What do you recommend? Cow stomach…
by Sharon -- November 30, 2009
In the beginning of our trip, Jason had this strange rule of wanting to order something “weirdly Chinese” and “crazy” at every meal. He seemed to abide by this rule for most of our meals for a while. For him, this was his way of really experiencing the unique culture of China; by eating things he could not normally eat in America. For me, it was more of a nuisance since I don’t enjoy the idea of eating things that might make me vomit. We have been in China for nearly a month, and I am happy to say that this quest of his has died down a bit. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things, I just don’t want to eat animal intestines for every meal.
Here is a short list of some of the crazier foods we have eaten in China (keep in mind that some of these were ordered accidently, since most of the restaurants we have been to do not offer English menus):
1. Chicken feet: This was not what we thought we ordered. Not surprisingly, I despised eating chicken feet. Although I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it, and although it was the most off-putting food I’ve ever seen on my plate, I tried it. It was fried. It was not good. There was no meat on the claws, so it was kind of like eating a deep fried bone. The tiny bit of meat you got from it was not good either. Jason ended up eating most of it, and even he felt pretty digusted by the end.
2. Vegetarian Shark Fin Soup: You may be asking how it is possible to have a “vegetarian” shark fin; I think it is impossible, which is why our dish was most likely an imitation of shark fin. Shark fin here is like filet mignon in the States. It is fairly upscale and is generally expensive to buy it as a dish, but man do they like their shark fin! The “fin” tasted like imitation crab, which I liked, and the soup was good but not as exciting and electrifying as you would think shark fin soup should be.
3. Pigeon soup: This was ALL Jason’s idea. To me, the pigeon belongs in the ghetto class of birds, so eating it kind of made me feel like I was eating concrete. The pigeon meat itself, from the tiny bit of meat that was in the soup, was kind of chewy but not terrible. The best part was that they put in one of the pigeon’s clawed feet, as well as the ENTIRE HEAD with one eyeball still attached. There was also a good amount of intestines, but we’ve come to notice that the Chinese eat every part of the animal. Intestines, schmintestines.
4. Swan meat: Surprisingly, I was not as reticent to eat swan meat, even though it is not a common thing to eat in the States. Unlike the pigeon, the swan is a pretty bird, so it was a little easier knowing that I wasn’t eating something that might have walked around in trash (although it probably did) . To my surprise as well, the swan meat was delicious! It was well seasoned, which helped, but the meat was pretty tender and tasted like a hybrid between beef and pork.
5. Cow Stomach: I have eaten cow intestines before (I think) so this was not nearly as scary for me, but we also had no idea what it was when it arrived at our table, nor did we know what we ordered. (This was one of those restaurants where we used our Mandarin Chinese book, pointed to the phrase “What do you recommend?”, and they picked a few things out for us). It came in a plastic bag and was previously frozen, so imagine our surprise when we receive a frozen bag full of brown, spiky cow stomach.
6. Chinese Surprise: There have been a few instances where we thought we had ordered an innocent beef dish, but got something strange. One of them was fried and then dried, and tasted like greasy pork rinds with a sewage after taste. Another time we ordered a vegetable dish, only to find spiny, brown, sea urchin-looking things in our green beans and onions. To our surprise, it tasted great. I deduced that it was probably some kind of intestine… or sea creature.
Our experiences with “weird” Chinese food, thus far, have been pretty manageable in terms of my gag reflex. It does occur to us that as we enter new countries, Jason will most likely be refreshing his food quests and will start ordering dishes with eyeballs, intestines and/or feet again. As long as they have “grilled beef with vegetable” or “barbeque pork with plum sauce”, I think I’ll be okay.
Random Thought of the Day: There is something about China that has made me a tad bit obsessed with beef. It’s not that I love the beef here, in fact many of the beef dishes we have ordered have ended up having tons of fat, bones, and intestines still attached, making us work hard just to get a bite of meat. But, probably due to something in the Chinese atmosphere, I continue to order beef. A lot. A few times I have barely touched the beef that I ordered, remembering that I don’t really even like it that much. I think I imagine it will be the Americanized Chinese beef that you get at “China House” restaurants (which sometime it is, but we have learned that the picture you see on the menu will not always represent the actual meal that you receive. It’s a very misleading business). We were even at a store the other day, looking for bar soap, when Jason grabbed a “bar of soap” that I noticed was sitting directly next to food seasoning. To his dismay, I told him that unless he wanted his skin to smell like beef, we probably shouldn’t buy it. And secretly, I wanted to smell like beef…
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