5x5: Five odd snacks I ate on a Chinese train
“What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten?” It turns out that the bizarre tastes and textures of the Chinese palate aren’t restricted to street vendors hawking things that wriggle and crunch: you can grab a pick’n’mix of neatly-wrapped oddness in any of the snack shops at Chinese railway stations.
I was lucky enough to receive a free bag of mixed treats when I took speedy G4 train from Shanghai to Beijing. Google Translate was mostly offline as we whipped through the Chinese countryside. All I knew was that this was a “Good companion for healthy travel”. Here are five of those experiences.
1 Spicy beef tendon The only meat snack in the selection was vacuum-packed, with a friendly cow giving the thumbs-up to your consumption of his leg-fibres. Tearing open the sealed packet released the aroma of chilli, garlic, beef and…something else. Asian foodies like to go on about ‘umami’. This was more gag-mami. I squeezed out a yellowish jellied lump and slipped it into my mouth with all the enthusiasm of your mum down the docks on a rainy night. Smooth, not quite slimey, and chews like a piece of jellied gristle, with just a hint of meaty fibre. There’s plenty of fiery spice and a well-hung beefiness. Best swallowed and quickly washed down.
2 Haw soup Apples and a fiesty Chinese gym bunny promised relief for my tastebuds with Haw Soup, a trio of mottled, translucent deep red jelly strips with a faint aroma of apple pie. Sweet, firm and refreshing, the gelatine dissolving quickly in the mouth. Not unpleasant.
3Sister Ma biscuits They look like oat or wheat biscuits. I couldn’t be sure because the genius of Google Translate was out of reach by now. They’re light brown, laced with small dark seeds, and crumble slightly to the bite, oaty with a hint of sweetness and the aroma of that unidentified seed. Nice, but needs a cup of tea.
4 Ameria ??? With Google Translate still out of reach, I was left with only images of toasty biscuits from — is that the White House or The Vatican? — and what has the pork-faced baker been spreading on his toast? The sell-by date looked like March 30th 2016. It was April. Inside the packet was a sweet bread, very crisp and very dry, covered in a sugary topping that tasted almost entirely unlike butter. Dry, so dry.
5 Fresh Gravitational Dried White Peach You know Fresh Gravitational, yeah? A brand colliding modern excitement with olde worlde Tuscan villa goodness, the packet promised to deliver all the goodness of peach in what felt like a (small) handful of solid chunks with none of the messy succulence of fresh fruit. At this stage, the remarkably tough packet foiled my intentions and the contents remained in a superposition of fruit and lumps. White Peach eventually succumbed to my persuasions and yielded its secrets — anhydrous lumps of sugared pale yellow fruit, which induced surprising moisture, defying expectations to be both tasty and refreshing.
- I could have run some of the images through Google Translate later on, but the mystery is part of the experience.