Steve's Weird Food for China: Woof.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Well, I guess it had to happen. I mean China sets the Weird Food bar very high. Very high indeed. The squeamish should probably stop reading right now.

As has become my habit on these organized tours, I consulted with Huang early on about what kind of weird food he’d recommend I sample while on his home turf. When he asked if I wanted to try dog, I had to say yes. Shortly thereafter I had a short email exchange on the subject with my friend Karen. It went like this:

  • Me: As for the weird food... I've had a chat with Huang already, and we have a plan. I don't think you're going to like it...
  • Karen: Just no cats...please no animals that are house pets. Monkey brains are fine.
  • Me: Look, all animals are pets somewhere, and all pets are food somewhere...
  • Karen: Ok you have a point.

And that’s how I found myself with Huang and Tony (the only other one in the group interested in such a culinary adventure) heading into the “local” area of Yangshuo, away from the strip of tourist-oriented Western style restaurants with menus full of hamburgers and pizza and American breakfast. We were seeking a place recommended by a friend of Huang’s who lives in town, and who knew, I guess, where the good dog was too be had. (How odd to hear the phrase, “good dog”, with that meaning.)

We found it, and settled in with the menu. Of course the first thing we ordered was the Dog Hotpot.

Here’s Huang’s finger, pointing out the Gou Rou Huo Guo on the menu

We also ordered the local specialty, Beer Fish, which is, of course, a fish cooked in beer. How can that be bad? And we had stuffed mushrooms, and a plate of greens, and a complimentary dish of spicy pickled vegetables. It was a LOT of food. Especially because there were only four of us, and because the hotpot and the fish were both exceptionally generous portions.

Soon enough the hotpot arrived and looked fairly innocuous, as long as you didn’t look too closely. From a short distance it was simply a tasty-looking pile of cooked meat with big cloves of garlic and other flavouring, sizzling away. It was only on closer examination that you could make out the bones that were, in fact, foot bones, with a thin slice of the footpad and a bit of toenail still in evidence. I did not partake of those bits, despite Huang’s insistence that they were “the best part”. He says that about fish heads too, so clearly he can’t be trusted in these matters.

Here it is, the lower left hand corner shows one of the toe bones in question.

In the end it turned out like some of the other Weird Food experiments – the kokoreƧ in Turkey, for example. When it’s unrecognizable and well-seasoned, dog is much like any other meat. It most resembled beef in flavour, though the texture was more chewy and sinewy than I’d prefer. Still, the well-cooked bits were pleasant enough, and I ate my share.

Nevermind that there’s some kind of alien light source growing out of my head in this picture. It’s the only one I’ve got, and Huang did his best.

Did I struggle with the decision to eat dog? Not as much as I expected to. This might seem surprising - many of you read about my dog Mr. Henry, and the awful time I had saying goodbye to him last January. I’ve had several dogs in my life and would certainly say I’m a dog lover. But in this case I didn’t find it hard at all. For one thing, I did not know this dog personally. It’s not like they had a lobster-tank-like kennel at the front of the restaurant where passersby would wander up and say things like, “I’m in the mood for spaniel tonight. Or perhaps a Pekinese. What have you got that’s frisky?”

People keep rabbits as pets, but we still eat rabbits. Pigs are remarkably intelligent and social animals, and we eat them all the time. Many people speak highly of goats. Cows,horses, guinea pigs, birds, fish… it’s like I said to Karen in my email – all animals are pets somewhere and all pets are food somewhere. It’s a lot about context. Then again, I did not go to the local market to see the skinned dogs hanging up for sale, which I admit was a bit cowardly. (In my defense – there really was not time in the schedule for the market outing before dinner. If I’d had the chance I would have gone). I wouldn’t dream of eating dog in North America, but here it’s an accepted and reasonable thing. Perhaps even a delicacy. Context.

Finally I have to share my favourite comment of the night, which came from Huang. Naturally we were discussing the business of eating dog and he said, “Cantonese eat everything with four legs except the table and chairs.” Fair enough.

Bonus Chinglish sign for today, another one from the Golden Summit at Emei Shan, which was an absolute treasure trove for this stuff:


Amanda said...

The consensus in the room is "eeeww". Let's talk about sex or something! Have a good day!

Lisa said...

Atta girl!!!


Steve said...

Cheers!! Excellent job, I'm so proud... :)

Unknown said...

With a little bit of Tabasco...?


Happy Trails...

Looking forward to the next chapter...


Colleen said...

Pam: reminds me of an old "Far Side" cartoon of a mother hen bringing her sick chick a bowl of soup and saying "Go ahead -- eat it. It's good for you and, besides, it's nobody we know!" Have fun in Hong Kong! hugs,

FLF said...

Let culinary and material consumerism rule in Hong Kong... enjoy!!!!

cinc said...

not the puppies! ha!

I will admit I was a bit grossed out about the nail part though!

the clinglish signs are by far, THE BEST.

thinking of ya Pam!

Unknown said...

I thought Robert wrote, Happy Tails... not trails.
I might find it a bit hard to swallow, don't know if I could do it, but probably would.
Way to make Steve proud.

Karen said...

Happy tails.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

Marg - so funny.

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