What Chinese food lovers love most

There are different Chinese expressions for people who love food in Chinese (as there are in English). A classic, more highbrow, term is meishijia, literally: ‘a person knowledgeable of good food’. This term is close to the English concept of gourmet. People like this do cook, but prefer to indulge in the better restaurants. The not only have good taste, but also do not lack of cash to fund their likings. In recent years, the term chihuo has become popular. It literally means ‘eat merchandise’. As I prefer an English translation over keeping a Chinese word untranslated, I will use the equally popular English term ‘foodie’ as the, more or less, equivalent for chihuo.

Like Western foodies, their Chinese counterparts do not just like to eat because they crave food, but because they have an interest in new flavours and textures, foods that are linked to things that are fashionable in other sectors of life, like art. They are focused on convenience and leisure foods, but although do not necessarily reject junk food, they are especially interested in novel foods that are ready to eat or at least easy to prepare, but are also healthier than the traditional street food. Attractive packaging is also valued.

Chinese foodies can be unexpectedly traditional in their taste. In many posts of this blog, I have mentioned the special status attached to imported food, which often has a special section in the larger Chinese supermarkets. The novel foods that Chinese food bloggers introduce are often improved, i.e. better packed, more nutritious, versions of traditional Chinese foods. In fact, you can get a good impression of what Chinese foodies like by surfing to the Trends page of my blog. All items introduced there have been taken from the accounts of Chinese food bloggers.

That page is serviced irregularly. I post a product that strikes me as interesting.  Recently (12/3/2020), Tmall, one of China’s leading online shops, has published a Top 20 Products like most by chihuo. I will share that list with you here, with a short explanation of each item. It will give you a valuable insight in what Chinese foods buy online now. The only point for attention in interpreting this list is the possible influence of the corona virus epidemic on this list. I will take it for granted here. Whenever Tmall publishes an update, we will be able to compare the new list with the one introduced here.

  1. River-snail noodles; a dish from Guangxi made from pickled bamboo shoots, dried turnip, fresh vegetables and peanuts and served in a spicy noodle broth flavoured with river snails.
  2. Turkey noodles; these are actually ordinary instant noodles originating from South Korea, so quite spicy. The Chinese media have shown contests in turkey noodle eating in 2019, which is probably the reason for the popularity of this product. Chinese love games and contests.
  3. Cherries; mind that the Chinese term here is chelizi (a transliteration of the English word) and not yingtao, the regular Chinese word. I have not (yet) detected a difference between berries offered in China under the name chelizi and those marketed as yingtao, but the former are praised a rare treasures. Well, as long as it sells.
  4. Instant noodles; I guess these are all instant noodles, minus the turkey noodles.
  5. Self-heating pots; these are ready to eat foods that can heat up by themselves through a chemical reaction started by squeezing the bottom.
  6. Spicy strips; this is real junk food. They are strip made from a starchy product mixed with chili. Reports have been published exposing the bad average quality of the hot strips, but they remain popular snacks.
  7. Self-heating hot pot; this is a special type of self-heating pot, emulating the popular hot pots eating in restaurants all over China. These usually are soups with chunks of meat, fish and vegetables.
  8. Hot and sour glass noodles; glass noodles are made from starch rather than flour; they are flavoured with pickled vegetables and chili.
  9. Boneless chicken claws; chicken claws are a regular item in the Cantonese dim sum; boneless prepared chicken claws are easier to eat as a snack.
  10. Hot pot stock; I already mentioned above that hot pot is immensely popular; hot pot restaurants and now also many seasoning companies, are producing chunks of fat with all the seasoning in it; just throw it in your pot at home, heat it, and have a feast.
  11. Strawberries; like the cherries above, a berry regarded as a rare delicacy.
  12. Milk tea; this fashion has started in Taiwan, entered China in the South, but has now also reach the North; milk tea comes in an endless array of flavours, and is often spiced up with bits of dried fruit, chunks of jelly, etc.
  13. Potato crisps; no comments needed.
  14. Nuts; same; this category has been made famous by the products and marketing campaigns of Three Squirrels, introduced in several posts of this blog.
  15. Custard tart; this is an example of a reasonably traditional product that has suddenly become fashionable; the custard tart (danda) is a Portuguese influence on the Cantonese dim sum. In case you didn’t know: Macau used to be a Portuguese colony. This is the second dim sum in this list that has gained national popularity.
  16. Ice cream; no comments needed.
  17. Chocolate; ditto.
  18. Hand-pulled pancake; this is plain version of the onion pancake popular in Taiwan. It consists of several thin layers that are easily pulled off when you pick them up, hence the name. A reason for their popularity could be that it is easy to combine them with any dish. You can wrap a few spoons of the dish in a pancake and eat it with your hands, as a Chinese type of wrap.
  19. Haidilao; this is the only brand name in the list, and not one of a food, but of a hot pot restaurant. By now, even inattentive readers will have noted that hot pot is a popular type of food and Haildilao has grown into the leading chain in this business. What puzzles me is how you can get Haidilao from Tmall. Perhaps Tmall can also be used to book a table.
  20. Thin cream; Chinese traditionally do not like dairy products and the main reason is that most of them have a problem with the creamy taste of milk. The very fact that thin cream appears in this list, even though at the end, is a revolution. However, its main use is raw material for whipped cream, in which the creamy flavour is partly masked by the added sugar.

