions and centipedes in Beijing is just weird. In fact, these weird snacks are served in various tourist destinations all over China.
This half kilometer street, which resembles Taiwanese night markets, is packed with food stalls and knick-knack shops. People can eat while they shop! The most commonly sold dishes are foods that are common Chinese snack foods. You've got your Stinky Tofu, Steamed Fried Dumplings, Candied Fruits on a stick and giant skewers of meat. However, spread evenly among the normal food and souvenir stalls are the bug shops.
These bug shops sell the weirdest and probably the nastiest food on a stick imaginable. Fried insects. Now, I'm not objecting to fried insects. I've had a few stir-fried grasshoppers when I was a child. What I'm objecting to is the way the bugs are fried. But before we get into that, let's take a look at what else is there.
The first food item you see is somewhat more normal. The above photo is of animal intestines. Basically stewed and braised all day, so that the intestines are easily chewable. This is one of the more "pedestrian" weird foods sold on this street. It's fairly tasty, though I prefer to eat my intestines at home where I know they're cleaned right.
Next up is sea cucumber and snails. Also very pedestrian. Very spicy.
Just a few feet away from the sea cucumbers and snails are the star attraction. What we see in the photo above are scorpions, sea horses, bigger, blacker scorpions, tarantulas and snakes. The tiny scorpions are still alive at this point. Pretty much four creepy crawlies and a cute animal.
In the past, I've had all of the above. The seahorse is ridiculously hard to eat, it's like biting into a rock. The snake is pretty much all skin, and the scorpions are, well, just like potato chips. The tarantulas are disgusting.
Following up with the disgusting factor, the next stall served cicadas, starfish, silk worms and axolotls! Oh noes, they killed Mudkip!
Once again, because they're fried, there really isn't much taste to any of these skewers. The axolotl and starfish are probably the worst of the bunch. They're both rock hard and have very little flavor except for whatever they were fried in. Which brings us to this part.
In Beijing, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and various other parts of Asia, Stinky Tofu is a big thing. You can even find it in the West now, like in New York City. What Stinky Tofu literally is, is fermented tofu fried to a crisp. The result is a nasty-smelling tofu dish that is actually quite tasty. However, the process of making stinky tofu is something that shouldn't be seen.
Literally every skewer that isn't cooked on a grill in the Wangfujing Snack Street is cooked in wok filled with burning hot oil. In the case of the bugs, they were cooked in a pot of burning hot rotting tofu!
Luckily, not everything is cooked in disgusting tofu oil. There are some gems hidden along the Wangfujing Snack Street.
For instance, if you want to feel like you're in ancient China, you can buy and eat a whole roasted pigeon. Or feel like you're an islander despite being in landlocked Beijing by drinking coconut juice from a coconut. Whatever you end up eating at the Wangfujing Snack Street, remember two things: Do not eat the tarantula (don't ask why), and take a photo to shock your friends!
Photos by: Eric Jou and Andy Lee Chaisiri
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Eric is a Beijing based writer and all around FAT man. You can contact him @FatAsianTechie@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @FatAsianTechie