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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everybody. This is Amber. Welcome back to ChineseClass101.com.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), I’m Victor.
Amber: And today we have for you Lesson 7, which is all about Victor’s favorite subject.
Victor: Chinese food.
Amber: Chinese cuisine.
Victor: Love eating.
Amber: Yes. Many people are surprised on their arrival in China to find out that what they thought was Chinese food is actually nowhere to be found.
Victor: Right. The Chinese food in America is very different. I call it the Americanized Chinese food. So when I first came to this country, I didn’t recognize a lot of the Chinese food.
Amber: Yeah. When I came to America and looked at the Chinese menu, I’m like, “What is this? Something like Governor Tso's Chicken. What is this Chop Suey? Even fortune cookies, you will not find it in China.
Victor: Right. There’s no fortune cookies in China.
Amber: I kind of wonder where this stuff came from. Governor Tso's Chicken? Have you seen that in China?
Victor: I think. I'm from northern China, but I think it’s a traditional dish from the south. I’ve heard people telling me that.
Amber: Is it really called Governor Tso's Chicken.
Victor: I think it’s called 左公鸡 (zuǒ gōngjī).
Amber: Oh, so there really is such a thing.
Victor: Translation, there is a story, a historic tale.
Amber: Something a bit lost in the translation. Well, it would be interesting to do a taste comparison. American Chinese food versus Chinese Chinese food. But anyways, don’t worry because the food is really great in China. Once you get a little bit more familiar with the dishes, you’ll know what to order. So that’s where we come in.

Lesson focus

Victor: Yeah. So in this lesson today, we’re going to tell you about the top five Chinese food we think you should try. And also give you some ideas about the top five scary foods in China, or exotic foods that you should try.
Amber: And this is very subjective. Obviously, everyone will have their own opinion, so we encourage everyone to come to the site and share their own top five. Because probably this is a little bit biased to my own taste.
Victor: Pick the more common or popular ones.
Amber: Guaranteed to like. Guaranteed to not be scared of. And the top five strange Chinese foods. I think most people would find a bit strange. But first what we’re going to do is help you so you don’t go hungry. First we’ll talk about Chinese menus a bit, Victor.
Victor: Right. So here’s a little bit of a challenge. The names of Chinese dishes, even in Chinese can be very cryptic. Even if you are in a bigger city and find a menu with English translation, sometimes the English will be good for laugh, but it’s not going to help you know what there is to eat.
Amber: Yeah, because when you look at the name of the Chinese dish, it’s generally very completely irrelevant to the ingredients.
Victor: Right. The cooks usually come up with very short and poetic names for the dishes.
Amber: Yeah, and what makes it harder is that those names are often very culturally rooted and have historical or geographical, political references even.
Victor: Hey, some of them are originated with Chinese fairy tales and folktales.
Amber: Yeah. So for example, knowing what one knows about the Chinese affinity for alternative meats, if you look at the menu and you see an item called “lion’s head”, what impression will you be left with? Is it a big roast of a lion’s head?
Victor: No. We love figurative speech, so the lion head is actually just a giant meat ball.
Amber: Yes, and actually they are really good. How do you say it in Chinese again?
Victor: 狮子头 (shīzi tóu).
Amber: Ok, so look for that on the menu. That’s a pretty good one. Ok, here’s another one that sounds really scary. How about the “ants climbing trees”? Are the Chinese into eating insect as well?
Victor: It’s 蚂蚁上树 (mǎyǐ shàng shù). Well, actually some people do eat insects but not this particular dish.
Amber: That’s the side point.
Victor: Right. So this dish is called 蚂蚁上树 (mǎyǐ shàng shù) and it’s just sautéed vermicelli and spicy minced pork.
Amber: Ok, so can you repeat that again, in Chinese, in case someone wants to order the ants climbing trees?
Victor: Sure. It’s called 蚂蚁上树 (mǎyǐ shàng shù).
Amber: Ok. But be assured it’s not ants, although there may be ants on the menu.
