“Matt, we have ordered”, my team said as I arrived at the table.
“Great, what are we having?” I replied (I was feeling a little nutrient-depleted having been out for a few drinks the night before, and looking forward to lunch)
“Well we have ordered traditional sweet rice dumplings, a sour spicy beef dish and a healthy dish that is also a bit spicy. We hope you like spicy food”
“Mmm. I love spicy food, that will sort me out. What’s the healthy dish?”
“It’s not the outside meat of a pig”
“It’s not? What is it then?”
As this dish arrived, the team started to use translation apps to describe the food.
“This bit is “Guts”. This bit is “Lung”, this “Stomach”. We think this bit is from in here (pointing somewhere around the lower part of their rib cage). This is some kind of eel. This is pigs blood.”
I was about to politely decline, when a little voice in my head said: “Go on, eat it. At least you can blog about it”
And here we are. And the dish is called Mao Xie Wang
It’s fair to say that other than ‘Spicy pig brains’ this is probably one of the most testing dishes on the menu at this restaurant, primarily because of the ingredients*, but also because it’s madras hot. I love spicy food and find that if you can get over the idea of what you’re eating, it’s not bad at all. Being a Sichuan dish, it has both a burning heat and a kind of sour lingering spice from the sichuan pepper which I love. The offal and eel was all perfectly edible (nice even) and after a while you do forget what it is. The bit I wasn’t so sure about was the blood. It’s that dark brown stuff that looks a lot like liver in the picture above and it had a consistency of soft tofu (or somewhere in between set-yoghurt and feta cheese).
It’s not what i’d call an easy eat. The Chinese people love spicy food because it warms them up on a cool day, and on a hot day it makes them sweat which cools them down. So not only are you having a Guts Vindaloo in the middle of the day- with all of the associated consequences- but you get all sweaty and with the sheer numbers of spices in it (including garlic) your breath smells like a thousand year-old onion.
Would I eat it every day? No. Would I eat it again? Yes. In moderation. And not before a job interview.
*it’s worth remembering that in the UK you will often see challenging food given euphemistic names to make it seem more palatable; “Sweetbreads”, “Tripe”, “Rocky Mountain Oysters”, “Chicken McNuggets”. Here, you will just get the dictionary translation of a thing, so ‘guts’, ‘colon’, ‘uterus’ are not uncommon things to see on a menu.
I’d only ever heard of tripe as an advertised ingredient in dog food. I knew it was basically stomach lining, but other than that I never expected to eat it myself. The above picture is of tripe in perhaps it’s most tripe-like state or appearance.
This dish was cooked in a semi-spicy, sour sauce. Taste-wise, the tripe is really inoffensive. It’s slightly meaty, but not so much as to make you certain it was meat. Consistency-wise it’s slightly chewy and about as tough as a firm mushroom or al dente pasta. It seems to be low fat/high protein, so I imagine (without doing even the most basic of research) that it’s reasonably good for you.
However, there are probably three main things that are difficult about tripe.
First, the name. Tripe, or Stomach lining, is about as unappetising a name as you can get. To me, the word just has ‘dog treat’ written all over it. Although I once read an anecdote that at Mars (who own Pedigree Chum), the employees eat the dog food on occasion because it is more than fit for human consumption, kind of like a meat stew. I’m not sure if that helps build the case for tripe, but it might for some of you.
Secondly, the appearance. Let’s not kid ourselves, no-one is looking at that picture thinking “Mmm! look at that! I’d quite happily tuck into that while i’m watching Coronation Street”. Most people are thinking “Good god, is that food? It looks like something out of that movie ‘The Fly’ where the scientist played by Jeff Goldblum tried to test his teleportation device out on a pig or a rabbit or something but got his maths wrong and ended up turning the pig or rabbit or something inside out. It was horrible. Matt, you could have warned us, I’m trying to watch Coronation Street”
And finally, the mouth-feel – especially in the above form. It’s nowhere near as unpleasant as cold jellyfish, but all those little sticky-out bits do sometimes make it feel like you’re chomping away on one of those chewable toothbrushes you can get in motorway service station toilets (I had the feeling that I was eating food and having some plaque removed at the same time).
So in summary, it’s probably not going to be most peoples’ first choice; though if you’re the sort of person who can cope with the name and appearance, and are already comfortable getting your tootbrush from a vending machine in a toilet; you might want to consider some tripe next time you see it on the menu. It’s, er, ok.