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girltrouble
epi? you have to take some pictures of labels. i live near a japanese super grocery store and some chinese ones, and i'd love to hunt some of these things down in solidarity. <3
epinephrine
Ok, I did it: yesterday, after passing by several times before and chickening out, I finally bought a bowl of stinky tofu from a street vendor by my school. And it was delicious. It wasn't spongy like the Hong Kong-style stinky tofu I ate before, it was nice and soft like fresh tofu, and the outside was deep fried until it was golden brown and chewy. They serve it smothered in chilies, Sichuan peppers, cilantro and green onions, with a generous amount of salt. The smell and flavour are somewhat reminiscent of a strong cheese and the flavour is actually quite mild, nowhere near as strong as the smell. It's surprisingly palatable; as long as you didn't tell them what they were eating, the chilies would probably put more people off than the tofu. Even my super picky roommate liked it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be making it a part of my snacking repertoire.

So to any adventurous Busties travelling in China I say, Don't Fear the Tofu!
auralpoison
Yea! News from the China front! I've been wondering what you've been up to besides dealing with that pain in the arse roomie of yours!

Huh. Somehow that doesn't sound so bad. I've never seen the stinky tofu cooked, & I'll try just about anything deep fried & smothered in chilies & such. Now I am wildly curious! I think I could actualy gird my loins & give it a shot!

Thanks for the update & keep 'em coming when you have the time! We're thinking of you!
epinephrine
I know, I feel so guilty! I haven't had time to blog or post or anything. I'm trying to keep on top of my studies and since we don't have exams or papers or anything to write, the workload is very steady and I never have a lull period where I've got everything done and I can spend time writing without feeling guilty for not studying. I guess that's just how it is when you're learning a second language in a foreign country; you're perpetually behind. Until you're fluent, you haven't caught up yet. I've got a blog post written and it's going up today after class; I'm going to try writing shorter posts so I can get them up more frequently.

And so I'm not totally off-topic here, I should mention that I took a stroll through the market in Beibei this weekend and it was kick-ass. So many stalls and vendors hawking all kinds of crazy snacks - that's actually where I got the stinky tofu. There was a guy selling sugar cane juice freshly squeezed from an ancient hand-crank machine on the back of his bike and a meat stall with several dead dogs hanging from the ceiling. It was pretty intense. I'll make sure to get pictures next time!

Although it's not particularly weird, my absolute favourite snack here has to be the roasted chestnuts. They are so damn good, I can't stop eating them. They roast them in a big wok full of sand over a coal fire so they get evenly cooked to sweet, creamy perfection. Gah. I'm hungry now!
epinephrine
Wow, it's been a month since I last did a weird food report. Let's see. In the past month, I've tried:

Bean drinks. Essentially just sweetened red, green, black or soy bean puree, thinned with water to the consistency where you can drink it through a straw. You can also get peanut, but I haven't tried it yet. Black bean is mild with a pleasant, naturally sweet flavour and a hint of smokiness. Red bean is a bit more beany, but it's great once you've gotten used to it. Likewise fresh soybeans. Green bean has a strong flavour that I can't really describe and I'm not particularly fond of it. The bean drinks are quite thick, generally served hot, and are a perfect healthy high-protein snack on a cold day.

Powdered soymilk, nut and bean drinks. You can buy powdered soymilk in a variety of different formulas and brands. It's quite thick and rich-tasting, a nice satisfying drink in the morning or before bed. I haven't tried the instant walnut and almond drinks, because I don't really want to invest in a whole bag of something that will likely be excessively fattening, but I haven't found individual packets for sale yet so I may just have to bite the bullet and go for it. I found some really interesting instant drinks at the supermarket the other day which come with powdered flavour mix (we bought one each of coconut-wheat, purple yam and red bean), a little packet of cereal bits to add to the drink for that chewy texture that they seem to like so much, and a straw, all packaged inside a plastic-wrapped paper cup. The amount of waste is horrendous, but we couldn't resist. I tried the red bean last night. It was pretty beany, but I liked it.

Caramelized yam. Just had this one for the first time at lunch today and I couldn't believe it - diced yam cooked in melted, caramelized sugar. It arrives piled on a plate and you have to eat it quickly before it hardens into a gigantic toffee. As the sugar cools it turns chewy and eventually hardens to a thin, crunchy layer over the sweet, creamy little pieces of yam. So delicious, and so fattening. I know I'll be getting into some trouble with that one!

Chengdu street food. In Chengdu last weekend I saw so many street vendors selling so many interesting snacks I threw caution to the wind and tried some of the cleaner-looking ones, including: a dense, deep fried rice cake flavoured with salt and Sichuan peppers (meh - it was cold and too chewy); jian dui (also gone cold and unappetizing, although they're wonderful when hot and crispy); a fried crepe filled with spiced julienned potato (delicious); a crepe filled with strips of squid, cucumber, cilantro, bean sprouts and a rich, spicy sauce (apparently a Hunan specialty, and one of the most delicious things I've eaten in China); and liang fen topped with salt, chili sauce, green onions, cilantro and peanuts (very tasty, with a nice kick to it). I stupidly passed by a street vendor selling a delicious-looking egg thing cooked in tins, and when I decided I wanted to try it he was gone. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for that one.