Victor: It’s kind of funny, because as a Chinese person grow up in china, you hear these names, they’re just… whatever they are. When you actually think about it now, they’re just… lion’s head is meat ball. It’s kind of funny.
Amber: Yeah, we are looking at it very literally, and you are looking at it very poetically and figuratively maybe, your food. Ok, so what else can people expect about food in China, Victor?
Victor: Well, it depends on where you are to some degree. The food is really different in different provinces.
Amber: Yeah, and a lot of it depends on what foods are native to the area.
Victor: Yeah. There are eight main regional cuisines in China.
Amber: Yeah, and the flavors vary a lot from place to place.
Victor: Right. Some of them are hot and spicy, some are sweet and oily, and some even pungent and sour.
Amber: Yeah, and the cool thing is if you live in a big city, probably because there’s so much migration out, you can get basically any type of cuisine. Maybe in a smaller area it might be a bit harder, but you’ll probably have an opportunity to try all different regions even if you don’t go to every region.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Ok, so Chinese food at home though. What are the main cooking methods?
Victor: Usually stir frying is the biggest one. We have deep frying, steaming, stewing.
Amber: So that makes sense. It makes sense why every Chinese kitchen I’ve ever been in only has a gas burner. That’s it.
Victor: Chinese kitchens rarely have an oven.
Amber: Yeah, so even though there are specialties that are roasted, like peking duck, we’ve all heard of …
Victor: It’s very good.
Amber: What is it? Do people go to a restaurant when they want that kind of thing or…?
Victor: Yeah, I think, especially with peking duck, it requires so much special techniques to cook. This is not something the average person can do so you go to a nice restaurant and try that.
Amber: So those are more like specialties. Ok, another thing of know about Chinese cuisine, I think, is that rice is generally the staple of the south, right?
Victor: Right, more central China. Central western China is more noodles and flour and things like that.
Amber: Well, I remember when I went to Shandong, which is sort of Dongbei, which is north-east. The 馒头 (mántou), which is like a little steamed bun.
Victor: Right. Shandong is actually just a little bit south to the real Dongbei. Like Old Manchuria, those three provinces. That’s where I'm from.
Amber: So cool.
Victor: And another thing, though, about rice is that northern China has the best rice. Because in southern China, the climate is warmer, so they plant the rice two or three times a year, so the quality of the soil is weaker than the north, where it’s colder, you can only do it once a year. So if you go to China, people will know that the best rice comes from the north. Which I had the privileged to…
Amber: You sound very proud.
Victor: I’m very proud, cause it’s really good. It’s very, very good.
Amber: Ok, well, you threw my theory out the window. However, some people say that the…
Victor: No, no, no. It’s true. People do say that, but I just think north-east is kind of different, yeah.
Amber: Well, I think it’s cause I'm kind of a bread lover that when I went to the north I really liked all the things like the dumplings and the pancake things and stuff like that. Some things even I didn’t recognize as Chinese foods, like, “Wow, that’s Chinese food. Pretty good.” But one thing I’ll notice is that starch is the starting point for Chinese meals, right?
Victor: Yes, a lot less meat than most of the Western diets.
Amber: Yeah. And another really important thing to Chinese cooks is the presentation of their final product, right?
Victor: Yeah. They’re supposed to look nice, the colors and stuff.
Amber: Yeah, they balance the textures, tastes, colors. And another thing that’s really a big hit in China are the seasonal dishes.
Victor: Yeah, some of the dishes that everyone will go crazy for when they’re in season.
Amber: Like, literally go crazy. For example, ok, I don’t know about northern China what there is, but in Shanghai, when the hairy crab season came, you’re like [inaudible 00:07:26] “Why is the crab hairy, what?” So it’s very famous.
Victor: Very famous. I had a friend in Shanghai who told me that. Right now there are a lot of artificially raised crabs.
Amber: Oh, farmed.
Victor: Very rare to find natural ones.
Amber: So their hair is just not as nice.
Victor: If you go to China and you’re able to find real ones, it’s supposed to be a real treat.
