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The 10 Most Polarizing Foods in China

Last Updated on 2022/04/22

There are some Chinese foods and ingredients that western people intensely tend to love or hate: from hairy tofu to Century Eggs.

They are common in some Chinese Provinces and less in others, so these foods can’t be found in all of China, but are well known by all Chinese people that use to enjoy and love them a lot.

On the contrary, many foreign people find them amazing, tasty and exotic or disgusting, terrible and smelly.

Related: 9 Chinese Native Plants that changed Western food culture and habits10 American Native Plants that changed Chinese food culture and habits

Polarizing Foods in China

Coriander / Cilantro 香菜


Cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, is used in Chinese cuisines on top as a garnish in a lot of dishes or street snacks, for seasonings, or as a salad in some Chinese provinces. A huge amount of people traveling in China cannot agree on what coriander tastes like.

There is a clear division between people who love it and think it tastes the refreshing, lemony, or lime-like flavor and people who think it tastes soapy or rotten.

This small green herb is a devil for coriander-haters because it can ruin their meal if only a piece touches their mouth.

Cilantro’s divisive flavor and aroma are due to genetics.

Studies have shown variations in preference among different ethnic groups. Scientists found that genetic variants are linked to the perception of coriander.

One of those genes is OR6A2, which is very sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that give cilantro its distinctive flavor.

Flavor chemists have found that the coriander aroma is created by substances, and most of these are aldehydes.

Those who dislike the taste are sensitive to the strong unsaturated aldehydes, while simultaneously may also be unable to detect the aromatic chemicals that others find pleasant.

Coriander salad

Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Zhé’ěrgēn  折耳根


Zhé’ěrgēn is an edible rhizome of Houttuynia cordata that is used in southwestern Chinese cuisine like Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guangxi.

It is used as a fresh herbal garnish, condiment, as a component of traditional sauces, or as salad combined with coriander, vinegar, fresh chili, and soy sauce.

The leaves are also eaten and taste a little peppery and are frequently consumed in the regions where it grows in moist, shady places.

Is not very popular and consumed, so it is not universally enjoyed as other more commonly used herbs.

The unusual taste of the leaf is often described as ‘fishy, for this reason, it earned the nickname “fish mint“.

Some people dislike the taste and find it soap alike. Others find its flavor fresh, spicy, and peppery. A lot of Western palates are unfamiliar with its unique taste.

Zhe’ergen salad

Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Insects and Larvae 昆虫 幼虫


Insects are a popular food in Asia. Human insects eating is common to cultures in most parts of the world, there is a proper name from the Greek language: Entomophagy (食用昆蟲). Insects should be part of a sustainable diet in the future according to a UK government’s waste agency report.

Edible insects have long been used by ethnic groups in Asia. Chinese people learned to eat everything, since the long history of China was plagued by calamities and natural disasters: quakes, floods, famines, etc.

Eat everything and waste nothing find its way with these quotes “Chinese eat everything with four legs except tables and everything that flies except airplanes” or “If you can boil it, cook it, fry it or peel it, then you can eat it”.

These Chinese gourmands food is on a wide variety of insects that can be boiled, soaked vinegar, roasted, grilled, fried, tossed in a wok, or in a soup. In China, on some street markets, are sold fried silkworms pupae, mopani worms, maguey worms, whipworms, witchetty grubs, crickets, ants, snails, grasshoppers, locusts, centipedes, dragonflies, cockroaches, water beetles, bees, bee cocoons, cicadas, black spiders, scorpions, scorpion king.

All these insects are considered delicacies.

In China, bugs can be eaten in an adult or larval form.

While local people eat all sorts of insects, as snacks, the country’s finer restaurants tend to serve their delicacies in the larval state, since is high in protein.

Depending on the type of cooking the bugs may result very mushy and creamy on the body without a distinct flavor, or with a flavor alike seafood.

Bugs having too little pulp, if fried, are crisp and crunchy. On-street market restaurants, and spicy snails are considered tasty morsels served when customers are waiting for dishes. Chinese say fried bugs taste like dried instant noodles.

Adventurous eater loves insects because they provide a good source of protein, nutrients, and minerals.

Westerners that tried the bugs experience say that edible and dried or fried bugs have a flavor like soft shell crab, eggshells, or shrimp paste and are crunchy and the flavor results are completely neutral.

People that didn’t get creeped out by this unusual food say spiders have a hairy texture and cockroaches have an aftertaste flavor.

Black spiders can be not approachable to those who get arachnophobia.

In fact, some people get a kind of panic and are intimidated by the idea of eating insects, they feel nervous and uncomfortable and don’t have a culinary curiosity for bugs.

Those who are grossed out can have an adrenaline rush because find bugs mucky.


Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Chicken Feet 鳯爪


Chicken feet are common in Chinese cuisines; they are eaten with beer as an appetizer, street snack, cold dish, served in soup, or as a main dish. They can be seasoned, marinated, stewed, pickled, simmered, flavored, boiled, deep-fried, and steamed.

You can find them everywhere. Chicken feet are called Fèng zhuǎ (鳯爪, phoenix claws), Jī zhuǎ (鷄爪, chicken claws), or Jī jiǎo (雞脚, chicken feet).

Most of the edible tissue on the feet consists of skin and tendons, with no muscle. This gives the feet a distinct texture different from the rest of the chicken’s meat. Being mostly skin, chicken feet are very gelatinous.

Some Westerners complain that is uselessness to gnawing bones without meat, but others find them very tasty.

Chicken feet lovers appreciate that they are high in nutrients such as protein, calcium, collagen, chondroitin, and glucosamine and that all can be easily absorbed by the body. Some think they have a disgusting look.

Those who dislike chicken feet are generally unfamiliar with the gelatinous texture and they think that eating chicken feet could also appear disgusting and culturally unacceptable. Since the feet have small bones spitting the food in public could be considered yucky and dirty.


Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Tofu 豆腐

Stinky tofu

Tofu is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. It is an important component of Asian cuisines.

There are many different varieties of tofu, including fresh tofu ( soft or silken tofu, firm tofu, extra firm tofu, that have a very little subtle flavor or smell on its own), and tofu that has been processed in different ways to create tofus with unique textures and flavor (fermented, pickled tofu, stinky tofu, hairy tofu, fried tofu skin).

There is a wide variety of tofu available in both Western and Eastern markets. In Asian cuisines, tofu is eaten in myriad ways including raw, stewed, lightly flavored stews, and braised dishes, stir-fried, in soup, cooked in sauce, smoked, stuffed with fillings, or as a flavoring. The idea of using tofu as a meat substitute is not common in East Asia, in fact, many Chinese tofu dishes with it include meat.

Westerners that love fresh tofu appreciated its delicate and smoothness on the palate, on the contrary, those who reject it consider fresh tofu tasteless, mushy, and slimy. In recent decades many Westerners, over the years, have seen fresh tofu even get on the shelves in Western supermarkets, but the processed tofu variations can be purchased only in Chinese grocery stores or selected food stores.

The most polarizing tofu is fermented tofu: stinky tofu (臭豆腐) and hairy tofu (毛豆腐).

These two variants create a range of conflicting opinions. Stinky tofu fermentation, unlike cheese, does not have a fixed formula for starter bacteria; wide regional and individual variations exist in manufacturing and preparation resulting in flavors being very different. Stinky tofu is made and consumed in different ways in various areas of China.

Stinky tofu color can varies from golden to black and it can be eaten cold, steamed, stewed, grilled, barbecued, or deep-fried often accompanied by a sweet sauce or chili sauce and pickled vegetables.

The deliciousness of stinky tofu depends mainly on its spiciness. The spicier it is, the more it suits the local favor.

Chinese used to say that the more it smells, the better its flavor. It is usually sold on the street by peddled as a snack, as a part of a regular breakfast meal, at night markets, or on lunch benches as a side dish, rather than in traditional restaurants. The taste of this tofu is really very intense and the odor can be smelled far away.

According to a recent chemical analysis, 39 volatile organic compounds contribute to the unique smell and taste of fermented stinky tofu. Stinky tofu generates suspicion in travelers due to its overwhelming smell, some liken the odor to a clogged sewer, rotten garbage, rotten meat, or smelly feet while those who appreciate its flavor ignore the smell as it happens to those who like strong gorgonzola or blue cheese. In its own fetid way stinky tofu, it’s delicious,  for some people, and nauseating for others.

The hairy tofu, also known as MaoTofu, is fermented tofu that can be easily found in Huizhou and Yunnan Province it’s covered by hair and it has a very strong and pungent flavor and an ammonia odor, due to its fermentation.

Moreover, the feeling in the mouth can be slimy and unpleasant because of its hairy texture. Some travelers who tried hairy tofu as a street snack, since is fried with spice find it tastes crunchy and crispy with a creamy filling. Those that find it disgusting complain about the hairy skin and the aroma of ammonia.

Hairy tofu

Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Century Eggs 皮蛋


Century eggs also known as preserved eggs or hundred-year eggs are a Chinese cuisine dish made by preserving duck, chicken, or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing.

Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green to grey, with a creamy consistency and an odor of sulfur and ammonia, while the white albumen becomes a dark brown translucent jelly with few flavors.

The transforming agent in the century egg is its alkaline material, which gradually raises the pH of the egg to around 9, 12, or more during the curing process.

