Dandelion greens

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As a kid I would never have thought of using dandelions as a food source. They’re weeds, you don’t eat them. With the coming of restaurants like Noma, however, foraging for food has become as trendy as cauliflower couscous. I haven’t foraged my own food since stealing off the local farms as a boy, but I happened on some dandelion leaves at a local Chinese restaurant.

The greens were served wilted – perhaps blanched or fried – but cold as a salad. It was flavored with garlic. Lots and lots of garlic. The raw garlic destroyed any taste of the dandelion greens, if there was any, so it’s hard for me to describe it. Once or twice I would come across a bit that was quite bitter like an extra strong rocket leaf. My best guess is that that was the original taste of the dandelion without the interference of garlic.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 6

Stinky Tofu

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Stinky tofu is called that for a reason. The reason being, it’s tofu and it’s stinky. It’s made by putting blocks of tofu in a brine of fermented – read rotting – vegetables and herbs for a week or so. Some producers brine their tofu for a lot longer than that. Sometimes the tofu is blackened by the marinade, others serve it natural.

The smell of stinky tofu is unrivalled by any other food. Durian doesn’t even come close. It smells like something is rotting. The scent is so strong it’s difficult not to gag when you walk past a vendor. Many, though not all, of my Chinese friends tell me that the smell might be strong, the taste is good. They compare to a smelly cheese.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. I bought a small bowl of tofu from a street vendor whilst trying not to breathe through my nose. I was a happy to see him pouring over some spicy sauce and vinegar as I thought that might distract from its flavor.

The first bite was pretty awful, though not as bad as the smell. There was definitely a rotten taste, but that taste was underlying. Mostly it was simply the taste of tofu and the texture of a wet sponge. After a few bites you couldn’t taste the bad taste anymore at all, and the flavors of the seasonings started to come through.

Fear Factor – 10 / Taste Test – 6

Ginger ice-cream

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Ginger is a taste that can be overpowering for some, as it’s very strong and pungent. It can be used to add sharpness to a dish, such as a curry, but it can also be sweetened and used in desserts like ginger bread.

The thought of a ginger-flavored ice-cream is therefore not that outlandish, but it’s still a little daring and different. I came across a batch of it at an ice-cream parlor in Macau called Lemon Cello. This shop had found its way to the Michelin list of best street food in Hong Kong and Macau.

I was half expecting the ice-cream to taste of candied ginger or ginger snap cookies. The flavor was more of a strong savory ginger that you get from fresh ginger, and darn it I loved it. It was so refreshing like drinking freshly made lemonade. Imagine a strong ginger tea that you add milk to, and you’ll get the drift.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

Truffle chips

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I’ve said it a few times already about other foods, but I really do love truffle. It’s one of the world’s priciest delicacies, and definitely my favorite of the bunch. I’ll take it over a glass of champagne with caviar any day of the week. The smell alone sends leaves me drooling.

I recently picked up a bag of gourmet potato chips that was flavored with truffle. The packaging said that it used real truffle in addition to truffle oil, and I could indeed make out some specks of black truffle. The aroma was distinctly truffle-like, a wonderful smell.

As far as the chips were concerned, these were some of the best I’ve had. They were crispy and crunchy in a way that could only be done with love and care, and with real sliced potato. Artisanal is a word that springs to mind, cliché as it might be. The taste of truffle was there, and although it didn’t leave completely, it did dull down towards the end.

Fear Factor: 0 / Taste Test – 7

Ox tongue

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Some of the best beef I’ve had has been in South Korea where it gets cooked right in front of you on a table grill. In China I sometimes go to a Korean barbeque restaurant to try and mimic that experience. I’ve tried it with different cuts of beef and pork before, but this time I decided to try out some ox tongue, having never eaten tongue before.

The tongue came out very thinly sliced, but you could definitely tell it was tongue due to the marbling of the meat. Because the slices were so thin, the meat cooked in a matter of seconds. When I tried a piece on its own I thought I was eating a beef steak. Not just any steak, but one in which the flavor was so compressed you’d think you were eating over reduced gravy.