Amber: Yeah, it’s true. It’s a total delicacy in Shanghai. So, around October is when you’ll basically see them coming out, right?
Victor: Yeah, I think so.
Amber: And even Chinese people from Singapore, they fly to China and even bring them back on the plane with them. No, it’s true, in their carry-on bags. But one thing you may not know, Victor, because you’re not from the south is do you know what’s the most savored part of the hairy crab? It’s not the hair.
Victor: What is that?
Amber: It’s the sperm in the males and the eggs in the females. Oh, my god.
Victor: That’s the best stuff, huh?
Amber: Needles to say, I did not eat them. I'm sorry. Once I heard that it was really heart burning.
Victor: It’s the yellow thing in the…
Amber: Yes, don’t talk about it.
Victor: I think I’ve had it before, it was actually pretty good. Anyway, that’s the more exotic side of Chinese cuisine.
Amber: Oh, well, we’ll get a little more exotic than that in a minute. This is like bringing people into it, easing people into it. Ok, well, how about you, Victor, do you have any favorite seasonal foods in China?
Victor: Well, during winter time, the popular dish is hot pot.
Amber: Oh, I love hot pot. It’s one of my favorites. How do you say it in Chinese?
Victor: 火锅 (huǒguō) It’s fire pot in Chinese.
Amber: So basically, cause that’s what it is. It’s a big pot of broth, different kinds of broth, depending where you are, and they set it to boil and you cook your own food in it, meat, vegetables, sea food. That kind of thing. It’s like Chinese fondue, but without the cheese, of course.
Victor: Exactly. 四川火锅 (Sìchuān huǒguō), in Sichuan people love their spicy stuff. That’s also my favorite, and I was in Sichuan once, and I had this hot pot where the top of the pot was just flowing with red peppers and oil.
Amber: Yeah, thick.
Victor: It looks really scary, and halfway through the meal, I couldn’t feel my lips.
Amber: Yeah, cause it’s kind of numbing.
Victor: It is.
Amber: I love it.
Victor: It’s 麻辣火锅 (málà huǒguō).
Amber: Yeah, it’s like numb.
Victor: Another crazy thing though is, because it’s so hard to make the base, the restaurants usually would just use the same base all day for all their customers.
Amber: Wait a second…
Victor: This is not a secret.
Amber: Come on.
Victor: It’s commonly known.
Amber: That was a secret to me. Or I probably wouldn’t...
Victor: I mean, it sounds kind of scary, but I guess technically you are boiling things all day, so it’s not supposed to be any…
Amber: Ew, but everyone is putting their…
Victor: Although you can, so this is a thing to know. If you ever go to Sichuan and you want to eat a hot pot, just pay a little extra for a new pot.
Amber: Ok, well, there’s another thing that a lot of festivals in China also have specific foods that go with them as well.
Victor: Exactly. And what’s the most famous one?
Amber: I think one that comes to mind for me is the moon cakes. I mean, there is a period of time in September, it’s called the Mid-Autumn Festival, right?
Victor: Right, it’s called 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié). That’s the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Amber: Yes, and it is moon cake mania. They are everyone, you cannot escape the moon cakes. That time of year you’ll be gifted moon cakes, re-gifted. You’ll be re-gifting your moon cakes. I don’t know if anyone actually eats the moon cakes. Do they?
Victor: I do. They actually do. They’re very good, but the thing is though the Mid-Autumn Festival is like the Chinese version of Thanksgiving. So the moon cake being a round shape kind of represents the moon. And that’s why it’s called moon cake, it’s…
Amber: Makes sense. I think some of them are delicious. I’ve had some that have been… they were a little bit like a shortbread cookie, but then there’s other ones. It’s kind of scary because you suddenly bite in, you get this huge, salty egg yolk in your mouth. You think it’s a dessert, looking all pastry like, and then wham, some salty egg yellow.
Victor: You know what, I like it. I guess that’s also supposed to represent the moon.
