The Classiest Street Food

Wandering around Shanghai the other day, I stumbled upon this street food:

Oysters on the Halfshell

Yes, those are raw oysters. I’m hoping the thing behind them is for cooking them, but I didn’t find out exactly how they were supposed to be eaten.

Here they are being prepared:

Preparing Oysters

I think it’s safe to say that my personal quest for “surest way to get food poisoning ever” has finally come to an end.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Jim Hollands Says: May 29, 2007 at 9:07 am

    That’s spectacularly gross John, I’m in the Uk and saw a mouse staggering down the aisle of my local Sainsbury’s the other day, but your picture well trumps that!

  2. sinotexian Says: May 29, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Outside the Dragon Town Youth Hostel in Chengdu, they cook up oysters right next to the meat-on-a-stick. I didn’t try them, but it looked pretty darn good!

  3. Grrr, looks like yucky

  4. I know that stall, it is right behind Jing An Temple on Jiao Zhou Rd. They have some decent yang rou chuan from the Xinjiang dude right next to the oysters. I see them grill the oysters at times on the grill you see in the pic, but agreed you are rolling the dice if you try to slurp some of that oyster meat down.

  5. Aw, y’all gotta be kidding me! Unless they come from polluted waters, cooked oysters aren’t gonna hurt anyone. What a bunch of haters!

    For raw oysters, I would prefer that they be freshly shucked when I order them.

    But given the choice between undercooked oysters and undercooked yang rou chuan, I choose the oysters. I also choose fresh oysters over anything at a mousy Sainsbury’s.

    I am very excited to find out that Chinese people eat roasted oysters on the street. Sweet!

    Oh well, to each his own. I once had a friend that was grossed out by tofu; another friend who was disgusted by potatoes….

  6. I have almost been in China a year now and even though I’ve wised up a lot to avoid getting food poisoning, it seems to keep happening on one level or another. Either it’s food poisoning or my stomach just hates China with a passion. If only they could learn to be friends!

    For those of you who have been here longer – does it ever stop?

    I think I have finally gotten over the casual sicknesses that plagued me the first 6 months that I was here, but my stomach continues to bubble even though I cook mostly for myself now. The sad part is that I’ve almost gotten used to it.

  7. They add chopped garlic and scallions and then roast it over the fire.

  8. I would actually prefer to eat them raw. They are yummy and it’s safer then the cocked ones. Just check out if they still live before you eat ’em – prick them with a chopstick, if they move a little bit they are alive.
    Add some drops of lemon juice and enjoy. ☺

  9. Gabrielle, quick answer: NO.

    Best bet is to keep a mental note of the foods that have fun with your digestive system and then never eat them again. Usually it’s street food or any cold dishes, because they have the unsanitary preparation methods. Stir-fried food is cooked really thoroughly, so that’s usually fine.

    There’s a snack food here called “cold noodles” which gives you instantaneous diarrhea. However, knowing this, I continue to eat it, because it’s delicious.

    I’m pretty sure it’s raw oysters that give the nasty food poisoning. Cooking anything thoroughly should make pretty much any food safe, unless it’s laced with industrial chemicals.

  10. I’m pretty sure that’s the oyster sauce they dip the finished oysters in in that 2nd picture. Or at least that’s what they did with mine. Good stuff.

  11. oh man, that is AWESOME!

    in response to the person who asked if the stomach thing ever goes away, i agree the answer is no. and even better, after two years being out of china, i still dont think my stomach has ever been quite the same! just keep telling yourself fast pooh is fun! fun fun fun!

  12. I ate street food regularly (almost daily), as well as various species of animals- and I never got food poisoning. I wonder if people do things like pour hot tea on their dish before they eat off it. I knew some people who got sick from a Korean BBQ, probably because they didn’t handle the raw meat properly.

    Given how many Chinese people I’ve seen puking on the street, I can’t say it’s not the food. But I pretty much broke every rule and never got sick.

  13. I saw a bunch of the oyster guys at the back gate of ECNU once, but I chickened out and didn’t try any. Are they still there?

  14. To Shutty – “Fast pooh is fun.” Hysterical! And man, I surely hope that my stomach returns to normal whenever it is that I go home.

    To Matt – Wanna trade stomachs, you lucky, lucky person you?!

    To kmm – I try to keep a mental note of what I eat to learn from my mistakes, but sometimes it is hard to pinpoint what causes my problems. I think I will stray away from the “cold noodles” that you mentioned though. I have enough problems as it is. 🙂

    Every time that I get sick, whether it be digestive or just a random sickness, the Chinese always say that I am weak. I keep trying to convince them that it’s not that I am weak, but that it is China and all of its wonderful new bacteria having a field day in my body. To this day, they still think I’m weak. What will I ever do?

  15. gabrielle,

    man, you aren’t drinking the water are you? i wouldn’t think you’d have that many problems. at my school, the shits were quite common, but we weren’t very careful about what we ate and enjoyed both cafeteria and street food all the time. we were primarily fond of the dodgy meat variety.

    i did get food poisoning one time. in hangzhou. but it was entirely of my own doing. i learned two very valuable lessons that night and over the next 4 or 5 days: 1.) chinese street people don’t normally sell chinese/mexican burritos for a reason and 2.) you shouldnt use a cup of the chili sauce said street vendor has in a dirty jam jar.

    pretty much common knowledge. like i said, i did it to myself.

    if your problems are that ongoing, i dont think it is from the food, especially if you are cooking at home. could be if you are drinking tap water or have some sort of food allergy or something. or just your regular IBS or something. sorry we cant be of more help.


