In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), turtle shell is treasured for its ability to “nourish yin.” And Chinese people just love this kind of abstraction. Guilinggao (龟苓膏), or turtle shell jelly, is one of Chinese people’s favorite summertime desserts. People believe that this black, slightly bitter jelly can reduce internal heat and make skin smoother.
The best place to find it is in Guilin rice noodle joints and Cantonese restaurants. You can also pick it up in the supermarket. Of course it is questionable whether or not turtle shell jelly contains turtle shell at all. Authentic turtle jelly—the kind that was served in Qing palaces—was made from the shells of golden coin turtles, which are now an endangered species. Usually you pay six RMB for a bowl, and its bitterness can be balanced out by a coat of honey or condensed milk.