I also got pictures of some pretty crazy street foods that I wasn't brave enough to try, including five-spice pudding, rabbit brains (sold in the skull, which you have to crack open to eat - quite gruesome, especially when they're sold smeared in red chili sauce), bugs on skewers, and all kinds of other stuff. I'll post a link when I upload them to Facebook.

I found this great food blog post on Chongqing street food - I still haven't tried some of these things. Must go hunting. The cold weather has hit now, so all that unrefrigerated street food is a little safer.
conbot
Crazy asian food that is surprisingly tasty: Durian.
I lived in Singapore for a while and remember thinking, the first time I stepped into a grocery store "What is that TERRIBLE SMELL?!" It was durian.
epinephrine
Welcome, Conbot! I'd love to hear about your experiences living in Singapore. Were you teaching English there?

I love durian. I don't even mind the smell anymore. It just smells like delicious rich creamy fruity tropical goodness to me now! I should get some this week to celebrate the end of the semester.

I remember when I spent a month in France with my family and I went cheese-crazy. I'd been vegan for 5 years at the time and I just couldn't take the deprivation anymore. We were staying around the corner from a really nice cheese shop and we went there almost every day to drop another 30 euro on cheese to take home and try. I remember every time we opened the fridge door this overpowering wave of stench would roll out and linger for half an hour in the kitchen. It was disgusting. But nothing can dampen my appetite for stanky cheese!

So I've discovered a truly fantastic new weird food: Oishi brand crispy chocolate "pillows" with red bean filling. I'll be sure to take a picture of the package next time. They are sooooo addictive.

Oh, and here are my pics of snacky weirdness (plus some monasteries and Sichuan opera) from Chengdu.
conbot
I was in Singapore living for free with a boyfriend and not doing much at all (since I didn't have a workers visa), but it was a great way to spend a summer between semesters. Probably the biggest thing I miss was the ability to buy massive amounts of fresh tropical fruit for little to no money. Durian doesn't smell so bad once you get used to it, but I would still never take one home. Eat it all on the spot and then wash your hands and brush your teeth is the best way to go. Other things I miss: hawker centers, kopitiams, mee goreng, roti prata, laksa, and congee.

Thankfully I live within walking distance to a couple asian supermarkets these days and can still satisfy some cravings.

Oh! And chili crab. Nothing in the world is better than chili crab.
epinephrine
I've never eaten chili crab, but it sounds awesome. I love seafood and I love anything spicy.

I'm also starting to develop a taste for Sichuan peppers, known locally as 花椒 (huā jiāo), which means "flower pepper." It's a very unique, special spice that makes your tongue go all minty and numb, with an acidic, sort of lemony aftertaste. The flavour is very assertive and, due to what would seem to be the chemical effect it has on the tongue, it really dominates the flavour of whatever it's in. So a lot of people don't like it. I have a very adventurous palate and I love a challenge, so I never disliked it, although I didn't really understand why people were so crazy about it over here. They put it in everything - soups, stirfries, pickles, veggie dishes, meat dishes, they boil eggs with it, they even put it in cookies and candy. Before, I found the flavour too strong and felt it interfered with the other flavours in the dish, but now that I'm getting used to it I don't find it dominates my palate as much and I think it tastes really refreshing and clean and lively. I especially like it with sauteed greens. I'm even starting to use it in my own cooking now. The "Sichuan" food I had in the west was absolutely nothing like this, it was all just Cantonese-style versions of classic Sichuan dishes with some chili oil or chili sauce added. I don't think I'd ever encountered Sichuan peppers in one of these so-called "Sichuan" restaurants before, but it's just so vital to the cuisine here it really isn't Sichuan food without it.
epinephrine
A clothing and accessory shop nearby recently overhauled part of their accessories section and turned it into the "weird bulk imported candies and preserved fruits and and animal parts" section (making it officially the weirdest store I've ever seen) and I couldn't resist. I bought a couple of the more interesting cheaper candies to try. The "pudding flavour" hard candies with a picture of a creme brulee or custard on the wrapper tasted like cookie dough. The intriguing Japanese tomato plum hard candies tasted like ketchup mixed with syrup and had a little chunk of sour, salted dried plum in the middle - easily the weirdest candy I've ever eaten. The red bean milk toffees seemed pretty standard (for China), but they ended up being really strong and gross-tasting.

Oh, and Chinese popcorn. Chinese popcorn is sweet - you can't get standard salted, buttered popcorn here. They sell it on the street tossed with various flavours of melted flavoured sugar (looks like the same kind they make candy floss with), and at the supermarket you can buy microwave popcorn in strawberry, chocolate, orange creamsicle and "sweet cream" flavours. The sweet cream is pretty good, kind of like kettle corn. The strawberry was disgusting.

So, not exactly a weird food, but one of my favourite foods I've tried since I came to China has to be the Xinjiang Muslims' 刀削面 (dāo xiāo min, "knife-cut noodles). They take a big log of dense dough and whittle long, thick strips off of it into a pot of boiling water and then they fry them up with meat and veggies or add them to soup. They're so chewy and satisfying and delicious, I highly recommend you all look for them next time you go to a Chinese noodle restaurant!
conbot
Thank you for reminding me that I need to track sown some Sichuan Pepper next time I'm at the asian grocery. I have a ton of recipes that use it that I've been dying to try out.

Chili crab is interesting in that it's not very spicy at all. The sauce is more sweet tomato like than chili, but it does have a little kick.
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