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5 Chinese Foods That Are an Acquired Taste

Jun. 10, 2021

Not all foods are easy to appreciate. Some foods are more of an “后天习得的品味 (hòu tiān xí dé de pǐn wèi) acquired taste”. That means someone has an appreciation for something unlikely to be enjoyed by a person who has not had substantial exposure to it. It is the opposite of innate taste, which is the appreciation for things that are enjoyable by most persons without prior exposure to them.

“后天习得的品味 (hòu  tiān  xí  dé  de  pǐn  wèi) acquired taste” for certain Chinenes foods may immediately bring forth images of chicken feet and stinky tofu but let’s explore some finer and more often left out foods that are worth mentioning and worth getting to know. While some are eaten for their health benefits others are enjoyed as delicacies or as comfort food.

后天习得的品味 (hòu  tiān xí dé de pǐn wèi) acquired taste

习得 xí dé to obtain; to receive; to get
de of; ~’s (possessive particle); (used after an attribute); (used to form a nominal expression); (used at the end of a declarative sentence for emphasis)
品味 pǐn wèi to sample; to taste; to appreciate; one’s taste (i.e. in music, literature, fashion, food and drink etc); good taste

1.叫花鸡 (jiào huā jī) Beggar Chicken

Legend has it that a starving beggar was in possession of a chicken but had no means to prepare it, so in a stroke of genius, he covered it with mud and baked it over an open fire.

A Qing-dynasty Emperor happened to walk by and was attracted by the aroma, so he stopped and consumed it with the beggar. He liked it so much that he added it to the list of dishes to be served at the Imperial court.

Beggar’s chicken hails from the city of Hangzhou and has a secret preparation method: tightly wrap it in lotus leaves, pack it in clay, and then baked it in a special oven or over an open fire. This makes it one of the most visually interesting dishes.

Once the dish has been served, the hard outer shell is often cracked open with a hammer. Today, the dish is enjoyed either in restaurants or as street food.

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2.月饼 (yuè bing) Mooncake

“月饼 (yuè bing) mooncake is a small pie-like pastry made with a shortcrust base and is eaten during the Mid-August Festival or Moon Festival. It is traditionally filled with black sesame seed or lotus seed paste, along with red beans, roasted pork, mung beans, dates, and salted duck egg yolks. These fillings are uncommon to many non-Chinese and are thus an “后天习得的品味 (hòu tiān xí dé de pǐn wèi) acquired taste”. Once you learn what the fillings are it’s easy to look forward to them in the future.

Nowadays, mooncakes are available in a variety of different sweet and savory fillings, some of which are fruits, chocolate, mixed nuts, green tea, or even ice cream which can be quite the treat!

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3.榴莲 (liú lián) Durian

During durian season in China, you’ll smell the fruit the moment you enter a grocery store. If it’s unfamiliar you’ll wonder if there’s something wrong. Is the plumbing backed up? Is there a freezer defrosting in the frozen section? Not at all. While some people expect all fruits to taste and smell sweet only, the durian, also known as the king of fruits, is so much more complex. It can be pungent and savory so newcomers just don’t know how to process this information.
In fact, the smell can be so intense and lingering that the fruit is banned on public transport and in hotels across Asia. Don’t let this deter you. If you appreciate aged cheeses, you might find a special appreciation for “榴莲 (liú lián) durian”.

HSK 3 quiz

4.燕窝 (yàn wō) Bird’s Nest

This is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and can be relatively expensive. For authentic bird’s nest soup the coveted and important ingredient is actually the bird’s saliva. Luckily, you can find a cheaper version made with a fungus and without the bird’s nest. It tastes sweet so you just have to get over the idea of bird saliva. This dish, in particular, is consumed for its alleged health benefits but is equally pleasant and can be found as sweetened drinks or desserts as well.

HSK 3 quiz

5.蚕蛹 (cán yǒng) Silkworms

In China, silkworms are often enjoyed by the locals. Silkworm pupae remain after their fibrous cocoons have been harvested and the flavor and consistency are said to be like that of shrimp or crab. They are high in protein and insects are said to be the future of food.
Silkworms can be found in local markets cooked several ways or stocked frozen and canned. You can always start with the sweeter and more tourist-friendly version, chocolate-covered silkworms.

Or how about trying spider, black beetle, centipede, scorpion, or grasshopper when browsing a night market in Beijing as well? Some, such as giant tarantula, are just for the ‘wow’ factor and aren’t eaten on the regular.

HSK 3 quiz

These “后天习得的品味 (hòu tiān xí dé de pǐn wèi) acquired taste” foods are on the tame end of the spectrum and you can easily learn to enjoy them after a little exposure. None are particularly hard to come by so there is no excuse not to try them at least once in your lifetime. Try them a few more times to solidly decide if they are something you could say you rather enjoy or dislike. Who knows, perhaps you’ll expand your palate. If you consistently eat the same foods, you’ll never expand your palate. Get in the habit of trying something new every day, or at least whenever you get the chance.

You May Want to Learn More :
“A Day More Exciting Than Your Birthday”
“Chinese Tea Culture”
”Tour the World of Chinese Drinking Culture”

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