Sunday, October 5, 2008

What a strange thing to put in your mouth.

My brother sent me a link to an article in the Daily Telegraph which is all about bollocks, and specifically about eating them.

How can you not love an article that provides its readers with a recipe for “Goulash with Stallion Testicles”?

If you have the balls you can read all about it here:

What a load of bollocks

Anyway, it got me thinking about all the weird and wonderful things that I have eaten and I thought I would excite and delight you all with a sample.

I am from the school of thought that I’ll pretty much try anything once, however seemingly grim, and have usually ended up being pleasantly surprised that things don’t tend to be quite as disgusting as you first thought.

There are, of course, a few exceptions.

Snake – The Chinese believe that certain foods are warming and others cooling, so at certain times of year, depending on the weather, seasonally-in-tune food will appear. Snake is a ‘warming’ food apparently and is served mainly as a soup dish. However, I have also had it stir-fired so presumably it comes in other guises. The meat itself is quite bland, noting too exciting really, I had it quite a few times and don’t mind it at all. I have witnessed only once the gall bladder extraction and the skinning of the poor unfortunate creature and actually once is really enough thankyouverymuch.

Locusts / Grasshoppers – These are popular in the Golden Triangle area of Asia and I had them in Burma. They are deep fried and I think have sugar or honey put on them because they are pretty sweet. They are sold as a little street stall snack out of paper bags. They look grim, are crunchy and sweet, pretty inoffensive overall but I wouldn’t rush back to buy a bag.

Frogs – It seems that both the Chinese and the French like these little chaps. And interesting enough both are cooked in a pretty similar fashion with heaps of garlic. When frog season was upon us it was always interesting walking through the ‘wet markets’ in Hong Kong and seeing nets full of frogs squirming and jumping. I quite like these but probably because I like pretty much anything covered in garlic.

Spinal Column – There is a saying that the Chinese will eat anything with four legs apart from a table, anything that flies apart from a plane and anything that goes in the water apart from a boat. And, you know something, there is a whole lot of truth in that saying. I had a braised dish in Asia the main ingredient of which was the spinal cord of a cow. As is usually the case, the sauce was yummy but the spinal cord (which looked like squid) was skiddy and completely tasteless as far as I could tell.

Chickens Feet – These are hugely popular as a dim sum snack. The main problem with these by my reckoning is you absolutely cannot disguise what they are; they arrive to great fanfare looking just like chickens feet, right down to the little nail at the end of each ‘toe’. Now I have seen what chickens tend to walk around in and it is not pleasant. I could never understand just why they are so ridiculously popular. There is no meat on them, eating them involves spitting out a big pile of metatarsals, or whatever the avian equivalent is, and a lot of sucking on tiny little bones. They are not unpleasant to eat just very, very odd.

Ducks Web – pretty much as per chickens feet above except that chickens feet come in a sort of BBQ type sauce whereas ducks webs come with a soy glaze. Anyway, still can’t disguise what it is and very difficult to see the attraction of them.

Ducks tongue – now I used to quite like these but really only because of the sauce they were cooked in. They are a bit rubbery, have a little bit of tendon or ligament in the middle and definitely go into the pile marked ‘don’t really see the point’.

Fish Maw – I never really got to the bottom of what this dim sum dish was all about but it was always just described as ‘fish maw’. It is pale yellow, honeycombed in appearance and overall pretty inoffensive really, I really should ‘google’ it and find out what it is.

Pigs Blood – basically congealed blood, steamed, and cut into little cubes. Usually added to dishes like congee (a sort of rice gruel) but occasionally served just as is. No weirder than eating black pudding though I much prefer the spiciness of pudding.

1000 year old eggs – Disgusting, foul and fetid. Avoid at all costs. Should carry a serious health warning. These little bastards are either duck or goose eggs which have been buried in a mix of soot / charcoal, lime, straw or hay, some wood ash and tea. They are kept that way for about 100 days and arrive at your table sliced into 8 pieces. Eight pieces of pure evilness I might add. The ‘white’ has turned black, the yolk has turned a sort of dark olive green colour, and surprise, surprise, surprise, it tastes just like you think it will. Like an egg that has turned totally ferkin rancid.

Horse – quite widely available in France, I had it once without being aware of what it was. It was pretty good I seem to recall.