  16. I remember somebody who had done research once warning me about all these kinds of foods which should not be eaten in China because of lack of sanitation standards. I clearly remember at the end him saying “yeah, and oysters really shouldn’t be eaten anywhere if you are concerened about food poisoning.”…So John, you did mention how they tasted.

  17. @ Ryan, Whats yang rou chuan….oh I see you mean yang rou chuarrrrr. I thought it was pronounced like that even in the South, lol.

    I eat street food and in 6 month only had bad poo twice, I never eat cold dishes as I hate cold food and I also only drink bottled water so maybe there is something to what kmm said.

  18. jpv206 said:

    Unless they come from polluted waters…

    Are there oysters in China that don’t come from polluted waters? I think you might find a few in Hainan… that’s it.

  19. Up here in Dalian the sea is reasonable and the oysters are fresh, best eaten raw. Even the picture doesn’t look too bad if it’s just silt they’re being taken out of.

    Gabrielle: Wash your hands often, that’s the best way to avoid food poisoning. If the diarrhoea comes and goes in bursts that’s not good but manageable – like another poster said, analyse your diet. If it doesn’t go away and you’re losing weight your may have a more serious problem.

  20. Mike!

    Hainan, you say? Mmmm, oysters.

    I read somewhere that oysters are very sensitive to pollution, so they all die off if there’s too much pollution. Then again, I read somewhere else that they’re using oysters to filter the Chesapeake….

    Maybe I’ll stick to plump little Puget Sound oysters….

  21. Shutty –

    No, I don’t drink the tap water. Although, there has been a few times where I’ve thought – heck – it won’t make anything worse! Heh. I’ve only had severe food poisoning once since being in China. All the other instances have just been plain annoying.

    I too saw those burritos in Hangzhou and looked at them quiet longingly, but talked myself out of buying one. And after what you said – It was probably a good thing that I did. 🙂

    I’m sure I’ll survive. Everyone else does. Thanks for your help though. I just need to start eating more yogurt and oatmeal. I hear they both do wonders.

  22. Diet could be a problem. I thought I had a problem once, but I realized I had just been eating too much tofu and vegetables. I ate a bunch of donkey burgers and my GI tract returned to normal.

  23. Donkey Burgers!! Well, I guess I can’t say anything. I have had dog before. Tasted like Turkey and Roast Beef.

  24. I had dog soup with tomatoes at a Korean restaurant, tasted like spaghetti sauce.
    Donkey burgers are great! It may have been the clove of garlic I ate with them that kept my immune system up all those years.

  25. Well, I live in Haikou (Hainan) and do eat the seafood sometimes, despite my misgivings after walking down to the beach and seeing the nasty brown foam washing up.

    Sanya beaches were cleaner though.

    Anyway, I haven’t tried raw oysters but I’ve had a few cooked ones (not from the street) that seemed ok!

    Nowadays, after living in China more than 2 years, I don’t have many digestive problems with most Chinese food. Yummy! I get the lovely “fast pooh” whenever I venture to KFC or McDonald’s though….so regularly that if I get a craving for fast food I seriously count the cost, and if I decide to do it anyway I make sure I will be near a reasonably comfortable bathroom within the first hour or so after eating.

  26. I’ve had raw oysters in one of Haikou’s night street food markets once. I think if you drink copious amounts of alcohol with unsanitary and potentially dangerous foods then you will ok.

  27. Haikou has more varieties of intestinal worms than any other place in world. Raw oysters should never be eaten in a place where people don’t sound like extras from Good Will Hunting.

  28. I love the food in Guangzhou, eat a lot of local stuff, and I never have tummy problems. I do follow a few simple rules, though. My “rules” mainly fall in the category of “do as the locals do” : (1) Wash your dishes at the table like everyone else does. Insist on boiling hot water, also, for that first pot of tea that you wash them with. If locals aren’t eating the salad, you don’t either, ’cause there’s a reason nobody eats raw veggies (not just food poisoning, but hepatitis). Make sure hands are clean, it’s perfectly appropriate to rinse your fingers in the same water you are using to wash the dishes. (2) Before you choose a restaurant, look at general cleanliness. Ask yourself, where do they wash the dishes? (Ever been behind a restaurant to see them washing the dishes in the river, or something similar?) (3) Only go places where there are a lot of locals. (4) If you have any doubts at all about food, spit it out. Heed your instinct; don’t eat anything that you have the most miniscule hesitation about, even if you can’t quite put your finger on why. (5) Notice whether food is steaming hot when it’s served to you, most especially, street food. Only eat street food you can see being prepared and that looks sparkling fresh. Don’t eat anything that might have been sitting for some time. If food is not steaming hot, then it should be cold. Tepid, wilty, or not-quite-fresh is a really bad sign. Watch out for anything that looks like it might be leftovers in any form.

    One last rule is my “not too much” rule. No matter how good some food is (I’m a pig by nature), too much of a good thing can be bad for my tummy! Especially shells from fried shrimp in maggi sauce! (Does the fact that I eat this mean that my stomach is naturally made of iron? Maybe so, but I love it! )

  29. Xan: About washing your dishes at the table – the thing is, washing your dishes at the table is a strictly Southern thing. True, many Northerners know about this custom and try to accomodate you if you do it in their restaurant – but to others, washing your dishes in tea may seem as strange as walking into a Western restaurant and washing your knife, fork and plate in the beer that you just ordered.

  30. […] and oyster sellers have had some doubtful press recently, but I think here they are quite clean. In Chinese they are called shān bèi (扇贝), […]

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