Whilst I’m always up for a good adventure, wandering different countries and exploring new cities, walking down the aisles of a Chinese grocery store often proves to be a whole new adventure in itself. I often smell things long before I see them and hear the frantic splashing of the live seafood section in the distance. After minutes of drooling over individually wrapped pretty packages of… something; terrible attempts at tracing Chinese-character-like scribbles on my Pleco app and endless guesses at broken English phrases, here are seven wondrous Chinese foods I’ve seen in a Chinese grocery store.
Rousong and candied meat sweets
Also known as meat floss or meat wool – rousong is a dried meat product that has been shredded into a texture similar to cotton candy. Often served over rice and dessert-like cakes or stuffed in spring rolls and baked buns, this fluffy meat has a combination of sweet, salty and meaty flavors all in one.
If you’re not as brave and don’t quite crave shaved bits of meat melting in your mouth, then perhaps some candied meat sweets may do the trick.
From the regular brown eggs to white eggs to “special white eggs” to Pei Dan (100-year old eggs) to quail eggs to duck eggs to goose eggs, eggs are plentiful in China and can be quite diverse. They’re sold as pre-packaged trays but also loose as well, so you can pick them at your own preference, both in the open air markets and at the grocery store. Pei Dan is often tossed together in a wok with watercress, ginger and garlic whilst quail eggs are normally sold boiled as a quick ready-to-eat snack. ‘Special’ white eggs are used in preparing traditional Chinese medicine to treat dizziness. If you’re too afraid to just pick them at random, look for the words “ji dan” – meaning ‘chicken egg’.
Silkie chicken and chicken feet
Have you ever seen a grey chicken? I don’t mean grey feathers; I mean a chicken that is bluish-black right down to the flesh and bones. It’s a Silkie chicken! These are commonly found in Asian supermarkets and despite their strange appearance, they are considered something of a gourmet food item which is prepared in a medicinal soup.
If you’re still craving chicken but want to try something different, why not opt for some chicken feet. A popular food item sold all around China and other parts of Asia too, they can be eaten as a quick snack or a complete meal. Most of the feet consists of skin and tendons. They are usually steamed before cooking to plump up, so what you’re going to taste is chewy gelatinous goodness. Pick up a pre-packaged snack from the store or buy some fresh feet, throw in some soy sauce, Sichuan pepper corns, ginger and chilli. Cook on a high heat and serve!
Dried… preserved… cured… everything
From eel to various kinds of sausages… fish, pork belly, pig snout and whole hanging duck… every grocery store is bound to have a section dedicated to lawei – dried, preserved and cured meats. Whilst it may look a bit strange at first to see an entire duck compressed and hanging in a supermarket, these are something of a regular food item for locals. Often served together with congee, hot dishes and flavored rice, being cured beforehand means the flavors are that much more intense.
Seaweed – both dried and fresh varieties
Seaweed is a common item in Chinese cooking and can be found everywhere, from open air markets to big chain stores like Walmart. Pop over to the live seafood section and choose from endless varieties that can be served together with pork balls and eggs in a soup.
If you’re feeling lazy but still crave a taste of the ocean, why not buy a packet of dried salted seaweed? Or maybe some seaweed flavored Lays will do the trick?
Frogs, turtles and live fish
One of the greatest beliefs in Chinese cooking is that all food should be eaten as fresh as possible. That’s why you can choose your dinner – live from open-air tanks, have them immediately sliced and packaged – ready for you to take home and cook! Eek! Turtle is often served in soups and is believed to cool down the body while frogs are generally prepared in oyster sauce and spices and served together with vegetables and rice. It is believed that eating frog replenishes the lungs and kidneys.
Medicinal ginseng root
Ginseng is something of a sacred luxury item here in China and can cost you anything from a few hundred to thousands of Chinese yuan. Often prepared as a tea or soup, it is believed to bring longevity and good health to those who consume it.
Food shopping in China can often make you feel as though you’ve entered a completely new realm, still hidden from the rest of the world. The options are endless and depending on your preferences, there are open air markets, small grocers and of course, the big well known supermarkets, like Carrefour and Walmart. Be brave and try the Asian goodness but when you crave for something more familiar, look for the ‘international aisles’ in the big chain stores. Here you’ll find regular pasta sauces, microwave popcorn, cheese (which is ridiculously expensive), breakfast cereals, salad dressing and chocolate!