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.
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?