Amber: I mean I like the poetic side of it, but I don’t know… I do like the red bean ones, which a lot of foreigners don’t like, but I like that. So it depends on the flavor. The fillings vary, sometimes they have that salty egg, but what else? There can be…
Victor: Green beans…
Amber: Green bean, red bean paste.
Victor: Lettuce paste.
Amber: Those are pretty good.
Victor: Red beans.
Amber: They’re good to try. I think they’re quite nice.
Victor: So another thing about – since we’re talking about festivals and matching food items – about Chinese new year. Dumplings, dumplings is a huge thing during Chinese new year. Especially, I think, more so in the north. So the reason we eat dumplings is because it represents the old Chinese currency. It’s the Chinese version of Sterling, you know like 金宝 (jīnbǎo).
Amber: It looks like a dumpling?
Victor: Yeah, it looks like old, old times. So they used to make a currency… the big stuff, with gold and silver into a shape like the dumpling.
Amber: That’s so cool.
Victor: So during Chinese New Year I suppose to be renewal, hope for the best for the next year, so eat something that represents money.
Amber: Oh, that makes sense. Man, wow.
Victor: If you got a chance to spend a Chinese New Year in China, it’s really nice.
Amber: It’s really nice and really loud.
Victor: Yeah, very loud.
Amber: Yes. So, as you can see, so much of Chinese social life, family life, revolves around the table. Knowing that, we need to talk a little bit about Chinese table manners. Don’t you think, Victor?
Victor: Well, first of all, Chinese food is generally prepared in bite-sized pieces that can easily be picked up with chopsticks.
Amber: Easily… so you say. Yes…
Victor: A knife at the table is considered a barrack to Chinese people.
Amber: Ok, that’s interesting, because I never realized that before. And then later I thought, yeah, I guess it does seem a bit barbaric.
Victor: It’s kind of like very sharp sight.
Amber: And can be a weapon.
Victor: Right, exactly.
Amber: Chopsticks are much more safe.
Victor: Right. So any kind of association with that, it’s a void.
Amber: Yeah, ok, so you say Chinese food is easily picked up with the chopsticks. Some people might disagree. I think it depends on the chopsticks, some chopsticks are made of wood, they can grip better. But some are really slippery, they’re made from plastic. That’s really hard.
Victor: Yeah, you just have to practice. We’ve had years of practice.
Amber: Yeah, I'm ok with the chopsticks now. Sometimes I eat salad with chopsticks now because you just get used to it, but anyway. One good thing is if you have a really nice host, if you’re at a dinner setting, actually he will be the one that’s putting the food on your plate. So you won’t be at much risk at dropping things all over the place, like I generally do if someone doesn’t help me.
Victor: Yeah, you’re right. That’s another thing. It’s demonstration of utmost hospitality and respect for the host to dish food onto the guest plate.
Amber: Yes, and if you have a very hospitable host, you will find they keep on filling your plate. No matter how full you are.
Victor: Yeah, you can beg and plead, but if you keep eating, they’ll keep filling.
Amber: Yes, so this is another point about Chinese table manners is that it’s actually ok to leave some food in your bowl, right?
Victor: Right. This is the thing, I think the reason behind that is they really try to be good hosts, so they just kind of assume that you won’t be asking for more food if you ran out. So they don’t want you to have to go through the procedure to ask for more food. So they rather just air on the side of caution to give you more than you can eat, rather than having to let you ask for it.
Amber: That’s right.
Victor: So every time I clean out my plate in China, and people just, you know, worried about whether I had enough to eat.
Amber: Yeah. I went to someone, a friend’s mother house for dinner once, and she literally put 15 spring rolls in that little bowl. I would eat one and there was two more. At the end it was like a tower of spring rolls. And then you can’t eat any more. I felt so bad. It was quite cute though.
Victor: In China, just don’t clean your plate. It’s ok to leave a little bit of food. Just to show that you had enough to eat and that’s it.
Amber: Yeah, that’s ok. And another thing to know is that the dishes are served communally, so there’s probably not going to be any serving spoons. So, yeah, everyone uses their own chopsticks to dip in.