This is what a hand-pulled pancake looks like

Well, this is the Top 20 most popular food products purchased from Tmall mid March, 2020. I will refrain from guesses and inferences about what it could mean for suppliers who want to cash in on this reasonably affluent segment of the Chinese market. Most of them will be able to make that step and Eurasia Consult is always there to help out.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Sour is the new sweet in China – young Chinese food scientists play with vinegar

Vinegar, i.e. the Chinese cereals-based vinegar, has been an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine for ages. A famous application is vinegar-based dipping for dumplings.

Vinegar is a growth product in China, although only 30% of the output is branded vinegar with the remaining 70% workshop-style factories. Insiders estimate that the 2019 turnover of the Chinese vinegar industry can reach RMB 9.407 billion; up from RMB 4.017 billion in 2013.

However, it was not regarded as something for direct consumption by most Chinese, who preferred their snacks and soft drinks sweet, sweeter, sweetest. Until recently, that is. The past 2 – 3 years have seen a surge in so called ‘vinegar beverages’ (cuyinliao). These are mildly acid drinks made of naturally acidified fruit juice (apple vinegar is the top product in this category) or drinks produced by mixing vinegar with other ingredients. These products are advertised as healthier choices than the traditional sugary drinks.

This product group has grown so rapidly, that China’s top vinegar producer, Hengshun, with 83.8% market share in 2018, has organised a competition for students of food science in various Chinese universities to design new types of drinks, but also foods, based on vinegar. The various products the next generation of Chinese food scientists came up with is so interesting, that I will list the top products in this post.

First prize

Apple Vinegar drink

appvinegar

As introduced above, this is not a new type of drink, but the jury still awarded it the first prize due its innovative production process. Apples are first baked to the pectin of the apples in small active molecules and increase flavour through the maillard reaction. The juice is then fermented twice.

Second prizes

Cuxian-xian (literally: Vinegar Fibre – Fibre)

cuxianxian

Arrowroot starch is fermented with Acetobacter xylinus to obtain a high fibre refreshing drink.

Hua Young fruit fibre and probiotics effervescent tablets

huayoung

These are ascribed a medicinal function: increasing appetite and relieving bowel and stomach trouble.

Water melon double vinegar

watermeltwo

This drink consists of two varieties made from the flesh and skin of water melon, hence the two colours.

Third prizes

Vinegar strawberries

vinstrawberries

These are preserved strawberries made with Hengshun vinegar and honey.

Cranberry flavoured healthy plum vinegar

cranplum

Green plums (qingmei) are fermented and flavoured with cranberries, resulting in a refreshing sweet and sour beverage.

Konjac vinegar jelly

vinjelly

Fruit jelly has been a favourite snack all over Asia for the past few years, and this product adds an innovative new member to the already extended family of fruit jellies.

Vinegar love

vinlove

Fruit juice is mixed with white vinegar and flavoured with flower petals, resulting in romantic colours.

Hengshun crispy bones

vinbones

Crispy bones are soaked in Hengshun vinegar giving the bones a sweet and sour taste. It is chewy and rich in calcium.

Most innovative prizes

Filled thousand layer vinegar

vinlayers

Crackers are filled with a combination of jam and Hengshun vinegar. It is positioned as a healthy snack.

Lactobacillus in vinegar

vinlacto

Lactobacillus is added to traditional vinegar. The strain is acid and heat resistant. It enhances the antioxidant activity of the vinegar.

Best packaging prize

Vinegar lotus eggs

vinlotus

Soft sweet lotus pod is flavour with a mixture of sardines and Hengshun vinegar and a touch of chili sauce, producing sweet & sour crispy fish balls.

Best marketing prize

Xiaoxixi (laugh hi hi) vinegar milk

vinmilk

Formulated milk drinks are already popular in China. Milk is mixed with pineapple vinegar, creating a kind of yoghurt with a unique flavour.

Not all of these products will make it to the shelves of Chinese supermarkets, but this list provides a rare glimpse into the perception of young Chinese food scientists.

Apart from this contest, vinegar-flavoured icecream has appeared in China as well in the course of 2018. This photo has been taken in Taiyuan (Shanxi).

Interested? Eurasia Consult can help you get in contact with the scientists.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.