Chinese snacks have become more widely known abroad in recent years with the advent of social media and e-retailers. But there still remain plenty of treats unknown to Westerners, even those who live in China. To help introduce some of the more popular Chinese snacks available here, the Global Times recently invited five foreigners from different cultural backgrounds to our office for a taste test.
A Korean-Canadian student displays some popular Chinese snacks at the Global Times Metro Shanghai office. The snacks offered included spicy sticks, preserved plums, duck tongue and chicken feet. The interviewees were divided into groups of two, each group was provided with the same snacks and they gave their feedback and rating on a scale of 0 to 10. A video of what turned into a comical and entertaining occasion can be viewed on the Global Times Metro Shanghai Weibo and WeChat.
(From top left) Expats Brendon Powell, Rachel Turner, Timothy Nash, Cindy Lee and Markéta Dragounová try different Chinese snacks and give varying scores for each. Photos: Wang Han/GT1. Spicy sticks (7 points)
Spicy sticks (pronounced latiao in Chinese) are made from rice gluten and seasoning. This snack is usually sold at low prices (around 2 yuan, $0.29, per package). In recent years, spicy sticks made a leap onto the international stage after being introduced on Western social media by overseas Chinese students.
Some of our participants were instantly turned off by their strong smell after opening the package. Observing the texture of the snack, Markéta Dragounová from Czech Republic said it feels soft "like a sponge." Another interviewee, Timothy Nash, said spicy sticks look like "oily bamboo."
American Brendon Powell and British Rachel Turner agreed that the sticks are spongy and squishy, with Turner adding that "I feel it is something alive." Despite their unappealing smell, most participants actually enjoyed eating spicy sticks, giving it an average score of 7 except for Turner who gave it only 1 point.
2. Seasoned dried tofu (1 point)
Pretty much everyone in the world today is familiar with tofu (coagulated soy curd), which originally came from China during the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). But not many foreigners know about seasoned dried tofu (pronounced doufugan in Chinese), a popular Chinese snack.
"It is actually not that bad," Turner said, "but it crumbled and scattered all around in my mouth." Sadly, the other participants disliked this intangible cultural heritage food. Nash said it looked "disgusting" and would only eat it "when I was super drunk." Similarly, Korean-Canadian Cindy Lee commented that she didn't expect the tofu to taste so sweet. "But it is also super squishy, which I don't like," she said, rating it a minus 5.
3. Vegetable-flavor potato twists (6 points)
Lonely God (pronounced langwei xian in Chinese) potato twists are usually sold for around 5 yuan per 70-gram package. Many Chinese often prefer Chinese potato twists over Western-brand chips.
Our interviewees were amused at the brand name. They also pointed out that the twists tasted like seaweed or onions (the packaging said it was cabbage flavor).
Nonetheless, everyone seemed to enjoy the flavor and texture of the twists, scoring high at around 6 points.
4. Duck tongue (negative score)
Most of our interviewees were immediately frightened by the unusual look of two-pronged duck tongue (pronounced yashe in Chinese), which resembles an insect or root.
"It looks disgusting!" Lee exclaimed. "I touched something; I don't know what it is! I don't know which part to eat first."
"It looks like an alien," Turner said, refusing to even try it. Dragounová daringly bit into one, then stated that the flavor was much better than its appearance. She added that, in her home country, people also eat the tongues of animals such as pigs and cows.
"The taste is actually fine," Powell agreed, "but the texture of tongue just kills me. I feel like I'm biting someone else's tongue."
5. Preserved plums (0 point)
Preserved plums (pronounced huamei in Chinese) are a dried fruit snack popular in China and many other Asian countries. Most of our foreign taste testers, however, had never tried them before and were turned off by their wrinkled look and sour flavor.
Tuner's face literally twisted after she ate just half a plum. "They are so gross. It's like really sour yet really sweet," she said.
Likewise, Dragounová and Nash also said the plums taste like Chinese medicine.
Complaining that the snacks resemble "dog feces," most of our interviewees scored the snack at a low zero point except for Powell, who gave it a 7.
6. Chicken feet & baby squid (negative score)
Our five participants had to play a round of rock-paper-scissors before daring to try these treats, with the loser going first. Having never eaten the feet of a chicken before, none even knew where to start.
Upon noticing that chicken feet (pronounced jizhua in Chinese) come with claws on them, the tasters were confused why the manufacturer doesn't pedicure them first. None managed to eat a whole foot. "I feel like I am chewing a real finger," Powell said.
As for baby squid (pronounced youyu zai in Chinese), the interviewees agreed that they look like little aliens and smell awful.
Dragounová and Powell eventually gave it a try but looked extremely pained while chewing and ended up spitting it out.
"Seasoned baby squid tastes like ... I don't have words, I don't know. It tastes like dirty fish water," Powell commented.
7. Shrimp stripes (3 points)
Shrimp stripes (pronounced xiatiao in Chinese) have been particularly popular among Chinese children, especially the 1990s generation, due to their inexpensive price (0.5 yuan per 20 grams). The brand's name Mi Mi means "cat" in English.
Dragounová said the stripes were too oily for her and only rated them a 3. Lee thinks their flavor is too plain. "I wouldn't buy it, but if someone gave it to me I would probably eat it," she added.
In contrast, Turner said the stripes taste very good and gave it 8. According to her, the shrimp flavor is faint in the beginning but, as she ate more, the flavor tended to build up.
8. Baby melts (2 points)
Baby melts (pronounced xiao mantou in Chinese) are not made out of melted babies. They are bite-sized baked flour puffs and quite sweet. Over the past couple of decades they have become very popular with Chinese children. Unexpectedly, most of our interviewees didn't seem to like them, giving it a low average score of 2.
Nash complained they are "too sweet" and, because they have little nutritional value, gave it a score of just 1 point. Conversely, Turner gave baby melts a 10. "They taste really nice and I am going to buy it. I would probably mix them with milk, like cereal," she said.
To watch the very funny video of this taste test, visit http://www.weibo.com/metroshanghai.