Is your home smelling of Chinese or Asian cooking even though you haven’t eaten Asian food in ages? What causes your house to smell like Chinese food when you haven’t prepared Chinese or similar cuisines?
Your house may smell like Chinese or Asian food — specifically, the “smellier” aromas associated with Asian cooking, like fishy smells, sesame oil, vinegar, fried or burnt smells, etc. — due to olfactory (smell) hallucinations, bacteria, or problems in the electrical wiring of your house.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss some of the most common “smelly” aromas associated with Chinese food and explain what else can cause those smells in a house.
Common Chinese Food Smells
Asian cooking is known for being “smelly” to those who aren’t used to it. The high amount of spices, oils, meats, and seasonings used in Asian cooking can be a real turn-off to those with a sensitive sense of smell.
Think about recipes you may have seen in Chinese cuisine. The most common ingredients used in Asian cooking include:
- Sesame oil
- Fish (meat or sauce)
These ingredients have strong smells that linger in the house for ages. We’re also used to associating these smells with Asian cooking, but other things can cause similar smells.
Possible Causes of Asian Food Smells
As noted, Asian cooking is extremely aromatic. That’s because traditional Asian cooks learn to tell whether a dish is ready based on its smell. To people from places where food doesn’t smell as strong, it can be difficult to get used to such overpowering smells.
However, the usual smells associated with Asian cooking (such as fishy smells, burnt or fried smells, sour smells like vinegar, etc.) may be caused by something else.
I’ve compiled a quick list of the causes of some common “Asian food-related” smells that you might find in your house.
1. Burnt or Fried Smells – Electrical Wiring Problems
If you get a burnt smell or a smell of something frying in your house, but you haven’t been making fried food, the smell could be coming from electrical appliances or wiring in your house.
Electrical fires usually smell like burning metal, rubber, ozone, or a combination of the above (source: Firefighter Now).
If you smell something burning in your house, you should immediately switch off the main source of electricity and call an electrician to take a look.
2. Sour, Vinegar-like Smells – Cleaning Products
Many cleaning products contain an ingredient called acetic acid. This is essentially a highly concentrated version of vinegar.
Acetic acid is often used in the following products (source: Chemical Safety Facts):
- Mold or mildew cleaners
- Vinegar (around 5% acetic acid with 95% water)
- Personal care products
- Gardening supplies
If you’re getting a strong vinegar-like smell, it could be because of the cleaning products or gardening supplies. Changing these products to something less strong should get rid of the smell.
3. Fishy Smells – Electrical Wiring Problems
A fishy smell isn’t something usually associated with electrical wiring problems. Normally, you tend to think of food or cooking when smelling fish. However, electrical wires are coated with chemicals and placed inside an insulating plastic layer.
When the wires overheat or catch fire, the chemicals and plastic start to melt, leading to a weird, fishy smell (source: Sun Electrical Ltd.).
If you get the smell of fish in your house without cooking, switch off your main power source and call for an electrician immediately.
4. Unpleasant Smells (Fishy, Burnt, Rotten) – Olfactory Hallucinations
Olfactory hallucinations are a form of hallucination that affects your sense of smell. In this case, you may be convinced you’re smelling something that isn’t there.
Unlike the causes mentioned above, which have a basis in reality, smells from olfactory hallucinations are medical problems (source: UpToDate).
The following factors can cause these hallucinations:
- Neurological problems
- Head injuries
- Upper respiratory infections
- Seizures in the temporal lobe
- Parkinson’s disease
- Sinus infections
There are two main types of olfactory hallucinations that can cause you to smell something that isn’t there.
In this type of hallucination, your brain is convinced that you’re smelling something that isn’t there. Phantosmia can result in the hallucination of good or bad smells, although bad smells are more common (source: UK National Health Service).
Some of the most common smells associated with phantosmia are smells which are:
All of these smells are also commonly associated with Chinese or Asian cooking.
Unlike phantosmia, which makes you smell something that isn’t there, parosmia distorts your sense of smell. In this case, smells that were once tolerable or even pleasant to you might start to smell terrible.
Generally, parosmia fades after a few months, but many people have reported being unable to stand common smells after getting COVID-19 (source: The New York Times).
Medical conditions are the least likely cause, though – an easy way to check this before you start panicking is to ask other people in your house if they can also smell what you’re smelling. If they can’t, you might want to check with your doctor.
Since some of the above causes of “Asian” smells in your house can be dangerous, it’s best to investigate what’s going on.
However, don’t forget the most obvious causes – things like a local restaurant or neighbors cooking Asian cuisine!