Victor: Yeah, this may be hard for some people to get used to.
Amber: Yes, but I think swapping saliva is like a bonding experience. Think of it that way.
Victor: I think that kind of just kills it though. No, but it is supposed to be. When you eat…
Amber: Immune system building, whatever.
Victor: Yeah, exactly.
Amber: I find I get sick a lot less since I lived in China. So I think it might be good for your immune system, maybe. I’ve built up barriers somehow.
Victor: Maybe.
Amber: Other people are getting the Asian flu here, in New York, and I'm not. So it could be a good thing for your body. Now, are there any things that we should be careful of, Victor, that maybe are bad manners or faux pas, something like that.
Victor: Yeah, actually there are two things I can think of. The first one is never stab your chopsticks into your rice bowl and leave them there.
Amber: Ok, yes, and I remember someone I was eating with did this once, they did not know, and seriously half the restaurant kind of came to a standstill. People were definitely uncomfortable around us, so why?
Victor: It’s something that we do at funerals.
Amber: So do you eat rice at funerals or what?
Victor: No, it’s for the dead person.
Amber: Oh, you put rice out for the dead person and then you put the chopstick in.
Victor: Kind of for the spirit, so you don’t do that. And as you find you later on, as you go on, anything to do with death is usually taboo in China.
Amber: Yes, don’t talk about it too much. And there’s a lot of things that you might not suspect symbolize certain things about death.
Victor: Right. Like people wearing T-shirts in US with skeletons, and they think it’s kind of cool. None of that in China.
Amber: And there’s something about giving someone a gift of an alarm clock too, right?
Victor: Right because it means…
Amber: Your time is ticking or something?
Victor: The Chinese word for clock can be 钟 (zhōng) which also means “the end”. And 送终 (sòngzhōng) is…
Amber: Anyways. Everyone trust us, we’ll be your guides. Little by little, we’ll teach you. We’ll save you.
Victor: And the second thing I was thinking about is if you’re in a more formal situation or with a bigger party, you should not eat until the older person or the person who’s treating, paying for the meal, takes the first bite.
Amber: Oh, good to know.
Victor: Yeah, so that’s how the meal starts. That person usually just starts off. And then if you are the person who’s treating, if you’re the oldest, then go ahead and eat.
Amber: That’s what you get for treating, you get to go first.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Ok, here’s something else I noticed, speaking about treating, is that Chinese people are very, very generous about food. As a foreigner, they will often treat you to dinner.
Victor: Right. If a Chinese person asks you to dinner at a restaurant, it usually means that they are treating.
Amber: Yeah, that’s another thing that was really surprising to me. Because you think it’s quite expensive, you’re trying to pay your part, and it’s important to know that you can still fake fight over the bill, but don’t worry about them treating you. Because actually it gives them a lot of face to treat you. I think Chinese people enjoy it, they’re very generous.
Victor: I guess it’s our way of being hospitable.
Amber: Right. But this is something to keep in mind, because if you, perchance, invite a Chinese person to a restaurant, to eat, they might kind of assume that you’re paying for the bill, right?
Victor: Right.
Amber: Right. Ok, so another thing is, if you are taken for dinner, treated for dinner, you won’t have to look at the menu even. There’s actually no freedom of choice when it comes to menu items in China. It’s actually a good thing or a bad thing, cause the host will order everything. You’re looking at him and you’re like, “Ok, I want the… the ants climbing trees.” But you don’t get to pick. But I think it’s actually a good thing, because you don’t know what to pick anyways.
Victor: They kind of just make the executive decision on it. Because, in China, they always give you just one menu, it doesn’t matter how many people you go. There’s always one menu.
Amber: It’s so true. I'm always like, “Is there a menu shortage in this country? Why can we get one more menu?” But that’s why generally one person does the ordering for the table. So that can be a good thing or a bad thing, right?
Victor: Yeah, because we might order something that foreigners find a little scary, I guess.
