The 'offal' truth about exotic dishes: They bring people from different cultures together
What is the most "unusual" Chinese food you've ever tried? Preserved eggs? Stinky tofu? Or various types of offal?
A video (https://www.shine.cn/feature/taste/2208249602/) of several expats trying fruit that are common in the Chinese market but somehow "unpopular" in the West went viral online recently. Viewers had polarized opinions, especially in the case of expats eating durian. While many people are crazy about its sweet taste, others can't stand its stinky smell.
I found these expats very brave. As a Chinese gourmet, I even found it difficult to "love" durian at first. It was after hesitation for a long time that I finally agreed that durian was "acceptable."
My American colleague Alex Bushroe, one of the expats featured in the video, told me he was not that "brave" about eating. He said he had tried things that other expats don't generally eat, but things like stinky tofu (臭豆腐) or preserved eggs (皮蛋) are still out of his league.
"I've tried duck tongues and duck necks, which I thought weird at first – they sound weird and look weird," he said. "But now I think they're fine."
Not until then did I realize that expats might find it weird to eat duck tongues or necks. It reminded me of a dinner several years back in Japan, when my friends and I went to a barbecue buffet. A dish of white meat was served and I thought it was some kind of fish, but after a bite I found it very fatty and greasy, definitely not fish, or any other meat that I'd tried before. So I asked my friend, "What is it?"
"Pork uterus," she said unceremoniously.
I quietly put my chopsticks down.
But with an increase of mutual exchanges, people are generally more open-minded toward "weird food" now. Modern technologies also make it easier to share food experiences with others, and understanding is the first step toward breaking prejudices.
On YouTube, videos on expats trying Chinese food are quite popular. Uploaders try spicy sticks (辣条), a type of spicy snack made of dried tofu, pork intestine or chicken feet, and many of them provoked much interest.
For example, a video titled "I tried the world's SMELLIEST noodle, Luosifen 螺蛳粉. It's made from snails..." has gained more than 315,000 views around the world since it was uploaded in August, 2020.
The uploader, "Blonde in China," is an Australian named Amy who has traveled in China on and off for five years. In the video, she tried Luosifen, or river snail rice noodle, for the first time. The specialty originated from south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and is probably the "stinkiest" noodle in the world, but it has gained extreme popularity across the country due to its marvelous taste.
Amy and her friend recorded the experience of trying Luosifen in a restaurant. They asked the chef what made the noodles stinky ("the sour bamboo shoots") and then showed the audience what's in there in a bowl of noodles.
In the comment section, some foreigners expressed how they actually loved the noodles. One of them said that the official translation for the noodle should be "lots of fun" (pun intended), while another one said that it's actually one of the delicious noodles he has ever tried.
The stories of the brave eaters remind me of an idiom, "You are what you eat," which indicates that it is important to eat good food in order to be healthy and fit.
But I think there might be another meaning behind this idiom.
Food is a reflection of the culture and history of a place, and being open-minded about food is a way of cultural inclusion. And when it comes to mutual understanding, it's always better to be braver.
Now I'm thinking of giving pork uterus another chance. What do you want to try?