A museum for disgusting food featuring distasteful dishes from around the world will open in Sweden at the end of October, and gastronomes are already taking note of two Chinese foods that have been offered a place at the table: stinky tofu and century eggs.
In addition to the early inductees from China, the exhibit in Malmö has selected 80 of the world’s most loathsome dishes, ranging from Sardinia’s maggot-infested cheese known as Casu Marzu to Iceland’s aged shark meat called Hákarl.
According to the museum’s official website, the exhibition aims to build connections and remove boundaries between different cultures by demonstrating a shared appreciation for “disgusting food” across a number of countries and regions. The museum has also scheduled an event called “Taste One of the Team,” where groups of six or more people will be invited to take a bite of the food on display for the price of 300 krona ($33) per person.
Century eggs on display at the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden, Oct. 4, 2018. Newscom/VCG
Museum director Andreas Ahrens told Sixth Tone on Tuesday that there are going to be 13 dishes from China included in the exhibition in total. In addition to stinky tofu and century eggs, the Chinese delicacies include bull penis and spicy rabbit head — although Ahrens did not expand on the other nine food items. “We have carefully selected the items based on taste, smell, texture, and the background of the food,” Ahrens said. “An absolute criterion is that the food has to be real and still eaten, or historically significant.” He added that he and his colleagues hoped to one day bring the exhibition to other countries, including China.
As bizarre as the unappetizing entrants chosen by the museum may sound, China has even more to offer when it comes to “disgusting” delicacies.
With a love for cuisine perhaps best demonstrated by the traditional saying “People think of food as the sky,” China has spent thousands of years cultivating a diversified diet – from the fashionable Lao Gan Ma chili sauce to the internationally renowned hot pot chain Haidilao. Even dishes with strong, pungent scents and flavors are considered time-honored delicacies.
In recognition of China’s supposed passion for the unpalatable, here are 10 notable examples of the country’s most famously unsavory fare.
1. Century eggs
Century eggs, also known as pidan, are duck eggs that have been preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice husks. After being stored in the blend for a few weeks to several months, the egg whites congeal and turn black, with a light snowflake pattern on the surface.
Century eggs have long been recognized as a gross-out favorite. In 2011, CNN put the eggs at the top of a list of disgusting foods, causing a stir among Chinese readers. After the article’s author faced death threats from angry netizens, CNN apologized and said it did not intend to disrespect Chinese culture.
2. Stinky tofu
This unique kind of fermented tofu is popular across the nation. Many regions have their own formulas for making the tofu and recipes for cooking it. Most commonly, stinky tofu is deep-fried and served as a snack on street corners or at the dinner table. Its characteristically pungent odor, though, is shared by every variation.
Stinky tofu in Changsha, Hunan province, Dec. 3, 2016. IC
3. Stinky wax gourds, stinky green soybeans, and stinky amaranth
These recipes originate from the city of Ningbo in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. Locals marinate the vegetables in a malodorous brine for around two weeks. Once prepared, they are said to have a subtle yet pleasing fragrance hidden deep within the stench.
4. Stinky Mandarin fish
This specialty was invented in China’s eastern Anhui province. The fish is put in a light salt brine for approximately a week at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. The dish is said to have a faint odor that many people, despite their best efforts, strain to sniff. The fish is usually stewed, rendering the meat tender and moist.
5. River snail rice noodles
River snail rice noodles, also known as luosifen, originated in the city of Liuzhou in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The scent has a reputation for being even more revolting than stinky tofu. People in China are quite divided on luosifen: Those obsessed with its unique smell and taste claim they can’t live without it, while others describe it as a “biohazard.”
Douzhi, literarily translated as “bean juice,” is a traditional Beijing beverage made from fermented mung beans. Its gray color mirrors that of regular soymilk, but it has a slightly sour taste reminiscent of rotten eggs. Riding the recent tide of cultural pride among the younger generation, douzhi is once again gaining popularity with restaurant-goers in the capital.
7. Barbecued pig brain
Barbecued pig brain is known for its adoring fans in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. The texture is soft like cheesecake, with a taste that is rich but not greasy. As more diners across the country develop an affection for this unique dish, a growing number of restaurants are adding pig brain to their menus. Even Haidilao offers raw pig brain for customers to cook in their hot pots.
Left: Pig brains at a hot pot restaurant in Zigong, Sichuan province. IC | Right: River snail rice noodles. VCG
8. Fried insects
Famous for its local cuisine, China’s southwestern Yunnan province is a place where people can come across deep-fried grasshoppers, scorpions, cicadas, woodworms, bee pupae, and other insects.
9. Roasted bamboo rat
The bamboo rat is a type of rodent that resembles a guinea pig and feeds on bamboo. When cooked, the animal is known for its tenderness, and as a vessel carrying the fresh scent of bamboo in every bite. Viral videos from two farmers who raise the critters led to the creation of the popular hashtag “a hundred reasons to eat bamboo rats.”
10. Animal genitals soaked in wine
Traditional Chinese medicine used to promote the concept of yi xing bu xing – roughly translated as “Consume the parts you want to improve.” Penises from tigers, bulls, goats, and other animals perceived to be masculine are often used as ingredients in medicinal liquors across the country.
Editor: Layne Flower.
(Header image: Century eggs are shown with their characteristic snowflake patterns in Wuhan, Hubei province, Sept. 29, 2018. IC)