The type of food in the region of China I went to is really nothing like the “Chinese food” we have in restaurants here at home. Currently, there are ten main regional cuisines in China, each served in different parts of the country. The area I visited had a style of food preparation closest to that of Beijing cuisine; however, being a port city, Tianjin makes use of its abundance of available seafood.
I would have to say I am probably a more adventurous eater than most, but I’m no Andrew Zimmern. The top 3 strangest foods I came across during my trip were:
1. A Whole Raw Baby Octopus
Ironically, I ordered this off the menu of an American-style restaurant. It came as a side with my order of chicken and vegetables. About the size of my thumb and covered in some type of burgundy-colored sauce, at first I thought it was a mushroom. I don’t exactly remember the taste, but the texture was slimy and biting into it there was a slight crunchiness. Overall, it was quite good!
2. Thousand-Year-Old Egg
Luckily, thousand-year-old eggs are not actually that old. They are made by preserving eggs in mixture of clay, salt, and ash for several weeks. This turns the white into a brown, transparent jelly and the yolk into a dark green color. It was probably my least favorite of all the foods I tried.
3. Tie between Sea Snails and Chrysanthemum Petal Salad
While sea snails are enjoyed all over the world, I was surprised at how much I liked them. I had snails as part of my special birthday-celebration lunch, drenched in butter and served with a small square of garlic bread. I don’t know how common flower petal salads are but it seemed exotic ― and quite bitter-tasting ― to me.
The three foods I absolutely loved were hawthorn berries, caramelized potato cubes, and what I’ve come to refer to as fungus/octopus sticks. My favorite ways to eat haw berry were shish kabob-style on a stick and compressed to fruit-leather form. The caramelized potato cubes, scalding-hot and covered with rainbow sprinkles, were a favorite of all the visiting Americans. The combination of stick-like fungus and mini octopus legs were absolutely delicious and reminded me a little of french-fries.
And finally, I’d just like to mention that the American-style fast-food in China is a thousand times better than the fast-food we’re served in the States. I tried the classics at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC and they put us to shame every time.