One of the things I love about China is the endless opportunities to try new and exotic foods. The Chinese love their food and eating a meal is a tradition that should be done both on time and with large numbers of people. Chinese dining etiquette is very different to western eating habits. It is usually done in a way the Chinese like to call ‘family style’ which involves the ordering of at least 3 to 5 different dishes. Everyone eats from everywhere, dipping their chopsticks into each dish and serving a little, first for those important to you and then yourself.
This is how the story of me tasting boiled bullfrog begins.
As the Chinese New Year celebrations dawned, it was almost time for me to fly back to South Africa for my own vacation. As is customary for many Chinese during their New Year Celebrations, many of them head back to their home towns, which are located away from the big cities of Beijing and Shanghai were they come to work. A group of friends and I decided that before we all depart to our home towns one last big dinner together was needed. We settled for some fancy hot pot at the all famous Hai Di Lao restaurant. Hot pot is a traditional meal in China consisting of a simmering pot of flavored broth placed on a burner in the middle of the table. Surrounding this pot are a host of side dishes ordered by you and your friends, already prepared and waiting to be cooked, by you of course.
After ordering a variety of sides including beef, quail eggs, potatoes, glutinous rice sticks and some leafy greens; a friend of mine suggested we try traditional bullfrog. Now there’s something you should know about Chinese dining etiquette, and that’s when a friend offers you something food related, you really shouldn’t say no. Of course if you have a valid reason like an allergy, they will definitely understand (and let’s face, you could fake an allergy to get away with it) but being the adventurous Gemini I am, I chose otherwise.
I agreed but not before learning a thing or two.
Turns out the Chinese eat frog to help with a variety of reasons, one of which is to control the heat in your body. I wasn’t really sure what that meant but the scientist in mean wasn’t about to question traditional Chinese logic. While the Internet seems to have a had a field day about ‘eating frogs in China’ it’s pretty easy to understand why there is so much negativity around the wondrous things Chinese locals choose to eat. It’s really because they just don’t understand why. Every culture has their own beliefs surrounding certain ancient medicines and traditional healing. We just call them old wives tales’ in the West and I wouldn’t be a true traveler if I was about to start gagging and furiously waving my finger saying ‘no! no! no!’ in a traditional Chinese establishment.
So I said yes.
The frog was served just as our beef and chicken were. Cleaned and cut into plump pieces. All that was left was for us to slip it into the hot pot and let it cook. The thing about hot pot is that it really is a guessing game of time. Once it goes into the steaming bubbly broth along with your other sides, you’ve got to wait till it’s properly cooked before digging in, periodically using the clean end of your chopsticks to pick it up and check if its cooked.
Luckily I had local friends around to help me check when the frog was succulent and done. After the meat had turned an opaque greyish-white mushroom-like color, it was apparently done. I slowly (and cautiously) picked up a piece from the bubbling broth, dipped it into my concoction of self-made mixed spicy sauces and took a bite.
So what does bullfrog taste like?
It turns out bullfrog really isn’t that bad at all. If I had to describe it, I’d day it best tastes like a mix between chicken and mushroom, more specifically, the taste of chicken with the texture of mushroom. There are lots of bones so watch out for those.
While I wouldn’t do it again (once is enough for me, just to knock it off my bucket list), I would advise that if you are wanting to try bullfrog, opt for the spicy fried variety served at many well-known establishments. This is because 1) you can be assured that a professional (and not you) has cooked the frog to perfection and 2) it is flavored and served in a more presentable way.
It may seem like a strange item to have on my bucket list of exotic foods but you know, when in Rome… or should I say when in China… you’ve just got to try everything (well, almost everything). It makes for some pretty remarkable memories and better yet, some pretty cool stories to tell when you return home.
Have you tasted any exotic dishes on your travels? What have you tasted and where?