You came to China for the food?
Yeah, I really love Chinese food, it’s amazing.
Honestly, I can’t get enough of it. I want to try everything.
As a Westerner, I am conditioned to trying and enjoying so many of the world’s cuisines. In Dublin I can walk down a street and pass by restaurants specialising in Irish food, in American food, in Mexican food, in Italian food, in Chinese food.
I like my food, and I have had my fill of each of these famed foody country’s delightful dishes. So for that reason alone I looked forward to landing in China and to eating my fill of Sichuan chicken and sweet and sour pork.
My first meal was in a small Xinjiang restaurant hidden carefully between a bank and a photography shop outside of my apartment complex. I got mutton soup. Never before had mutton tasted so good, nor mushrooms, or tomatoes or cabbage. Every bite and every slurp of that first meal saturated my taste buds with the kind of taste that I had not known until then.
That was the first day of my elongated two week fascination with Chinese food.
It did not take long for me, however, to find myself perched on a stool in McDonald’s engorging myself on the saturated fat that oozed sensuously from a Double Cheeseburger.
Recently my Vietnamese friend came to China for a short holiday. I met her on her fourth or fifth day in the country and I immediately had to ask her what she thought about the food. She is much more of a foody than I am. She once proselytised to me about the benefits of eating dog meat in winter.
She told me about how she enjoyed the food so much the first few days, about how everything tasted so wonderful that she too could not get enough. Then, on the fourth day, she found that she had a stomach ache, that she felt nauseous, that she couldn’t bring herself to eat any more of the greasy Chinese food that she had taken in over the previous few days.
I told her I wasn’t surprised and went on to rant about China’s terrible food industry.
Maybe it was a problem of mass. The amount of grease in each dish was too much, or maybe it was the fact that these dishes were cooked with gutter oil, recycled oil used illicitly and mainly by street food vendors.
In any case, her verdict only went to prove my own thoughts about Chinese food.
I have started to cook at home these days. The thing about living in China is that you can quite easily afford to eat outside every night if you want to. The cost of a meal can be as low as ten yuan, or about 1.50 in euros. The real cost, however, is the progressive weakening of your muscles, or your immune system.
Outrageous stories about the food and beverage industry often surface in the Chinese media. Videos showing factory workers refilling empty water bottles with tap water, or cans of Budweiser being replaced with local Chinese Beer are the tip of the iceberg, but usually best ignored.
However, when you hear how one man’s blood plasma was 25 times thicker than the normal level, and had come to resemble milk, even the most media weary of us can grow concerned about what is and what is not entering our bodies.
Despite all that, China does offer Wai Guo Ren the opportunity to try, on any day you please, some new and, quite frankly, horrifying dishes.
Everyone knows about Durian, the smelliest fruit on Earth, which tastes like onion, and dissolves in the mouth like congealed yoghurt.
How about Smelly Tofu, the stench of which circulates around busy streets for fathoms and fathoms.
Well, just yesterday, in one of those moods, the mood to try something a little bit different, I went searching for one particular food which had struck me upside the head the first time I was told about it.
Yes, Pig Dick.
Once more, in case you missed it, Pig Dick.
Sorry, I am still trying to fully grasp what it means to eat and to cook pig dick on the regular.
My girlfriend is Chinese. That being said, she has eaten snake, and crocodile, and dog and cat, and pig dick, of course. She swears off most of these things now. In fact, her one previous foray into the pig dick food industry came by mistake. She was fooled into eating it by a friend, the poor girl. However, that does not explain why she spent her childhood eating dog meat. But that is for another post.
We walked to our local barbeque. We perused the plates of meat which stood beside the filthy grills and tried our best to guess which piece of work was pig dick. She found it first and couldn’t suppress a small giggle.
I went to order two pieces, but she didn’t seem keen. Her previous encounter with this piece of flacid flesh had left her with some dark memories, I guess. It took some talking, and some beer, and an eggplant, to convince her to join me in my disgusting meal.
I will be as objective as I can be in my description of what it was like to eat pig dick.
When it comes to BBQ’s, the major difference between meats tends to be a difference in texture. The taste of chicken, or of mutton, or of pig dick, never seems to survive the flaming grill, and the strength of the cumin spice, added in the cooking process. Saying that, what I took away from my experience with Pig Dick was just how tough and difficult to swallow the flesh proved to be.
It is funny, actually. Neither of us wanted to spend much time pondering the flavour, nor did we want to give ourselves to the eating of the meat so very much. We were tourists, only hoping for a quick, exhilarating feast and a good story to go with it.
That’s the beauty of pig dick, I suppose. You are forced to give yourself to the process. There is no half arsed chewing when it comes to pig dick. You dig in, you prepare yourself for a long haul, and you put to the back of your mind any idea of reminding yourself that you are eating pig dick.
I got halfway down the skewer, halfway through my pig dick, and I was having no problems. From the other side of the table, however, my girlfriend was spluttering and groaning about the thing. We were in the middle of a race you see. Part of her agreement to eat the pig dick was that I would give her 50 yuan if she finished eating faster than me.
I made the mistake of being too showy while eating. I showed her how easy I could bite the dick, chew it, mix it around in my mouth to absorb the flavour and then swallow it. She caught sight of it, and I guess she wanted to punish me.
Let me tell you this. There is no beating a Chinese person when it comes to eating, especially when it comes to eating pig dick. She had me within five seconds. While I was choking on the last piece of hard, chewy pig dick, she was sitting back in her chair, relishing her victory and gesturing her hand towards me, waiting for her fifty kuai.
And so there you go. Another lesson in China. Don’t go looking for pig dick when you are with your girlfriend, only bad things can happen.