Long before Anthony Bourdain quit making reservations, I was scouring the earth in search of exotic local delicacies (read: gross food). Along the way I have made some great finds, like Cuy (roasted guinea pig) in Peru and minced pigeon pie in Marrakech. Once I even stopped in a remote village in North Africa and dined on a tasty, but mysterious, pile of processed meat stuff that I have yet to identify.
Why do I do it? Simple: for the bragging rights. Yes, I am very proud of my gastronomic travels and the fact that I’ve eaten things that would land me a nice paycheck on Fear Factor. And, I thought I had seen, or eaten, it all. But after just a few days in China I realize that I was wrong, very wrong. Forget Mr. Chopstick’s Super Jumbo Buffet, I’m talking hardcore Chinese cuisine here. If you have a weak stomach, are sensitive to the plight of endangered species, or are emotionally attached to your pet, this is probably a good place to stop reading.
The Chinese, particularly the Cantonese, are known for eating anything and everything, from dog meat to monkey brain. The markets are filled with throngs of UFO’s (unidentifiable food objects), that range in status from living, recently killed, and dead for a long time. And they do not waste anything, as evidenced by the pig snouts and various entrails hanging on display in markets and restaurants. During my first couple of days here I tried a few of these Canton delights. Most notable were poached shark fin and steamed chicken feet. The chicken feet in particular were delicious, but I must admit that they freaked me out and I could only manage to choke down one toe.
After several consecutive Cantonese meals I was happy to find a Japanese restaurant and stopped in for sushi. I browsed the seemingly normal menu and ran across “Live Shrimp Sushi.” Bingo! Just what I was looking for. I could hardly contain myself as I marked one order on the menu. This dish would certainly make my day.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the words “Horse Flesh Sashimi” jumped off the page. I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to call the waiter to the table to confirm this was actually equestrian sushi. After he assured me that the meat was 100% prime horse, I hastily marked the menu and placed my order.
The waiter first served the shrimp, which, contrary to the menu description, was not alive. I was so disappointed. I later learned that this was a simple matter of poor translation and “live” on the menu actually meant raw. On the upside, the raw shrimp was quite tasty.
However, my disappointment was short-lived as the waiter soon delivered a platter of beautifully marbled raw horse meat, complete with its own special dipping sauce. I grabbed a piece of the meat with my chopsticks, dipped it in the sauce and ate it. To my surprise, the curiosity of eating horse was contagious and my travel mates, my wife and a friend, both joined in the feast. We finished the rather large dish and then discussed our thoughts on the flavor, texture, etc. My friend explained it best when he said, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
What a great trip and fantastic food. Best of all, my wife and friend have enthusiastically gone along with every restaurant I’ve chosen. Just last night they were ecstatic when I suggested Italian.