In general I like to eat food that some people would consider weird. Some stuff I grew up eating (liverwurst, sardines, anchovies, etc.) and never considered odd until I saw other people react to me eating it. But I also love trying food I have never eaten before which can lead to some interesting and gross experiences.
I knew when I signed up for a trip through Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul in May that I was going to have a whole lotta chances to try new foods. I knew that some would sounds gross but be delicious, some would be passable, and some would just be foul. Here are the highlights and lowlights of the trip.
Hong Kong was the first stop which offered a tremendous amount of options for western and international food, but also traditional Chinese dishes. The second night we went to a famous restaurant that served a set family style menu. They kicked things off with Century Eggs.
Century Eggs are eggs that are packed in a mix of clay, ash, salt, and lime and aged for a while. Basically, it tasted like a rotten egg. Glad I tried it for the experience, but it was completely disgusting. I would sooner lick the floor of a gas station bathroom than eat another one of these since the indigestion and belches after this were twice as horrifying as the actual consumption. Lets move on.
The following day I spent an hour wandering around the Hong Kong version of Whole Foods and eating things as I went. My favorite item by far was jellyfish salad.
Jellyfish salad is great and I would recommend it to anyone who loves seaweed salad. Good texture, tossed with sesame oil and chiles, with only the slightest hint that you are eating seafood. Really delicious.
The following night we headed to a popular Yakitori restaurant. Yakitori translates into something like grilled skewers of meat in Japanese, and this place was amazing. Everything that came off the grill was seasoned perfectly, and I think that most everyone at the table would say their favorite bites of food on the trip were at this restaurant. The grilled goose liver and filet were big hits, but my favorite were the duck tongues.
The tongues had a hard piece of cartilage running down the center but the meat was the best part of the duck. Rich and fatty with a strong duck flavor, I could have eaten 100 of them in one sitting. Rereading the previous sentence and standing by the claim is a reminder of why I am consistently sweaty, out of breath, and waiting for Brooks Brothers to create elastic waistband suit pants.
After four nights in Asia, I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t eaten more street food so I headed to a more authentic area with a few friends to wander around eating. When I saw Andrew Zimmern’s nemesis the Durian, I knew I had to try it.
I purchased one that was cut open and put into styrofoam. I really expected to be knocked over by the odor but markets smell terrible anyway and it was impossible to differentiate the durian from the other funky aromas.
As mentioned numerous times on Bizarre Foods, it had the texture of custard and smelled like rotten onions. But, it also tasted like sweet mild melon. I actually liked it a lot, kind of like a melon custard once you got past the smell. Tons of plum sized pits in there, though. Washed the durian down with some street dumplings that were ten for $1.25
The next day we headed to Shanghai where our hotel was surrounded by a lot of street food vendors serving food that was ill-advised for our western systems. But this scallion pancake stand became an important part of my daily diet.
I ate about 10 of these over my five days in Shanghai. Not an adventurous item, but I had to include them in the list just because of how cool it was.
I will likely never be able to enjoy the cardboard-like pancakes I get the in the U.S. again but it was worth it. Later in the stay I got bored at a museum and once again went searching for food on the street where I discovered a great Takoyaki place.
Takoyaki are Octopus dough balls. Each partially cooked one has an undercooked center with maybe one or two pieces of chewy octopus but the traditional unidentifiable garnishes on each one make it delicious. I hope Dunkin Donuts starts making Takoyaki munchkins soon.
Last food item in Shanghai was unfortunately from KFC. At KFC in China they serve two sandwiches: a dark meat spicy chicken sandwich, and a shrimp burger. I got the shrimp burger, basically 20-30 small prawns kept whole, made into a patty and fried. It was gross and delicious like fast food should be.
The next stop after Shanghai was Beijing where we spent four nights. There was only one notable meal which was a traditional hot pot banquet that caught us all a little off guard. The garnishes and items put out in advance were a plethora of odd foods to try including chilled sliced pig ear (pre-hog head roast), jellyfish salad, century egg-style quail eggs, and bean paste sweets.
But the hot pot was the oddest item since it was a turtle-based hot pot.
The turtle meat tasted like slightly fishy chicken and was pretty boney, but the toughest parts were small inflated green sacks of liquid that tasted exactly how you expect a reptile to taste. Not my favorite thing but a good experience.
The final stop on our trip was Seoul, South Korea. On the last day, after eating safe meals at the hotel and Korean barbeque I got the urge to seek out some final odd foods before I left. So I headed to the market and found what I assumed I would be able to sample regularly but hadn’t had the chance to: insects.
I heard that various insects had a shellfish-like flavor and intended to sample a wide range of them during my travels but didn’t have the opportunity. These silkworms were the first edible insects I had seen and they were everywhere in the market. No other insect offerings, though. So I took what I could get.
They had a texture and taste that was reminiscent of soft shell crab with a musty flavor added in. This was the second food I ate on the trip that I would describe as musty after the deep fried fish heads in HK that I didn’t get a picture of. Anyway, I had a few but had no chance of finishing the cup so I moved on to other stuff.
This was deliciously junky and the Korean equivalent of a Lewiston, Maine Luigis spaghetti calzone: celophane noodles, kimchi and beef wrapped in a rice dough and deep fried.
Next up was a bean paste “donut” that I thought was gross texture-wise and also way too sweet. The cooking process was pretty cool, though.
As a grand finale, I decided to give a shot to one of these stands that lined an entire street.
I eventually decided on one that had a long line of locals and requested a small portion. My guess is that it is some sort of smoked pig trotter though I really have no idea. The woman manning the stand took it apart expertly.
She put it all in a small plastic bag and I headed back to the hotel. En route I started to get nervous about eating it because it appeared to be intended to be cooked more and it was handled with some bare hands along the way. I went to a friend’s hotel room to decide.
Thankfully, the instruction to “do not f***ing open that bag in here!” led to me throwing the bag away. A little bit of a pathetic end to a great eating expedition, but since I spent the following 36 hours traveling by bus and plane I am happy about the choice.
Future “Weird Crap I Eat” entries will be much shorter, but wanted to share this trip as a whole.