10 Foods I (Try to) Avoid in China

Monday, May 14, 2012 9:10
Posted in category The Big Picture

Following last week’s post, I was reminded by a reader about a post I wrote a couple years back , and I decided to update it as the core of the post was a list of foods that I generally avoid in China.

It is a list that has changed over time, but in looking back, I have done well to stick to it pretty well:

1) Domestic Dairy and Soy Milk product – I wasn’t worried about melamine, I was worried about hormones/ antibiotics use.  This is one of those things that I have been looking at for a while. What I have found interesting through this crisis in confidence is that no one is looking at soy milk.  It is not all that different in process if you remove the obvious difference between a cow and soybean.  Both can be watered down, both can be thickened, both are really a collection of a million units into one….

2) Fish/ Seafood – This is perhaps the easiest to avoid as much of the (higher) quality fish and seafood in China is going to be imported at this point.  Globally there are a number of issues related to quality of fish, but in China my concern is rooted in antibiotics that the fish are ingesting to fight disease in the pond (largely a result of overfeeding and poor water conditions). That being said, chemical issues certainly exist as fish who survive massive die offs are still sold to market, and the Bohai Bay (home to oil spills and a large chemical base) has a lot of fish farms.

4) Domestic Pork/ beef –  Initially this is a reaction from my study of hte issues that the US faces with meat, but it is a reaction that has only grown more solidified as reports of pork contamination have played out in the media over the years.  Shooting pigs with growth hormones, use of antibiotics, and even injecting water to increase the weight, are reason enough for me to do what I can to avoid pork/ beef in restaurants.  When shopping for myself, I buy Australian beef.  It’s grass fed, and that is about as good as it is going to get.

5) Instant noodles – I once worked on a project for a large starch firm, and through this project I learned a lot about starchy foods, and how companies can mess with them.  Like Aluminum, there are many different grades of starches, and through the process of “reformulation” many firms will find the right “balance”.  which leaves a lot of room for the adulteration of product with various (industrial) chemical additives.

6) Processed meats – This pictorial (h/t CSR Asia) should be enough.

7) Shit on a stick – it is everywhere in China.  Local groceries, outside stalls, etc.. and it comes in many varieties… but let’s be clear about what that stuff really is (even if it looks like a hot dog, or a chicken foot, or a whoKNOWSwhat)… it is shit on a stick and it should not be eaten.  I specifically remember on instance several years back of losing all feeling on my tongue for 2 days from a single skewer of grilled mantou.  Perhaps it was a chemical burn, or perhaps it was the amount of MSG.  I dunno, and I don’t care

8) Powder based drinks – Sorry folks, but the 6 kuai bubble tea that has provided comfort on the walk is out too.  For me,  I opted out of bubble teas (and anything like it) once I learned how they were made.  White powder (sucrose/ fructose) + brown powder (tea/ flavor) + “tapioca” balls, and it is a decision I am happy with following news of industrial chemicals being used in Taiwan and a Shanghai Daily investigation into the industry.  Seriously, it’s all chemicals, and none of them are good for you… before the cutting of quality occurs.

9) Sauces – Soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce.. in a bottle we have largely cut out opting either for imported labels or simply making our own sauces. it is not necessarily due to the reports of boiled hair turning into soy sauce, or the reports on vinegar, or even the industrial complex that processes second hand oils… I was more concerned with the stabilizers and emulsifiers that are used in the process.  Chemicals that have many grades, and are often the first place a firm on the financial / moral ledge will make changes.  Not to mention the amount of salt and sugar that these sauces have, which is perhaps the global issue with any bottled sauce.

10) Anything that will make a government official lean over and say “this will keep you up all night long”.  Toad ovaries, deer penis, etc.  It has nothing to do with food adultery on any level, it is just something I will do just fine without.  Been there, done that, got the tshirt.

Feel free to add more in the comments section.

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11 Responses to “10 Foods I (Try to) Avoid in China”

  1. Pablo says:

    May 14th, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks for your post. Interesting for most of us living in China and concerned about food safety issues. Would you please write a post on what you eat, where you buy your groceries and which restaurants do you go to? That would be most helpful.

  2. ViktorMugli says:

    May 14th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Man you are going to starve to death 🙂 What do you eat? Most of the things are the most delicious in China and I wouldnt change them for anything. 

  3. Rich says:

    May 14th, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    @Pablo – That was actually next on my list.

    @Viktor – I’ll talk about it more in the follow up post, but I never have a problem eating well… and it is not that I avoid Chinese food by any means, I love the spectrum, but over time I have come to understand where, when ,and what… more to come.

  4. eyecoin says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 12:15 am

    The link on #6 doesn’t work. I’m dying to see.

  5. Opirus says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Interesting that poultry is not on the list, same reasons as pork/beef/fish. Sensitive veggies has been skipped too. 

  6. Lino says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 3:27 am

    Man,  you are a pussy. 
    Go back to where you came from and die of obesity.  

  7. Rich says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 3:38 am

    @Max – damn. ok, let me see if I can find that. My guess it was taken down

    @opirus – poultry and veg are not on the list as I have found suppliers that I trust. for fruit as well, which (particular for melons and citrus can be a real mixed bag).

    @Lino – I’m guessing you are a former Sanlu employee, or are simply blind. Like I said in the above I (try) to avoid….. and BTW – no risk of me dying from obesity. I am not an expat who sees McD and Burger King as safe options… but thanks for trying.


  8. Olivia Lee says:

    May 16th, 2012 at 1:18 am

    Funny. Well put and might I add nothing that comes out of pickling jar, poured out of a box or served on street…stick or not.

  9. salley says:

    May 17th, 2012 at 2:35 am

    As a Chinese, as far as I know,if want to be safe, what all don’t eat

  10. Katherine says:

    May 17th, 2012 at 2:36 am


  11. Alice Zhao(趙滿豐) says:

    May 20th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Haha, interesting! But why bother living in China if you avoid all this? And, I admire that you can still be so picky after most of others have become the silent majority and just eat what there is to offer.