IF there’s one thing that should be a must on your to-do list when visiting a new country, it’s sampling the local fare. However slimy, sticky, stinky or downright revolting the dish may seem, zany dining experiences usually end up making the most compelling travel tales.
This is especially true in China, for what other country carries such a mythical culinary presence? Jokes about eating cats and dogs aside, the Middle Kingdom is home to myriad culinary traditions that run the gamut from savory meats to creatures you’d sooner squash than stir-fry.
Even the most adventurous eaters might balk at some of China’s gastronomic offerings, but if you’ve got the stomach for it, there’s plenty here to challenge your palate. One of the best places to sample an abundance of the country’s distinctive snacks is the market at Beijing’s Wangfujing Commercial Street, where you’ll find no end of curious items. Here are a few:
Starfish and seahorses
These sweet sea creatures are probably the saddest sight you’ll see in the market — tied, perhaps, with the pigeons — though they’re available in abundance and vendors will passionately attest to their tasty flavor.
Tip: Wangfujing draws a lot of tourists, and vendors will overcharge food and goods. Don’t be afraid to haggle; in most cases, they’ll end up offering a much better price if you put up a fight.
These venomous arachnids come in both large and small sizes, but don’t worry, their poisonous body fluids are cooked out of them before they’re served. No doubt eating a scorpion ups your street cred, but that’s actually all they’re good for. The burned to a crisp texture flakes apart with one bite, and the taste is surprisingly bland.
Perhaps even more interesting than eating a scorpion is devouring a lizard, and you’ll have ample opportunity to do that along Wangfujing. If you can get past the empty eye sockets that seem to haunt you from where you stand, drop a few kuai on a lizard carcass and see what your taste buds think of scaled flesh.
Roasted and glazed baby pigeons are truly not for the faint of stomach, or heart. Vendors will assure you of their excellent taste, and may even offer you a free sample if you’re nice. If you can take it, good for you, but those tiny beaks and bodies may be too much for some animal-lovers to handle.
A heaping pile of intestines may seem less than appetizing, but the taste actually isn’t bad. The texture is quite chewy, but if you can get past that, and add a little flavoring, they can be rather tasty. Nab a bowl in Wangfujing, or visit a hot pot restaurant, where you can order up some intestines among your list of ingredients.
If the eager merchants imploring you to try them are to be believed, snakes will keep you beautiful and are “good for your skin”. Snake fare along Wangfujing tends to be of the skinny, garden-snake size variety, but they’ll satisfy if you’re looking for a quick out-of-the-ordinary nosh.