6 Evil Foods You Should Avoid in Beijing

I thought we would be in love forever – we got on so well and I just couldn’t get enough. Who knew one wrong move could shatter the relationship we worked so hard to build? Sorry, Beijing street food, but it will never be the same between us. I can never fully trust you again after some of the things you’ve done to me. 

My culinary motto is I’ll try anything once, just like The Strokes song. And I’m easy to please – most of the time, Beijing kept my chopsticks sharp and my stomach full. But some of the things it served me are truly unforgivable.
Six is supposed to be the number of the devil, so it only seems befitting that I should list six of the most vile foods I had the pleasure of trying in Beijing. Please excuse the highly scientific names – I don’t know what half of these were called, but that won’t stop me trying to protect you from them.Don’t let me discourage you from expanding your horizons and deepening your understanding of the word “ew” though – these are just my personal opinions. In descending order, here are the worst offenders…

6. Fried scorpions

Can you imagine just how bad the foods on this list are going to get if fried scorpions are number six? Frankly, there’s no good reason not to try this cheeky little crawly monster, but the sight of them twitching on little wooden sticks awaiting their imminent death just did not convince me. Strange, I know.

all GIFs via reactiongifs

5. Canteen stir-fries
There’s nothing wrong with Chinese canteen food per se – it’s cheap, nutritious and quite healthy. But after a week or so, all the slimy vegetables and unidentifiable meat start making you long for something, anything else. Well, aside from dishes number six, four, three, two and one.

4. Tteokbokki (떡볶이)
On my last day in Beijing, my friend and I went to a famous snack street in Wangfujing – a place you might remember from my article about Chinese street food. It was my last chance to try all the delicacies (yeah, right…) the place had to offer, so I really went for it. These were my first mistake of the night. I tried to figure out what they were in my broken Mandarin, but all I can tell you is that they were made of rice and tasted of betrayal. I thought I could trust you, innocent-looking rice gnocchi! 

Update: This delicacy is called “tteokbokki”, it originally comes from Korea and it’s as delicious as it is easy to spell. Many thanks to my friend Lucy for keeping me informed. I should also note here that loads of people absolutely love these, so maybe I’m the strange one. 

3. Cooking water

When I saw a vendor selling this mysterious hot beverage in a sealed plastic cup, I naively thought it was tea. I am still waiting for answers – why would anyone do this to me? – but the drink can best be described as leftover cooking water. I suspect it was just that, because during my home visit I saw people drinking it, “for digestion”. Eh, my digestion was fine until this thing ruined my appetite.

 

2. Century egg (Pídàn 皮蛋)

I always try not to offend people who are kind to me. This is why I had a very hard time replying to the lovely family who agreed to feed my foreign ass when they asked me if I liked these. I think I just nodded and said they were an acquired taste, but I will be fully honest with you. They are not an acquired taste, because after tasting them for the first time, you will never go back. So much for “once you go black you never go back”.

 

1. Durian cake
Alfred Russel Wallace once described the fruit as a “rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”… I hate to question authority, but oh my lord, Alfred Russel Wallace, what have you been smoking?! Do you have no sense of taste, smell or survival? Or do you just hate all mankind, Alfred? In case you were wondering – yes, those are genuine tears forming in the corners of my eyes.

Undecided: Lay’s cucumber crisps

My friend John pointed out that these need a (dis)honourable mention and I thoroughly agree that this list would not be complete without them. When I first tried Lay’s cucumber crisps, I absolutely hated them. But somehow, possibly due to some kind of tragic asbestos exposure, I eventually grew to like them. Most people who were brave enough to try them still have nightmares about them though, so proceed with caution.

What about you? Is there any food you tried in Beijing that made you die a little bit on the inside? And do you happen to know the correct names of these foods?

  • Some of these seem not so bad, but hard to tell without tasting. So much of food enjoyment comes from culture and familiarity.

    I love the story my mom tells about trying pizza for the first time on her honeymoon in Minneapolis in the early 60s. Her German diet of meat, potatoes and sour kraut did not prepare her palate for such a strange offering. She and my dad thought it was disgusting and couldn’t finish it. Although it never became a favourite food, they did happily eat pizza later in life.

    I’m with you though, unfamiliar foods (especially ones that are squirming on your plate) are often unsettling.

  • O. M. G. The idea of eating squirming buglets is absolutely barfsome and the rest of your options were just as revolting. I cannot begin to tell you how unappetizing your dishes from hell looked, and yes, anything made of durian definitely deserves its #1 ranking.

    I totally loved your story, though. Definitely had me laughing, even without those reaction gifs.

  • The ‘cooking water’ is probably wheat broth water – some people in Northern China like to drink the water-broth left over from making noodles. Never acquired a taste for it either… There are worse things in China though – I once had a ‘green tea’ candy that tasted like toilet bowl cleaner, and the Bai in Dali, Yunnan have annual ‘pig killing’ feasts where they serve 20+ dishes all containing pig – the worst being sliced raw pig skin with hot peppers (thought it was white radish until I tried…) and deep fried pork fat covered in sugar.

  • The Brinkmanns

    Fantastic expressions! I could authentically tell how horrible each of these “delicacies” were. Great post. 🙂

  • fotoeins

    RE. #2. Mmmm, preserved duck egg in congee, accompanied by deep-fried white devil …

  • Lotta Watia

    I challenge you to try tteokbokki somewhere better than Wangfujing. Wangfujing street food is not of a good quality and it’s basically just made for tourists to see some weird things (like scorpions that the locals don’t actually eat). Well, if you ever travel to Korea it’s best to try it there obviously. 😉

    I doubt that you could get a good cup of that broth anywhere though. 😀

    Funny post, thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  • Scorpion is interesting. Had it over here at Grillstock and it was just chewy, crunchy and unpleasant. All the other critters on the burger were fine – crickets, meal worms etc. Scorpion not worth it.

  • Yikes! They WILL eat anything in China lol….

  • jbelkin

    Thousand year eggs might look odd to the uninitiated but their taste is pretty mild …

  • Jack Oldham

    Whilst in Beijing we made a visit to the Donghuamen night market. I ate starfish, silk worms, a sea snake and then the slightly less traumatising shark and frog. On the way home my friend said he’d never seen me so quiet – safe to say I wasn’t a well man when we got back to the room!

    Scarred for life!

  • Ian

    Lovely. Visit Philippines soon and try Balut. 🙂 Cheers for more travel

  • wtf these are all good. But I applaud you for at least trying lol I myself hate the Tteolbolki ugh but since it sounds and looks so yummy (I love too cook) I end up cooking it for my family instead. They love it.

  • Saloni @ salonimiglani.com

    Haha love this list! When we were living in Beijing our Air B n B host kindly offered to make us breakfast one day – it turned out to be boiled eggs drenched in hot beer! Apparently that’s a thing! Needless to say I didn’t have more than a bite…haha

  • shmo123

    Durian cake? Oh Gawd, the mind shudders. You obviously had never heard of Durian before. I can only hope the taste is out of your mouth by now.

  • Arjun Singh

    toppoki is f*ing awesome! i don’t know what you ate in China but the ones in Korea are epic!