Living in China has taught me many things. Always carry a few squares of your own toilet paper, for example. And red traffic lights do not mean stop, they mean…well, pretty much whatever you want them to mean. Except stop, that is. But one thing that has really stood out to me during my brief time here is that Americans do not fully utilize the dizzying array of animal parts available for consumption. Cows, goats, chickens, birds, even cats are walking buffet lines with limitless options. Here in China it seems that there is no animal product or bi-product wasted, nothing deemed unclean and certainly no appendage, organ or sexual apparatus left uneaten. Pigeon scrotum, anyone? An inedible cut of meat here is like a vacant parking space in Manhattan or a tasteful woman’s haircut in the South – you just won’t find it.
We recently had the joy of eating something you probably would never think to eat: chicken kneecaps. That’s right, poultry patella. No, there is no meat content, and, yes, it does taste exactly like you think it would. If someone were to hack up a rubber bouncy ball into tiny pieces and fry them in oil I would probably have trouble telling the two apart. The crunchy texture of the kneecaps might not have been so bad had I not known what it was, but I couldn’t help picturing a poor camouflage-clad chicken, amputated from the knee down, sitting in the gutter and rattling change in a battered tin cup. “A little help?” his sad eyes say. Not so loud, friend, or they’ll come back for your “nuggets.”
A good thing to remember when horse penis or chicken kneecap doesn’t make your mouth water is that fasting is always an option. You may not want to eat anyway after you see the “chef” of your favorite neighborhood restaurant thawing your entrée in the same water in which he is rinsing yesterday’s underwear, a lifeless duck in a grayish soup of tattered briefs and socks.
You may also notice your appetite vanishing after stepping in or getting hit by a wad of phlegm the size of Rhode Island. Granted, Rhode Island isn’t that big for a state, but for a loogie it’s pretty substantial. The mucous missiles quiver like gelatin and are similar in color to watered-down turkey gravy. You may find yourself saying, I don’t want to put in my mouth whatever caused him to eject that from his. You would be lucky on two fronts, however. First, the expeller of the glutinous glob has taken the guess work out of the equation, his vile expulsion still thick with evidence of his most recent meal. Is that goat rectum? Second, it’s not what he ate that generated his sticky sneeze. It’s just the local fresh air, which actually has a higher protein content than chicken kneecaps. Little known fact.
So relax, sit back and enjoy the culinary stylings of a country that has introduced the world to such delicacies as ox spleen soup and yak toenail quiche. Or don’t; your choice. A full day of breathing in China will require more chewing than most meals you’ve eaten in your life. Bon appetit.