Amber: Yeah, and it’s true, because often they’re trying to treat you with the best of the best. Your Chinese host, and so for them, the delicacy it’s very expensive, these sparrows with their heads chopped off, like it happened to me, at the end of the meal, four of the sparrow’s heads were gone. But anyways, that’s not the point. Just be forewarned and then have an open mind, because you know what, the thing is that a lot of the foods that the Chinese people eat that scare us, are eaten as health foods.
Victor: Yeah, like Chinese medicine.
Amber: So it might be good for you. Like, for example? Like birds nest soup. Birds nest soup is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. So give it a try, it may improve your life.
Victor: Chinese food or Chinese medicine dates back as early as 2000 B.C.
Amber: So who are we to knock it, right? We should test it out. We should be brave, right? But anyway. I think I'm a little bit hypocritical cause I haven’t actually eaten that, but maybe I didn’t want an aphrodisiac or needed it.
Victor: Chinese believe that there are foods that increase body heat or the yang of the yin yang.
Amber: Yeah, that’s the yin and yang that people hear about, right?
Victor: Yeah. And those that yin and yang of the body for good health, a balance of these elements must be achieved through diets.
Amber: So that’s why they often eat things that maybe we find a little bit odd and why there’s such a science to ordering or your diet.
Victor: Exactly. That’s why sometimes, when I order with my friends, I just want to take the menu and order everything myself, because you’re supposed to have certain things to a meal, like a soup and then the meat, the vegetables. So there’s a whole system that one person can take charge.
Amber: General chicken does not fit into the system necessarily, even though you want it.
Victor: Not always.
Amber: You can. Ok, so here’s the thing though. Give everything a try at least once. I mean, here, you’re learning with us culture, as well, right? Everything except chicken feet.
Victor: Chicken feet.
Amber: I can’t. See, you like them.
Victor: I do. On that note, let’s give everyone some stuff to try out when they get to China or even their own local Chinese restaurants.
Amber: Yes, this is where we come to the top five foods of China, in our opinion, our humble opinions. We think they’re the yummiest of the yummy.
Victor: Ok, so number one is 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo).
Amber: Oh, I miss those so much. Can you say it slower so they can order it properly.
Victor: 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo).
Amber: 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo).
Victor: Yeah. It literally means “small basket buns” because they’re serving the steamed basket.
Amber: Yeah, that’s probably one of the most famous Shanghai foods. They’re these little juicy dumplings, they’re stuffed with meat, they have a broth inside, like a soup. Some people call them soup dumplings.
Victor: Right. And you see the bamboo baskets steaming all over the streets of Shanghai.
Amber: Yeah. So the professional way to eat them is what you do is, I learned, you bite a little hole, sip the soup, then you dip them in this vinegar, it’s like this black Chinese vinegar 醋 (cù), and that season’s the meat inside and then you eat it. Oh, my goodness, my mouth is totally watering.
Victor: Yes, it’s very, very good. I'm thinking about it now.
Amber: Yeah, so that’s really good. I have not found a foreigner yet who doesn’t like that. So be brave, try it.
Victor: Yeah, and the second one is 油条 (yóutiáo).
Amber: Now these are loved by Chinese people everywhere. 油条 (yóutiáo) is like a long, deep fried donuts, but it’s not sweet at all, is it?
Victor: It’s more salty.
Amber: Yeah. It’s always at breakfast too, right?
Victor: Yeah, very popular breakfast dish in China, usually people have them with soy milk.
Amber: Yeah, and it’s like they use them in so many inventive ways. It comes in all these breakfast foods in different sort of formations. I don’t know, I saw it wrapped in 饭团 (fàntuán), which is like a rice burrito. Or they’ll chop it up and put it in soy milk.
Victor: Yeah, different things. Definitely.
Amber: But you know what’s funny? They’re so popular that even KFC in China has its 油条 (yóutiáo) on its breakfast menu. It does. Can you imagine?
Victor: Wow. That’s crazy. But they are available, even in your Chinatown grocery stores in the US.
Amber: That’s right. That’s right. Do you make them yourself or they’re already made?
