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Chow Fun: Scary Meats
Squirmy, squishy, or stinging, these proteins are what’s for dinner
Photograph by James Wojcik
Americans are well-known wusses when it comes to our food, especially meat. It can’t be semipoisonous or still living. Not so in Asia, where everything from wriggling octopuses to bony duck tongues is looked on as a bar snack. We asked Eddie Lin, extreme eating expert and creator of the blog Deep End Dining, to take us on a local tour of the peculiar proteins he’s obsessed with but that might give the uninitiated the heebie-jeebies.
If you don’t mind coming face-to-face with your food, then eating this delectable discard is akin to gnawing on pork ribs. At Sam Woo B.B.Q., the skin is crispy, the meat as sweet and tender as the pig’s more popular parts. If you’re dining with guests, it’s only good manners to offer them the eyeball. » 6450 Sepulveda Blvd., Ste. G, Van Nuys, 818-988-6813.
For reasons only an ornithologist can explain, a duck’s tongue has a bone. At Macau Street, a plateful of these pointy strips is braised until soft and accompanied by soy sauce. The salty delicacy has the texture of chicken skin. Also on the menu: goose intestines and sautéed frogs. » 429 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, 626-288-3568.
It seems no flesh is off-limits at Phong Dinh. Fox was on the menu for a time, and water snake is a specialty. Superlean, mild-tasting snake meat is paired with strong flavors like black pepper and lemongrass and served with wood ear mushrooms and water chestnuts. » 2643 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead, 626-307-8868.
Spleen, a filter organ, is spongy, mealy, and tastes like liver. When combined with the milky beef broth and mung bean noodles at Hanbat, the visceral flavor is tempered. Spoon in some red chili paste, add a dash of salt, throw in some tongue, tripe, and intestines, and the soup will satisfy any noodle fan. » 4163 W. 5th St., Koreatown, 213-383-9499.
The “egg with legs,” as some enthusiasts call this Filipino snack, is a hard-boiled fertilized duck egg that’s been gestating for approximately 17 days. Some prefer this delicacy almost fully formed—feathers and all. If you enjoy a rich egg with a hint of duck liver, then check out the one at Manila Good-Ha!!! Just beware the duck’s bill. » 8340 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City, 818-895-5030.
Jellyfish hasn’t a bone in its body, which lends it the consistency of a wet noodle. The spicy jellyfish appetizer at Macau Street could easily be mistaken for a dish of chilled cellophane noodles. The sea creature’s meat is also slightly crunchy, reminiscent of daikon. Animal, vegetable, mineral—what difference does it make? It’s delicious. » 429 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, 626-288-3568.
There’s a theory that claims we unwittingly swallow two pounds of bugs every year. If that’s the case, at least ingest your insects in a posh pan-Asian restaurant overlooking the Santa Monica Airport. On the menu at Typhoon are ants, sea worms, water bugs, crickets, and scorpions. The sting is taken out of the scorpion when it’s fried and paired with shrimp toast. Plump water bugs taste just like chicken—because here they’re stuffed with it. Wash down all these critters with a margarita in a frosty glass with an ant-coated rim. » 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Santa Monica, 310-390-6565.
These marsupials are far from freaky, but I have a hard time digging into any creature that stands on two legs and is so often described as cute and cuddly. While it’s more Australian than Asian, when flambéed tableside at Phong Dinh, kangaroo meat has the sweet-spicy flavor of a Vietnamese stir-fry. Hop on this one quick. » 2643 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead, 626-307-8868.
Conventional wisdom, experience, and the health department all say that one should only eat chicken that’s thoroughly cooked. But rules are made to be broken. When you order the toriwasa, or rare chicken breast, at Torimatsu, it comes with wasabi soy sauce and a warning from your server about the risk of salmonella poisoning. The texture is moist and delicate, but how does it taste? Not like chicken at all—more like raw tuna. » 1425 W. Artesia Blvd., Ste. 28, Gardena, 310-538-5764.
For really good penis, you have to go to Pho Nguyen Hue. There you can find a dish called pho ngau pin xe lua. The name translates to “noodle soup cow testicles train,” and it delivers what it promises and more. The “more” is the meat from a cow penis, which is rubbery like a tendon and comes drifting in a savory beef bone broth. The menu also boasts plenty of phallus-free pho. » 10487 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, 714-839-8916.
Sannakji, or tentacles freshly cut from a live octopus, is the stuff of epicurean legend. At Hwal A Kwang Jang, the rubbery, mucilaginous tentacles—still writhing, their suction cups still working—have the distinct flavor of both the ocean and anger. Dip them in one of the attendant sauces, however, and their mood turns sweet—or garlicky or spicy. » 730 S. Western Ave., Ste. 101, Koreatown, 213-386-6688.
Expert Advice: Keep Bacteria at Bay
“If you buy salmon from the grocery store, never eat it completely raw. Soak it in water for one hour, then wash it in vinegar and freeze it overnight. Raw salmon that has not been treated carries bacteria that can cause food-borne illness.”
— Katsuya Uechi, executive chef, Katsuya