Drunken Prawns – what a way to go! This has to be the easiest dish in the world to prepare. Put a handful of small freshwater shrimps into a glass flameproof bowl. Add a good measure of maotai, a strong spirit made from fermented sorghum, leave for 30 secs or so until the shrimp look completed pissed. Set fire to alcohol. Watch as shrimp leap around like, well like their tails are on fire, and turn a lovely pale pink colour. Extinguish flames, eat shrimp. Yum, yum yum.

Civet cat – there is a market in Shenzen near Macau which has stalls upon stalls of frightened looking exotic animals in cages all destined for the pot. It is almost enough to turn you vegetarian. Actually that it is total lie it would take a lot more than that! You name the animal and I reckon they have it somewhere in that market. Anyway that evening civet cat was on the menu and pretty good it was too. The eating of civet cat was what was believed to have started the SARS outbreak in 2003, luckily I had left by then!

Some unknown dish in Bali – we were staying with some friends in Ubud in the middle of the island and they had very kindly arranged for us to enjoy a typical Balinese-style wedding banquet. It took days to prepare, and even now I am embarrassed about how little of it we actually managed to finish off. There were just piles and piles of food. Most of it was the pretty recognisable Indonesian staples but there was one dish which we just couldn’t figure out. The Balinese host kept describing it as “fox” but our description of a fox didn’t seem to meet with his. Thinking about it some years later I actually think this might have been civet cat because in Indonesia coffee beans that have been ‘passed through’ a civet cat are known as fox-dung coffee. Anyway, it was delicious, the meat had been minced and was served in a way quite similar to a Thai chicken salad (larp gai) with lemongrass, lime and chilli.

Jellyfish Salad – the idea of eating this was pretty disgusting that it took me a while to give them a go. Guess what? I really liked it and ended up eating it quite often. Basically a jellyfish is chopped up into quite long thin strips, covered in a sesame oil based sauce and served cold. The jellyfish is soft yet sort of crunchy at the same time and is really pretty damn tasty.

Rice Sparrows – now I just cannot tell you how good these are, I am dribbling just thinking about them. They have a very, very short season, usually the first two weeks in October when they are migrating south and pass through the rice fields of the Pearl River delta. They feed on the young green sprouts and then when they get up from the table to leave get all snared up in a very large net that some clever farmer has left hanging around. These little gems are pretty small and some poor bugger has to pluck and gut them, Christ. Whoever it is would make a brilliant micro-surgeon. Anyhow, these birds are deep fried and eaten whole in one gulp; head, beak, bones the whole lot. Crunch, crunch, yum, yum. They are just absolutely divine, they sort of taste like a very rich liver pate. Whenever the season was upon us I would drag my wife and/or friends out for dinner as many times in the two weeks that I was allowed and would devour a plate of twelve of these chaps all to myself. What a glutton.

Water buffalo – had this in Thailand, tastes like very strong, slightly rancid beef. I thought it was okay (especially when covered with prik nam pla) and didn’t mind it but my Lovely Wife absolutely couldn’t stand it.

Sea cucumber – I’m sorry about this but this really is FUCKING DISGUSTING. It is a sea slug, arrives at the table looking like a sea slug and manages to tastes rubbery and gritty at the same time. Filthy, filthy muck, and yet at almost every formal banquet I attended, especially in Beijing, this hideous monstrosity would turn up. This dish has no redeeming qualities at all and I used to absolutely dread its arrival.

Shark’s Fin – Is this weird, I don’t really know? I have had it so many times that it became rather routine I am afraid to say. I would never rush out an order a bowl but always rather enjoyed it whenever we had it. The sharks fin comes in very fine strips, tastes a little gelatinous but is quite pleasant. I never quite understood why this was so popular but a bowl of this was an absolute must at any formal evening out.


Mars said...

i think rather happy with the international asian fare consisting of normal domesticated animals. the most exotic i will go is a duck.

blergh. i think i'll skip lunch. or turn vegan.

nzm said...

You are either a braver eater than I am or were drunk when you ate these things - a combo of the two I would suspect!

Mockingbird said...

Eeeewww..... Nearly all of those would send instant signals to my brain to not put anywhere near my mouth....... I'll stick with Dauphinoise spuds...... thanks..!!!

Mita said...

Wow - I haven't been back on this blog in a while but thanks for the heads up. Like you - I will pretty much try anything once (almost anything - bit squeamish about the bugs)