Take a peek at these street food specialties in China (from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing). Would you indulge in them on the streets?
You might call us adventurous eaters, at home and when we travel, but we are also risk-aversive and only eat street foods cautiously and sparingly.
Although we enjoy trying new tastes and eating with (and like) the locals, we were forewarned by Chinese tour guides, multiple times, not to risk eating street foods in China (even though much of it looked quite delicious).
Why? Food safety standards aren’t as rigorous as they are in the U.S. A few years back, the Washington Post exposed the widespread (and illegal) practice of Chinese vendors using black market gutter oil for cooking street foods.
Most of the time, eating street foods isn’t likely to be that hazardous, especially when foods are freshly prepared and well-cooked. “It’s not that it’s spoiled or unhealthy,” said of one our local guides. “It just may upset some Western stomachs.”
Given the length of our trip, ambitious itinerary, and distance from home, it didn’t sound prudent to take unnecessary risks. Yet, some of the street foods and traditional dishes were so ubiquitous that we were able to try them out in safer settings.
1) Tea Eggs – Cha Ye Dan
We encountered a pot of these at a buffet breakfast at the China World Hotel in Beijing and didn’t know what to make of them. Apparently, tea eggs are a popular snack sold on the streets, in night markets, and in small convenience shops throughout China. They are savory, inexpensive (about 15 cents each) and nutritious. To achieve their color and flavor, the shells are cracked (and sometimes removed) before the boiled eggs are re-boiled overnight in soy sauce, black tea leaves, five-spice powder and sugar.
2) Coffee Tea – Yuanyang
Served either warm or iced, this mid-day caffeine-rich picker-me-upper is very popular in Hong Kong. Made with a mix of 3 parts coffee to 7 parts Hong Kong Style Milk Tea (made with condensed milk), it is remarkably refreshing and palatable. We tasted it at a small café in Hong Kong, but it’s often sold by street vendors.
3) Chinese Donuts – Youtaio
Also, called a fried breadstick, this breakfast treat is often served with congee (a rice porridge). It tasted a bit bland by itself. Apparently, it derives from a Cantonese word meaning “oil-fried devil.”
4) Fried Dough Twists – Mahua
This sweet confection, made of twisted dough deep-fried in peanut oil, looks somewhat like a cruller. Its dough is sweeter and denser than Youtiao. We tasted this at a tea tasting at the Rosewood Beijing.
5) Green Dumplings – Qingtuan
These traditional bright green dumplings are made with glutinous rice that is filled with smashed red or black beans, and dyed with mugwort juice or barley grass. Our visit to Shanghai coincided with the annual three-day Tomb-Sweeping Festival called Qingming Jie, which takes place in early April. On that weekend, hoards of people drive to the suburbs to visit graves of their loved ones. They go to sweep out the weeds and leave favorite foods (such as Qingtuan) and fake money for relatives. The dumplings are also popular street foods.
6) Scallion Pancakes – Cong You Bing
Some say that these savory Chinese scallion pancakes were the precursor to pizza, a claim hotly contested by Italians. The thin pancakes were sold on the streets in every city we visited and served in many restaurants. Perfect for breakfast or a snack, they’re made of dough that’s folded with sesame oil, minced scallions and salt, cooked unleavened in a flat pan or griddle. You actually might find scallion pancakes closer to home, too, because they are so popular.
What is your personal philosophy/practice regarding eating street food as a traveler?
This post is part of a linkup to Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Discovery.