Victor: They’re made, you can just microwave. But of course it doesn’t compare to the freshly fried on the streets of China.
Amber: Yes… no. Ok, well, I know another food that all foreigners love in China so they could try. And it’s super cheap and easy to get on the street.
Victor: What’s that?
Amber: It’s the 羊肉串儿 (yángròu chuànr).
Victor: Oh, yeah, of course, from the night markets, the street vendors.
Amber: Yeah, street vendors. Often it’s the people from Xinjiang that makes them, where their food does not even taste like Chinese food, it’s more like Middle Eastern food. So what are they? Basically they’re like kebabs, rights?
Victor: Just kebabs, lamb, beef, pork kebabs. You can actually get them… I go to Chinatown and eat it here all the time.
Amber: Yeah, you can probably get the outside of China as well.
Victor: A lot of smoke, very Smokey food.
Amber: Cause they kind of cook them over coals on the side of the street. And I’ve seen men, on the back of their bike, they’ve got this coal set up and they’re making these kebabs. But definitely really cheap street food. Only thing as a little bit of a warning, most people I know that ever got really sick in China was from eating these. So it’s kind of like a gamble, but it depends on if you’re a gambling man or not.
Victor: Yes, that was part of my teenage diet, so I eat it all the time.
Amber: You survived.
Victor: Yeah, I survived.
Amber: It might make you stronger, it won’t kill you.
Victor: So another food that a lot of foreigners like from the Xinjiang, usually that region, is Nanzhou-style 拉面 (lāmiàn).
Amber: That’s right. It’s sort of a noodle but it’s not like a normal Chinese taste. They seem a little bit more like spaghetti like, I think. You’ll find them, there’s these Nanzhou restaurants, where you see the staff has Muslim dress on, and their food… you won’t find pork in these restaurant, cause they’re Muslim. They have these hats, and the women all wear head scarfs. Generally the noodles are all very fresh and different taste than the usual.
Victor: Yeah, the flavor’s very different than other dishes in China.
Amber: Yeah. But you know what’s interesting is that I find that most Chinese people think that Xinjiang is the worst food of China, but most foreigners think it’s the best food of China, cause it’s just your different palette, right?
Victor: I love 羊肉串儿 (yángròu chuànr) so I love that stuff.
Amber: Yeah, I think they’re great too. Ok, so here’s another thing that generally is really well loved by foreigners going to China, of course, and outside of China, is 点心 (diǎnxīn).
Victor: Yeah. 点心 (diǎnxīn).
Amber: Yeah, in Chinese they say 点心 (diǎnxīn), right?
Victor: Yeah, it’s from Hong Kong and southern China.
Amber: Yeah, And basically it’s a bunch of small snacks, like dumplings and things. And usually eaten for breakfast or early lunch? Very good.
Victor: Yeah. Very, very good.
Amber: I think I definitely tried all the stuff there. And I think chicken feet comes in 点心 (diǎnxīn) as well, if you’re anxious to try.
Victor: So I think those are pretty good five foods to try.
Amber: Yes, and they’re all foreigner friendly. That’s what this list is kind of all about.
Victor: Yeah, very mild.
Amber: Yeah, but sometimes we want to have a more authentic eating experience, so those were kind of like the safe foods, but if you get the chance…
Victor: Why not try it? It won’t kill you.
Amber: You better try something more exotic. So that being said, we’re going to give you the top five foods for the brave.
Victor: Ok, and they’re really famous foods in China too.
Amber: Yeah, I think this is more like Victor’s list. The first one was more like my list. So I do think we should start with one, which is stinky tofu.
Victor: 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu).
Amber: 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu). And most Chinese people will always be telling you to try this.
Victor: American friend of mine went to Taiwan and fell in love with it, and then kind of forced me into it after he came back. So I have had never had it when I was in China.
Amber: I think it’s more popular in Taiwan.
Victor: Yeah, and I can say it’s actually really good once you get through the first, initial smell.
