Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, the pantry resembles the den of a unicorn in the oddity of its stock. Restocked monthly to only a weirder array of goodies, from pickled chicken feet to tar black bean paste, these are the childhood WTF foods that we secretly miss.
1. Fermented Tofu
Yes, we love our soybeans and we love our tofu even more. Salty, creamy, and with just a trace of alcohol, this classic Chinese side dish is perfect for congee or any plain grains that need a little flavour boost.
2. Salted Duck Eggs
Salted duck eggs are heaven. Made from preserving duck eggs in brine or salted charcoal, it is often seen in the center of mooncakes, meant to bring stark contrast to the otherwise sweet surrounding. They can also be incorporated into salad dressings, stir fries, and even croissants.
3. Pork Floss
No, it’s not for your teeth. Seriously, my friends thought this was hair and I don’t blame them; this Chinese staple does look a lot like hay to say the least. Shredded pork is basically pork jerky but shredded. Most people put it in sandwiches or as a garnish, but if you asked me, it tastes the best straight out of the container.
4. Durian-Flavored Everything
Either you love it or you hate it; durian is not for the faint of heart. Often dubbed the “King of Fruits,” durian is nutrient dense and packed with fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B, and more. This edgy fruit smells like hell but it tastes like pure heaven and people are obsessed. Durian-flavoured candy, ice cream, crepes, cakes, and even coffee are just some of the innovations inspired by the beloved fruit.
5. Century Egg
Oh, this is a good one. Also called “the dinosaur egg” or “the thousand year egg,” this weird delicacy has gained a notorious reputation as one of the most vile foods in the world.
The century egg is made by wrapping chicken or duck eggs in round clay before burying it in the ground for months. It’s ready when the yolk turns gray and the whites dark brown. This is the main ingredient in the century egg congee, a classic Hong Kong dish served at most dim sum restaurants.
6. Prawn Crackers
Shrimp puffs are made from starch and shrimp flavoring, then fried to perfection. The shrimp flavouring adds a dimension of umami, the savoury flavour you can’t point your finger at. This snack is seriously nostalgic and dangerously addictive.
7. Tofu Dessert
There’s lots of reasons this dessert is a well-loved item. It is low in calories, cheap, vegan, and extremely versatile. It can be used in smoothies or granola for a nutritious breakfast; if you’re like me, you just eat it straight out of the cartoon.
8. The Godmother Chili Sauce
Laoganma, or affectionately nicknamed “the Godmother,” might sound foreign to most people but it is a holy staple in any Chinese pantry. This life changing chilli sauce is analogous to Nutella; it makes everything taste better and even David Chang, the owner of Momofuku, is a die hard fan. Add a little bit of the chilli sauce as a cheat to your next dish for an authentic Sichuanese flavor.
9. Grass Jelly
Calm down, it’s not actually made of grass. Traditionally called “Guilinggao,” it is made from Platostoma palustre, a species belonging to the mint family, hence how the name “grass” came to be. Typically, it is served with bubble tea. However, it can also be consumed as a dessert by itself with sugar syrups and fruit.
10. Cold Skin Noodles
“Cold skin noodle” is an awkward direct translation from Chinese character which can be very misleading — someone should give this item a new name. This is basically a clear-colored noodle that is served cold, like as side dish. Xi’an Famous Foods (a restaurant much beloved by Anthony Bourdain, among many others) New York makes one of the best versions around.