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  • Almer He

Gross Gourmet: What on Earth Don't The Chinese Eat?

Updated: Feb 24

Believe it or not, Most Chinese don’t eat dogs. But pork intestines? Hell yes.



Today you crave Asian food. You walk into a somewhat authentic Chinese restaurant (which means there's no General Tso's chicken or Orange Chicken on the menu) by accident. You open the bilingual menu and are petrified by what you saw and think it must be some mistranslation—


Marinated pig’s feet,

Braised pork tongue,

Griddle pork intestines

Steamed chicken feet,

Pig ear salad

Salt and pepper duck tongue

Steamed fish head with chopped chili,

Sour and spicy chicken giblets,

Sauteed pork kidneys

Century Egg Salad

Stir-fry pork liver with explosive hot dry chili

Chongqing Style Boiled Duck Blood Curd



pig ear salad


Chongqing Style Boiled Duck Blood Curd (Mao Xue Wang)

Of course, you order some Spring rolls, Mongolian beef, tofu, Sauteed green beans with garlic, and put the menu away, disgusted and excited, thinking:


Why do the Chinese eat feet and heads?


And intestines, livers, kidneys, stomachs, hearts, and tails and lungs of pigs, ducks, chickens, cows, and hell knows what else?




 


Steamed Chicken Feet (dim sum)

First, think about the opposite: Why do the American don’t eat offals (animal organs) and extremities? Because they are… gross? Even if the rest of the world, including the Europeans, all have an appetite for them?







sweetbread (calf or lamb thymus) (France)

lampredotto (a sandwich made with tripe and doused in a green sauce) (Florence, Italy)

Here’re the three reasons why Americans don't culturally eat offals:


1. Offals are hard to preserve, much more easily to be infected.

2. Offals take much more technique to cook since they naturally have a more pungent odor.

3. The U.S. never has to eat them.




Century Egg Salad

People in the rest of the world eat organs—one reason, they all have experienced a shortage of resources, famine, epidemic, and war. Over the history, it was unlikely for Europeans and Chinese to ignore animal organs and their culinary values.


The U.S., as a young country built up after the industrial revolution, never had to undergo a time of scarcity. Instead, Americans are more familiar with overproduction, which forces farmers to pour gallons of fresh milk down the drains or into the river.





 


Braised Pork Feet

So if not eating organs is a wealthy country's “symbol,” why should we learn about the poor’s way?


The first answer is: A symbol of wealth? Yes and No.


On one hand, the fact that people never have to eat offals because the muscle meat is affordable to everyone certainly proves the general wealth of a country; on the other hand, fast food symbolizes nothing if not the opposite of wealth.


Why do we suddenly divert to the fast food?


One man’s gourmet is another man’s offals. In Unites States, offals are the compost, while in countries that know how to cook them, like UK (barely though), China, German, Italy, and France, offals aren’t cheap food as they require more delicate techniques and strict preservation condition.


So, the fast-food culture certainly wouldn’t encourage the Americans to sandwich pork kidneys or have a chicken giblets burger, when a turkey sandwich and a beef burger are much easier to make.



Haggis (Lamb stomach stuffed with baked oats and lamb offals) (Scotland)

Black pudding (UK & Ireland & Poland)

The second answer: the taste is fabulous.



Griddle Pork Intestines (Hunan & Szechuan)

Take pork intestines as an example. The smooth muscle of intestines has a variable texture, depending on how you process it. The cooking gist is to make the intestines crispy outside and chewy inside. Besides the nationwide beloved griddle pork intestines, there’s the chewier and crispier Cantonese style pork intestines. This dish takes the thicker part of pork intestines (colons, you could say) as ingredients and goes through a quick deep-fry process to glaze the intestines with a crispy coat.



Duck gizzards with cucumber salad (China)

Another of my favorite, duck gizzards, chunky (depends on how you cut them), chewy, and crisp (depends on how you cook). Chinese likes to pair Marinated duck gizzards or duck gizzards salad (different from the French duck gizzards salad) with the beer. Duck gizzards also widely exist in French cuisine.





Duck Gizzards Salad (France)

 


My answers to The Common Mental Struggles of Americans when facing offals:


1. Intestine? Wasn’t it used to store—you know…?


I hear you. Please choke your imagination for a moment. Our instincts always direct us to think about which part of the animal the meat comes from, but when it comes to food, please trust your taste. Nothing will be funky if the intestines are properly preserved, cleaned, and cooked.


2. What about those fish heads…the dead fish’s eyes are staring at me! And that chicken foot! Like a little human’s hand!


All of your feelings are the same as most Chinese kids when their parents first encourage them to eat fish head (as the Chinese believe that fish brain makes kids smarter). But over time, the more we see, the less fuss we make.




fish head with chopped chili (Hunan, China)

Fish heads reaching out of a Stargazey Pie (Britain)

 


So is there anything most Americans or Europeans love eating while Chinese don’t, and how do they think about it?


Oh, quite a lot. Of course, there’ll be biases and misunderstandings (just as vice versa), but here’s a list for reference:


1. Tap water with ice:

My stomach just cramped at the idea of it. Hot tea, please.

2. Fennel roots:

We eat the leaves.

3. Artichoke:

It just doesn’t look like an eatable plant.

4. Rice pudding:

Hey, who vomit to my plate…

5. Most types of cheese (except for mozzarella, Parmesan, cottage, cream cheese, and cheddar), such as blue cheese:

Aren’t they molded?

6. Canned beans:

It's just...Why? Why eating canned food on a regular basis? (Thought you guys are richer.)

7. Pickled Olive:

Whether green or dark, it tastes like eating nothing

8. Brussel sprouts:

The taste? Bitter. The texture? Like plastic.

9. Turkey:

Poultry that we don’t raise cannot taste too good.

10. Snail:

Isn’t that a slug or gummy? (look juicy and chewy tough) But the idea of eating snails is unacceptable. They seem like unsanitary animals (said you, intestine-eater…).

11. Sweetbread (France):

Give me a thousand reasons why I can’t eat tongues if you eat the thymus.

12. Steak tartare:

No raw meat, please. No horse meat, please. Horses are man's best friend.

13. Rocky mountain oysters (Colorado):

Fine. Some of you eat balls; some of us eat dicks. We're even in this case.




 


A Wrap-up:


This article does not aim at criticizing non-offal-eaters, and it’s certainly not a chant for the delicious animal organs. Any food culture is worthy of study and worthy of respect if it’s cruelty-free. When it comes to these “gross gourmets,” there’s no moral high ground to stand on. Just as offal-eaters won’t condemn those who don’t eat offals for wasting food, not eating offals is not a superiority but merely a habit, a neutral one.

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