This chemical process makes the eggs taste disgusting, for some people hating the smell and even dislike their looks. In fact, some eggs, are present on the surface of the translucent jelly patterns that are likened to pine branches. These patterns give these eggs the Chinese name: the pine patterned egg.

On the contrary, others who find tasty these eggs love their pungent taste and appreciate and enjoy the jelly consistency and texture.

the pine patterned egg
the pine patterned egg

Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Durian 榴槤屬


Durian is a fruit native to Southeast Asia, that is distinctive for its large size, strong odor, and spiky thorns-covered husk for all these reasons is considered the king of fruits. The edible flesh emits a distinctive odor that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact.

The unusual flavor and odor of durian have prompted many people to express diverse and passionate views and reactions ranging from deep appreciation, as it has a pleasantly sweet taste; or intense disgust describing its odor as stinky bad, rotten onions, pig shit, turpentine, raw sewage, dirty gym’s sock since they find the aroma overpowering and revolting.

Despite its great local popularity, the persistence of its odor, which may linger for several days and can be smelled from far away, has led to the raw fruit’s banishment from certain hotels, subways, and airports, including public transportation and a lot of others transit systems in Southeast Asia.

People in China with frequent exposures to durian can easily distinguish its odor from rotten or putrescine odors.

Durians from different species have strong different aromas and odors.

The wide range of descriptions of its odor has a great deal to do with the variability of durian itself. The degree of ripeness has an effect on the flavor as well as on the odor. Those who appreciated the creamed edible pulp, think that the taste of its flesh is alike a rich custard highly flavored with sweet almonds.

Durian lovers say its taste is a special delicacy and its texture makes them, the more they eat it, the more they love it since they think the taste and texture surpass in flavor other fruits since is unique and indescribable or it can be only compared to a lot of mixed tastes.

They think that after getting out of the smell, durian is only linked to its strong taste. At first, can be disagreeable but after is love or despise.

Durian is not juicy and it doesn’t produce nausea or other side effect but those who dislike it are reluctant to try it because of the strong smell that makes them think about a terrible taste.

Developmental or genetic differences in olfactory perception explain why some individuals are unable to differentiate these smells and find durian terrible whereas others find it extremely pleasant and appealing.


Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Bitter Melon 苦瓜


Bitter Melon is an unusual vegetable known by various names. Bitter melon is very popular throughout Asia and it comes in many varieties that differ substantially in shapes, sizes, and bitterness the fruit.

Bitter melon originated in India, and was introduced into China in the 14th century.

It’s an everyday tasty food for a lot of people, but for others “tastes like evil” since is acrid and sharp on the tongue.

Bitter melon is nearly inedible in its raw state due to its astringent flavor, but its pungent flavor can be softened with some simple tips. In Chinese cuisine, is valued for its bitter flavor, generally consumed cooked typically in stir-fried soup.


Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Sichuanese Peppercorn 花椒


Sichuan pepper or Sichuan peppercorn, also known as Chinese coriander is commonly used in China, especially in Sichuan cuisine, and the finely ground powder is one of the main ingredients for five-spice powder.

Despite its name, is not closely related to black pepper or chili pepper.

Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavor it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth. It has an alkaline pH and a numbing effect on the lips when eaten in larger doses.

Sichuan peppers produce a strange tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that acts on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, and so cause a kind of general neurological confusion.

Ma la sauce (麻辣) literally “numbing and spicy” is very common in Sichuan cooking, and is a combination of Sichuan pepper and chili pepper. Some travelers love the numbing sensation but others dislike this state of neurological confusion.


Source: Wikipedia Photos: Baidu

Fish Sauce 魚露


Fish sauce is used as a base for a dipping condiment, prepared in many different ways in Asia for fish and seafood. In Southeast Asia fish sauce is most commonly made with anchovies and is super salty.

Fish sauce, in China, is usually on the table for all sorts of dishes and is often used to add a touch of salty flavor. In parts of southern China, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles. Fish sauce, and its derivatives, impart an umami flavor to food due to their glutamate content.

By itself is not easy to taste due to its strong flavor, in fact, is being added to dishes during the cooking process, to make the flavor have more depth. When the fish sauce is used in a dish, the pungency seems to waft away.

Perhaps palates are shifting in two due to anchovies. Some find it tastes very bad because is salty as hell and they think it has a terrible acrid fishy smell, others think is an excellent and fundamental seasoning, that delivers a delicious depth savory flavor.


Author: Dominique Musorrafiti
Source: Wikipedia,
Photos: Baidu

Topic: Polarizing Food,top polarizing foods,top 10 polarizing foods,most polarizing foods,list of polarizing foods,polarizing foods meaning,polarizing food definition

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