Amber: Well, I think if you think French cheese rather than smelly socks, you can actually like this. Anyway, there was this man in my neighborhood in Taiwan. Apparently, he was this man that had made 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu) in my old neighborhood there for like 30 years. When he came around with the car every night, I would literally be… I lived on the fifth floor and my windows were closed. And I could smell it wafting up. So it used to really gross me out. But then one day I was with a friend and they’re like, “You know, if you just think about it as cheese, like French cheese rather than stinky, smelly socks, it actually smells kind of good.” And suddenly all it took was a mental switch and I was like “Yeah, it is pretty good.”
Victor: Yeah. I mean that sounds awful, but it actually tastes very, very good.
Amber: I know, it’s like the equivalent of smelly cheese.
Victor: You have to get though the initial smell first.
Amber: That’s the thing.
Victor: Ok, next one. Moving on to the second is…
Amber: It’s kind of a wild one.
Victor: It’s century eggs, 皮蛋 (pídàn).
Amber: Those black, dirty eggs.
Victor: 皮蛋 (pídàn).
Amber: No, they’re not really a century old, though they do look it. Basically, they’re black, gelatinous, very salty – and is it chicken egg or what is it?
Victor: Actually got me on that one, but I think they’re really, they’re really good with 皮蛋 (pídàn) in the porridge.
Amber: Yeah, so people generally eat them. I mean, basically, we can’t tell you what kind of egg it is cause it doesn’t look like an egg at all, so let’s not even call it an egg. But basically they preserve it in salt and ash for 100 days, is that right?
Victor: Yeah, something like that.
Amber: Yeah. And that makes it turn all weird and black and stuff. What does the taste, what is the flavor like? What would you compare it to, Victor?
Victor: You have to try that yourself.
Amber: No, I’ve tried it, but it’s like I can’t really… I don’t really get it is the thing.
Victor: It takes some getting used to.
Amber: Yeah, so they look a little bit ugly, but quite delicious to flavor things like porridge, that sort of thing. Ok, now here’s another one that I think is totally over the top. Number three, drunken shrimp. These are shrimp marinated live, served live.
Victor: Yeah, watch out for the splashing line.
Amber: Yes. And you eat them after they drown. Enough said. Ok. Enough said. Now, how about something else from the sea? There’s something else. This is moving right along. This is not ugly looking at all, in fact, I think it’s just too cute, and that’s the problem. It just feels like something morally and ethically wrong with eating something that you have them in children’s cartoons?
Victor: What is that?
Amber: My friend had sea horse soup when he was in China.
Victor: Sea horse soup.
Amber: Yeah, have you hear of it?
Victor: No, I haven’t.
Amber: Ok, there’s some, apparently, a special sea horse and bull penis soup. It’s true. No, it feels very wrong on many levels, think cure animals in Disney cartoons. That’s the thing, I'm having a hard time with it myself, but I was thinking he had something to write home about. People were like wow.
Victor: Yeah, definitely got a reaction from people. Or scare people away.
Amber: Yeah, so that’s , I think, a more rare of the top five foods for the brave, but look for it, look out for it. Ok, last but not least, the last of our top five foods for the brave, what’s it going to be, Victor?
Victor: A bird’s nest soup? Have you had that?
Amber: No. As we’ve mentioned, because I don’t really need an aphrodisiac, but as we’ve mentioned, the saliva base in the broth it makes a helpful aphrodisiac. Have you had it, Victor?
Victor: No, I haven’t’.
Amber: Don’t deny it.
Victor: No, I really have not.
Amber: Well, I guess we should try that one, right? It’s for a good cause.


Victor: Definitely. So hope everyone will get the chance to try these very special Chinese food and much, much more.
Amber: Yeah. And that’s the thing. Chinese food in China is really delicious. There’s so much variety. You will never get bored. It think everyone can find things they really love or at least find very, very interesting and intriguing.
Victor: So just don’t forget to be open minded and willing to try new things.
Amber: Yeah. And remember, if you can’t understand the menu, you might have no chance but to be brave.