Not Even Chinese People Can Believe What This Chinese Town Is Infamous For

Word of the week: niǎo bù lā shǐ de dì fang

We all know that Chinese people are proud of their culture, but sometimes that pride really isn’t justified. A few years ago I had the “privilege” of visiting a town called Dongyang (东阳) which I found out was famous (or should I say infamous?) for a particular type of “non-material cultural heritage” (fēi wù zhì wén huà yí chǎn 非物质文化遗产)

Dongyang is in Zhejiang province, a few hours south of Shanghai by coach, and to describe Dongyang you can use the Chinese phrase niǎo bù lā shǐ de dì fang (鸟不拉屎的地方). This literally means “a place where not even birds shit”, and if I were a bird I certainly wouldn’t consider Dongyang to be worthy of me shitting on it.

But the icing on the cake for this niǎo bù lā shǐ de dì fang is a particular special food they serve. Across China “tea eggs” (chá yè dàn 茶叶蛋) are popular. They’re basically eggs boiled in tea and soy sauce. In Dongyang you can buy chá yè dàn but there is another type of egg that is, bizarrely, even more popular. They’re called tóng zǐ dàn.

tóng zǐ means “young boy” and dàn means egg. These “young boy eggs” are like tea eggs but instead of being cooked in tea leaves and soy sauce they are cooked in the urine of pre-pubescent boys. That’s right, you read it correctly, people in Dongyang eat eggs that have been cooked in piss. In fact, they’re actually more expensive than the ones cooked in tea and soy sauce.

tongzidan

outside primary school classrooms in Dongyang boys urinate directly into red buckets, which are then collected to make tong zi dan

 

As a British person in China I am sometimes subjected to a bit of negative stereotyping regarding British food. “British food is very not delicious”, I often hear. So it’s actually nice to know I have something to throw back at the Chinese (all in jest, of course). China has tóng zǐ dàn, but as far as I’m aware there isn’t anywhere in Britain where cooking things in urine is considered a delicacy.

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