Back in Old Country

"Whether or not you find your own way, you're bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it's quite rusty."

Category: Asides

Delicacies and the Return of Helen from Canada

I took a “Hong Kong Delicacy” food tour, also offered by Alla, though this was a paid tour, not a free one. We sampled a large amount of various foods that Alla said locals eat regularly.

Every culture back in the day basically had their way to “use the whole buffalo” so to speak. Offal, tripe, blood, bone marrow, tongue, eyes, brains, etc… a lot of it used to be the cheap leftover portions from the butcher or fishmonger and the poor would buy up the unwanted cuts and innards, figure out how to best prepare it, and incorporate it into their diet for some necessary protein and nutrients. As certain places become more affluent, the cheap meat falls out of common use in favor of the better cuts, but then in many places chefs bring it back as a “delicacy,” painstakingly prepared, and inflated in price.

This was a mix of all that, in addition to a bit of Chinese medicine. Which, on another note, I think there’s a good chunk of Chinese medicine that was created as a bullshit way to sell odd leftover bits or typically worthless animal parts to suckers, and when people buy into it, the results can be catastrophic for certain species and food webs. But we won’t get into that here.

Here’s the night’s menu:

  • Spicy pig flesh -cooked down to basically collagen, it looks almost like beehive sans honey
  • Congealed pig’s blood – little brackish cubes with a gelatin texture
  • Cow lung – spongy, a pleasant texture and flavor not unlike liver, but subtler
  • Cow stomach – Surprisingly tasty and tender. Little fibrils coming off it almost make it look like a type of seaweed
  • Cow liver – Not uncommon in the U.S. and tastes like liver does
  • Cow intestine – Better than the pig intestine I had in Korea
  • Deep fried stinky tofu – Its cooking is now regulated by the government because the process is so stinky. Spongier than normal tofu, I’ve had it before, but not prepared this way. Some people hate it, but I found the crispy outside, spongy inside, and overall flavor enjoyable. Dip in mustard and hot sauce.
  • Duck tongue – Duck tongue has a bone in it! Otherwise, tastes like duck in a tasty sauce
  • Pig’s ear – Tender boiled flesh slides off a tougher cartilage in the center. Not my favorite
  • Goose – Delicious. Cooked in very old, concentrated broth
  • Fish air bladder – Had one that was kind of tough, but another that was quite good. Typically
  • Century egg – Aged for weeks or months in alkali liquid that cooks the egg without heat. It also turns it black
  • Deep fried frog – Sort of like bonier chicken nuggets
  • Fake shark fin soup – Slimy and dark colored, comprised mostly of mushroom shreddings and glass noodles
  • Doggie soup – No dogs were harmed in the making of this soup. A light colored seafood broth with udon noodles
  • Snake soup – Very similar to fake shark fin soup, only with five types of snake meat added, venomous snakes
  • Snake penis wine – The dried penises of some unlucky male snakes are added during the aging process. Distilled or fortified, it tastes closer to whiskey than wine, and is about 25-30% abv. Supposedly will give men extra nice orgasms
  • Herbal tea – A black herbal tea, I forget the main ingredients. It was a “cool” food to balance the “hot” we had earlier. According to Chinese medicine you need a balance of cool and hot characteristic foods else you’ll be afflicted from some sort of ailment from acne to ulcers
  • Herbal tea & turtle shell gelatin & coconut milk – I felt kind of bad, but the turtles were farmed. Really tasty! The coconut milk was very sweet. The gelatin part was basically the herbal tea from before, but boiled with a turtle shell in it
  • Bird spit – Yes, really bird spit. It comes from a specific type of swallow with a crazy amount of collagen in its spit, which it uses to make nests. The nests are harvested and served as an expensive delicacy, usually for desert. It breaks down into a slippery liquid that feels like it has jello bits in it
  • Frog vagina with pickled plum – Similar texture to bird spit, but larger. The plums weren’t that great, but the rest was. This and the bird spit are supposed to be great for women’s skin

I actually liked it all! The pig ears were perhaps my least favorite, a tender meat, surrounds a tough, cartilage, the combination of which is a little underwhelming. But the rest was all enjoyable to try, and some I’d definitely order more.

But Helen, oh Helen. She had been on my two walking tours, and talked incessantly when I was trying to listen, which got on my nerves. Her comments during the Kowloon tour seemed very ethnocentric and closed-minded, but the annoying thing on this tour is that she commented how happy she was to be trying everything, but these delicacies were just too delicate for her. The joke got old about the 5th time. I think she only enjoyed the goose and one or two other things. She looked pretty miserable. I had also caught a subway with her during a particularly busy time on it. She barged in before others could get off. Inside she told me about how she knew how to ride a subway when it was busy. I held my tongue, because In absolutely loathe people in New York who don’t step aside to let others off. Anyways, good riddance Helen. I shouldn’t be so hard on you because you seem like a perfectly polite Canadian, but man, you got on my nerves.

After the food tour I checked out the Temple Street Night Market. Not a whole lot of interest to see, but if you need some cheap purses, usb cords, other odds and ends or kitchy things, it would be a good place to haggle for it.

Meh-cao

I spent about a day in Macao. I’ll keep it brief: it wasn’t worth it.

Macao is an odd place. Originally a Portuguese colony about an hour ferry ride from Kowloon, it never reached the renown (or economic success) of Hong Kong. These days, and I guess historically, it mostly consists of huge casinos, an old town area, a few beaches, and some more generic districts that look similar to smaller neighborhoods in Hong Kong.

The interesting part of Macao is that the Portuguese influence is strong. Walking down some streets in the old town especially you could swear your were in Lisbon or Porto from the classic looking pastel, Portuguese architecture. Portuguese food is popular, and the population is still likely to speak it (most signs are in Chinese, English, and Portuguese too).

But then, there’s not much else to see. Perhaps it would be a fun vacation if you planned to hit up the beaches, take a leisurely stroll through the lovely old town, and party at some of the opulent casino resorts, but for me, it felt like a wasted day. Oh well, one wasted day in the whole trip isn’t much, but I wish I had spent it in or around Hong Kong instead.