6 Unique Chinese Delicacies to Experience
China is world-renowned for its exceptional, diverse cuisine. From province to province, region-to-region, the sheer variety of delicious food is awe-inspiring. Whether it’s the vibrant spiciness of cuisine found in Sichuan province, to the Cantonese style hailing from Guangdong province (formerly Canton), all of it is spectacular. Yet, among the innumerable dishes found in Chinese cuisine, there are some very interesting choices for adventurous foodies. Take a look at these 6 unique Chinese delicacies.
Guilinggao, also known as Turtle Jelly, consists of powdered turtle shell and various herbs. It is often prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine, and also sold as a dessert. However, quite often the dessert variation available on the market does not contain powdered turtle shell. It contains the same herbal components but is made from Lingzhi (a type of mushroom) powder.
One of the supposed benefits of consuming Guilinggao is healthy skin with repeated consumption. Other supposed benefits include everything from relieving itching to improving circulation.
An establishment in Hong Kong famous for its Guilinggao is Kung Wo Tong located at 87 Percival St, Bowrington, Hong Kong.
This delicacy is also known by other names including Pidan, preserved egg, thousand-year-old egg, amongst others. Duck, quail, or chicken eggs are preserved in a saline solution for anywhere from several weeks, to several months. Although century eggs look like regular eggs on the outside, inside they’re definitely not. The curing process involves an alkaline salt that increases the pH inside the egg. The chemical reaction turns the white into a dark, translucent jelly, and the yolk becomes dark green with a creamy consistency. The preserving process gives century eggs a strong cheesy flavor.
According to legend, the first preserved egg was created by accident about 600 years ago during the Ming dynasty. A farmer residing in Hunan province is said to have found duck eggs in a pool of calcium hydroxide (or slaked lime), which had been used for the construction of his residence a few months prior. After sampling the eggs, said farmer attempted to replicate the process, however, including salt in the mixture to improve the flavor.
A delicacy throughout Asia, a common variation found in China is a century egg added to congee. When in Hong Kong, visit Kam’s Roast Goose, widely considered to offer some of the best century eggs in the world.
Stinky tofu is extremely strong smelling fermented tofu. The very potent odor often turns people off before even trying the dish. Yet, if you enjoy things like blue cheese, you will love stinky tofu.
According to legend, stinky tofu was first concocted in the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912). Wang Zhihe, a Chinese scholar from Anhui province turned to selling tofu in order to make a living. He had a large amount of unsold product, cut, therefore, cut the tofu into cubes, putting them into an earthen jar. After a few days, Wang discovered that despite the extremely potent odor, the fermented tofu was quite delicious. The invention gained in popularity and was even served at the imperial palace. It was said that Empress Cixi (1835 to 1908) later deemed stinky tofu “imperial green cubes”.
Depending on the location, the production and taste of stinky tofu vary. One of the most popular and famous varieties is made in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. The outside skin is usually crispy, with a pleasant spicy flavor. Other famous varieties are produced in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, and Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province.
However, despite the different variations, stinky tofu has become a beloved snack throughout China. It is easy to find throughout the most popular cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, and Xi’an, just to name a few.
Essentially, bamboo rice is rice cooked in tubes of bamboo. Sometimes known as “Fragrant Bamboo Rice”, this dish is comprised of rice, meat, spices, and water sealed in a section of fresh bamboo. Usually roasted over a fire, once cooked the dish has delectable hints of bamboo flavor. Chinese ethnic groups residing in mountainous regions including the Zhuang minority and Yao minority in Guangxi typically make bamboo rice. In Yunnan province, Dai, Lahu, Bulang, Jingpo Jinuo, and Hani people all consider this delicious dish to be a staple.
There are two variations of bamboo rice, depending on the method of preparation – either regular bamboo tubes or fragrant bamboo tubes. Commonly known as Tinwa Bamboo, when roasted the plant has a unique, pleasant flavor that melds with the rice and other ingredients – Hence, the name fragrant bamboo. Rice prepared in Tinwa Bamboo tubes remains fresh for 10 or more hours, and can be enjoyed hot, or cold.
Bamboo rice prepared in regular bamboo tubes is popular with the Bulang, Laku, Jinuo, and Hani ethnic groups. These peoples often hunt in very remote mountainous regions, and bamboo is an excellent alternative to pots and bowls.
Some of the best bamboo rice can be found in the ethnic villages of Longsheng County in Guangxi, Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan province, and Kaili in Guizhou province, which is the center of Miao culture.
Fried Bee Larvae
Nutritious and delicious, bee pupae are a popular treat street food found throughout China. High in protein and low in fat, in addition to frying, they are also eaten stir-fried or steamed. Once you get past the “eating insects” component, you will be pleasantly surprised about its sweet flavor.
Although bee pupae are popular throughout China, some of the best dishes containing these insects can be found in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Zhangjiajie in Hunan province. In the Zhangjiajie area, the wild Giant honey bee (or Apis dorsata) is a favorite staple in the diet of the indigenous Tujia people.
Bird’s Nest Soup
Considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, bird’s nest soup is made using the nests of swiftlets (Aerodramus fuciphagus). Found throughout Southeast Asia, these birds construct their nests out of their own solidified saliva. When dissolved in water, the nests have a gelatinous texture that perfect as a soup ingredient. Rich in vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, an iron, sometimes a single nest can cost upwards of $100 US.
In the ‘Suiyuan Shidan’, a renowned Chinese gastronomy manual which was written by the Qing dynasty scholar, Yuan Mei (1716–1797), bird’s nest soup is discussed at length. Published in 1792, Yuan stated that bird’s nests ought to be considered precious ingredient, and not to be prepared with anything overpowering.
Because bird’s nest soup is so expensive to make, typically it is served during special occasions, such as weddings. However, many restaurants will offer the delicacy on their menus. When in Hong Kong, visit the famous Jumbo Kingdom Floating Restaurant, which has a fantastic bird’s nest soup.