Roaming around a Chinese supermarket can be an exciting adventure with lots of interesting things to see. But working up the courage to try all of the weird things that you spot is an entirely different story.
1. Fragrant Barbeque Fish Strips (渔派 Yupai)
Ahh, Fragrant Barbeque Fish Strips. At first glance you can’t even tell what this was. With it’s long and thin shape it looked like a package of spaghetti transformed into a snack, but as soon as you open the package you can be sure that yes, it’s definitely fish. This one actually included some English on the front: “Japanese Soy Sauce Flavor”, and “High Protein, Low Fat”.
The strips of fish are cut very thin and are heavily seasoned, like a rubbery string that tastes like like fishy soy sauce. Unless you fold it and put it on your mouth (weirdo), it hangs out of your mouth by about eight inches, making you look like a cowboy chewing on hay. Each pack of Yupai costs 5-6 RMB.
2. Haw Flakes (山楂片 Shanzhapian)
This is a sweet snack made from the fruit of the Chinese hawthorn (much like a cranberry) and is packaged in rolls containing several small discs. The package of 12 rolls was a mere 5 RMB. Some Chinese people eat haw flakes with bitter Chinese herbal medicine. The flakes are delicately sweet and somewhat sour. But you should know that this product has been seized several times by the United States Food and Drug Administration for containing unapproved artificial coloring. Buyer beware!
3. Sachima (沙琪玛 Shaqima)
This Chinese snack originates in the Northeast. Judging by the picture on the package, it looks something like a Rice Krispie treat. Well, looks can be deceiving. The taste is very oily and hardly sweet, but the texture is much like the Rice Krispie treat; slightly chewy, slightly crunchy. Since the dough is first fried before being mixed with other ingredients to form the final product, you will find the oiliness (in both flavor and feel) to be overbearing. There are apparently many different variations of this snack. It can also be purchased at Chinese bakeries, which would probably taste better than this prepackaged supermarket version. If you want to try the taste first, pick up a small pack for 3 RMB.
4. Wife Cake (老婆饼 Laopo Bing)
If you go to a supermarket offering baked goods, you will most likely find this one, a traditional Cantonese pastry with thin, flaky skin and a sweet paste in the middle. The filling is generally made of candied winter melon, glutinous rice flour, and coconut flakes, while the flaky texture of the skin is achieved through the use of pork lard shortening. The taste of this pastry, much like the sachima, is not very sweet, but quite heavy from the use of lard. Again, this is probably also something better purchased from a bakery rather than a package of five at Walmart for 9 RMB (which were mostly skin and hardly any filling, by the way). But the legend is quite sweet, about a woman who sold herself as a slave to help cure her father-in-law’s illness. Her husband later created these cakes in his wife’s honor and sold them on the street to earn enough money to buy her back. And yes, ‘Husband Cake’ also exists, but has more of a salty filling.
5. Chicken Feet Pickle with Hot Chili Pepper (泡椒凤爪 Paojiao Fengzhua)
The snack aisle at most Chinese supermarkets is filled with vacuum-packed packages of pickled vegetables, spiced tofu, chicken feet, duck neck, etc. Choosing one of them was such a hard decision (and not because they all looked so delicious). Quite frankly, none of them looked appetizing. The texture is slightly crunchy but also slightly rubbery and the taste was more spicy than it was sour. The level of spice wasn’t too bad, it was more of a light chili spice. Someone can only handle one bite, but in theory it could be served as a cold appetizer before a meal or as a snack on-the-go. Each pack costs 5-6 RMB.
6. Flavoured Quail Eggs (卤制鹌鹑蛋 Luzhi Anchundan)
You might have never seen such a strange variety of eggs in your life until you moved to China. So even though you are not a particularly big fan of eggs, you have to brave them for the sake of your taste adventure. After the messy process of removing the shell, the taste is much like the infamous Chinese tea eggs; not horrible, but also not something you will eat on a daily basis. It’s usually eaten alone, and perhaps served to children as a snack. If you’ve ever taken a long-distance train or bus in China, you’ll know that it also pairs well with instant noodles, as does the next item on your list. Each pack costs about 10 RMB.
7. “Instant Noodle Partner” Sausage (泡面拍档香肠 Paomian Paidang)
This is probably one of the more disgusting supermarket finds, judging by looks alone. The name translates into sausage, but it seems more hot dog-ish judging by the texture and questionable ingredients (what can you expect for 2 RMB). The particular variety is meant to be partnered with instant noodles, but can also be eaten alone and does not need to be heated. It contains a combination of chicken, pork, fillers, and of course, MSG. These tubed sausages come in a variety of tastes, including corn-flavored, spicy, and even ones tasting like a thousand-year egg. This type of sausage, unlike others, is not made with a casing so the consistency is rather mushy, as you would guess after merely feeling the package.
8. Fried Dough Twist (麻花 Ma Hua)
At the supermarket you can often find a line-up of fried snacks in bulk that you bag yourself. This flavorful snack originated in Tianjin and the most famous version is the 18th Street Ma Hua, named after the original location on 18th Street in Tianjin. The dough is fried in peanut oil and can be paired with a variety of flavors such as osmanthus, ginger, sesame, or walnuts, and can also be sweetened with sugar or honey. It wasn’t at all sweet and it was only barely salty; perhaps the specialty ones are better. It is sometimes even used in stir-fried dishes to add extra oomph and consistency, especially with dishes containing beef or eggs. Each pack costs about 8 RMB.
9. Turtle Jelly or Herbal Grass Jelly (龟苓膏 or 仙草 Guilingao or Xiancao)
You’ve likely heard or seen grass jelly on the menu at a restaurant, drink shop, or Asian dessert place, but perhaps have never been brave enough to try some. The one is called turtle jelly and is a type of Chinese medicine sold as a dessert. The original turtle jelly contained ingredients taken from the bottom shell of the golden coin turtle, but commercially available products today don’t have any turtle-derived ingredients. It mainly contains herbal substances and tastes a lot like Chinese medicine: turtle and grass jellies are believed to have medicinal qualities that are good for the complexion and can fight acne. They are also believed to improve circulation, assist in muscle growth, relieve itching, and aid the kidneys. The black appearance is quit unappealing and the bitter taste definitely needs to be offset by something sweet like honey, mango, coconut, or cream. It’s actually very similar to jello, but without the sugary sweetness. All in all not too bad and supposedly good for the body; it’s worth the 4-5 RMB to try.
Of course this is only a small selection of the many snack foods available in China. So what interesting supermarket snacks have you tried? Share with us.