I mean that in the best possible way as it was packed full of beefy flavor. Later I tried to mix it with some onion – which was good -, some spicy sauce – which was overpowering, and some mushroom – which was amazing. Now I know that tongue tastes good, I’ll have to try a thicker slice next time I come across it.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 8

Butter bread sticks

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Another one of those Pocky/Pretz creations came in the form of butter bread sticks. I’ve never been a fan of butter. I don’t even put it on my sandwiches, but I’ve grown accustomed to it over the years. It does add a richness to certain dishes.

The breadsticks were definitely packed with butter alright. Not so much a rich savory butter, but more a creamy, sweet butter you might find on your popcorn at the cinema. If you go to the cinema in America, that is. Now that’s a kind of butter I can live with.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 8

Sea buckthorn juice

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Sea buckthorn is a fruit that grows in Europe, even in my own country, and yet I had never heard of it until I saw bottles of its juice here in Chinese supermarkets. That’s probably because, at least according to Wikipedia, the fruit is very acidic and unpleasant to eat.

They’re also difficult to harvest due to the abundance of thorns on the plants. You can, however, use the fruits to make juice or jams if you just add enough sugar. That’s how the once sour, almost inedible berry found its way to my kitchen.

The juice still had to touch of sourness, which reminded me of a green apple, but there was also a sweetness that I would swear resembles pineapple. It was nice to find multiple layers of flavor in the juice of only one fruit. That’s something you normally only find in a blend of juices. It’s good for you too, as it’s high in vitamin C.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

Durian chocolate

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Here’s the second round for that notorious king of fruit, the durian. In Indonesia I was beaten, and now I was back for revenge. This time the smelly fruit manifested itself in the form of chocolate. I really thought that this time I would come up trumps, as I am a bit of a chocaholic.

That sweet yet putrid smell of decaying flowers that entered my nose on opening the packaging brought me back to Bali immediately. Now I was hesitant. Reluctant even. That taste of raw onions and rotting meat also came back to me.

The second time around I was still horrified by the taste of this foul smelling fruit. The chocolate did mellow it out just enough for me to swallow my first piece of chocolate, but not enough to go back for seconds.

Fear Factor – 8 / Taste Test – 1

Mango chips

I’ve eaten plenty of potato chips that I thought were a little weird, but mango flavored chips? Really? That’s not a little weird. That’s a lot weird. I love mango, but I just couldn’t imagine it as a potato chip.

The first bite had a big hit of mango. Artificial mango, but mango nonetheless. It didn’t clash with the chips though. I guess potatoes are like rice or pasta. If you add something spicy, it will be spicy, but if you add something sweet, you guessed it, it will taste sweet.

P1120576A few bites later, however, the strong taste of mango had mellowed down significantly. Unlike some other chips, the taste was still there though as an underlying flavor.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test 6

Kumquat

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Another mysterious fruit of my youth, the kumquat. The kumquat comes from the citrus family. It’s orange in color, shaped like an egg, but much smaller than any of the other citrus fruits. I’d only ever heard about these fruit when I was younger.

I picked up a bag of kumquats from the supermarket blatantly unaware of how to eat them. As I cut into one of them thinking I’d eat it as if it were a tangerine I was surprised by the lack of visible flesh. What little was there was very juice and sweet, but at this rate I would have to open about a hundred before I would have quenched my thirst.

Perhaps they weren’t fully ripe yet, so I had a look on Google for some more information. It turns out that you eat them as a whole, skin and all. I cut another open and removed the pips and cut off a few slices.

I expected the rind to be bitter, but there was only a slight underlying bitter note. Instead I found a little piece of textural heaven all in one bite. First you go through the chewy, slightly bitter, ring. Then comes the sweet almost creamy flesh and at last you get a big hit of sweet juice as the flesh releases its juice. This was a nice little find. I can imagine it makes for a great marmalade.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8