White chocolate with bacon

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I’ve written before about the uprising of savory sweets such as salty caramel. One of the most popular of those is candied bacon. There’s something about the combination of sugar and salt that simply works. The first time I tried a bacon dessert was at a small tapas bar in Bali, Indonesia. After a great meal of Asian fusion tapas I ordered a white chocolate pudding with bacon that tickled my interest.

The pudding turned out to be a smooth and creamy ganache that tasted beautifully sweet. It was topped with small cubes of bacon that I assumed would be crispy and crunchy. Unfortunately the bacon was neither crispy nor crunchy but chewy. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the taste that I didn’t like, but the texture. I’m sure if the bacon had been crisped up I would have enjoyed the dish a lot more.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 5

Braised pork cheek

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The thought of eating pork cheek had never occurred to me until recent years when so-called nose-to-tail dining became a recurring feature in restaurants and cooking shows alike. Two years ago, long before the existence of my blog, I had booked a table for two at Alain Ducasse’s “Aux Lyonnaise” restaurant in Paris.

The very affordable set lunch menu featured braised pork leeks in mustard with mashed potatoes which I was dying to try out. The mash was beautifully smooth, more butter than potatoes, but the pork stole the show. The cheeks were so incredibly soft that you could eat them with a spoon. The flavor was equally amazing. Rich, juicy pork that tasted so much more of pork than most cutlets or tenderloins I had eaten before.

If you like pulled pork, you will love pork chees. They are even juicier and more flavorful than American pulled pork. This might just have been my favorite ever pork dish.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 10

Chinese black chicken

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There are various breeds of black chickens in Asia. These chickens have black skin and meat. Some of them are completely black, whereas the Chinese “silkies” have white feathers. In China black chicken meat has been eaten since the 7th century for its medicinal properties. It’s still eaten today, mostly as a soup.

I’ve always been curious about this “other dark meat”, and when I found it in a restaurant with my favorite food, truffle, I couldn’t resist ordering a bowl. Unfortunately there was no apparent taste of truffle, but the black chicken was definitely there. The chicken looked a little strange with its black meat, but it tasted no different than any ordinary chicken. It was good chicken though, juicy and falling of the bone.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7

Stir-fried yak

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Yaks are an important source of food for the Tibetans, as it can live at high altitude. We don’t normally see yaks in Europe or Asia, but in the Tibetan region they are quite common. A yak is a bovine, so it more or less a different breed of cow. Sure, it’s hairy and it has big horns, but I was expecting its meat to taste much the same as beef.

On a recent trip to Xiahe, a Tibetan town, I found myself having to choose how I would like my yak cooked. I opted against a steak, as I haven’t had many good experiences with steaks in China. Instead I went for the sizzling platter. Pieces of stir-fried yak came together with onions and peppers on a cast iron plate mixed with some chili and spices.

The yak meat did indeed taste almost exactly like beef. I just had the idea it tasted even beefier than regular beef. Though it could have just been because it was locally bred on the grasslands and not stuck in a cage somewhere.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 9

Pork floss donut

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Savory sweets are a trend in the culinary world. Miso caramel, beetroot brownies, avocado chocolate mousse. Here in China, however, it’s not a trend, it’s a way of cooking that has been going on for ages. Most Chinese don’t like sweet dishes very much, and desserts are not commonly eaten in traditional cooking. But of course Chinese people are interested in what the west is doing, and are taking their food and adapting it.

One of those adaptions is pork floss donut. That’s right, a donut topped with pork. Pork floss is made by slowly cooking pork, shredding it and frying the shreds into chewy strands of porky goodness. It’s in texture similar to a beef jerky.

I was surprised to find it sprinkled over donuts, but then again what is a donut really. In fact it’s nothing more than a vessel for flavors just like rice and potatoes. It’s only sweet when you add sugar to it. This donut with pork floss did not have sugar added to it, and was in essence bread with pork. You wouldn’t say no to a ham sandwich would you?

The contrast in textures was a bit unusual with the silky soft donut and the chewy strands of porky goodness, and yes the taste was not something I am used to. In saying that, it was a nice eat. Not delicious, but I’d eat another if only I had bought more.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 7

Ox tongue

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Some of the best beef I’ve had has been in South Korea where it gets cooked right in front of you on a table grill. In China I sometimes go to a Korean barbeque restaurant to try and mimic that experience. I’ve tried it with different cuts of beef and pork before, but this time I decided to try out some ox tongue, having never eaten tongue before.

The tongue came out very thinly sliced, but you could definitely tell it was tongue due to the marbling of the meat. Because the slices were so thin, the meat cooked in a matter of seconds. When I tried a piece on its own I thought I was eating a beef steak. Not just any steak, but one in which the flavor was so compressed you’d think you were eating over reduced gravy.

I mean that in the best possible way as it was packed full of beefy flavor. Later I tried to mix it with some onion – which was good -, some spicy sauce – which was overpowering, and some mushroom – which was amazing. Now I know that tongue tastes good, I’ll have to try a thicker slice next time I come across it.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 8

Roasted pigeon

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It’s a cliché about many animals that they taste “just like chicken”, but it’s a cliché that rings true when it comes to pigeon. At least the pigeon that I had. At a recent food festival I found one street vendor roasting pigeons on a spit. Having never tried pigeon before, this was my chance to have a go.

The meat was nice and tender, and even a little sweet, though hard to get to on such a small animal with numerous tiny bones. The legs had the most meat on them, and once I dug in I was rewarded with parcels of juicy meat. The only let down here was that the skin wasn’t exactly crispy. Let’s face it no one really likes limp skin.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Pig’s head croquette

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Some of you might remember I wrote about a Hong Kong restaurant dedicated to whole hog dining in Hong Kong called The Fat Pig. The crispy fried pig’s ears there were a bit of a letdown, but there are other parts to a pig to try.

Another dish I tried was the pig’s head croquette. I’d eaten cheeks before, which I found to be perhaps the best part of the pig, and I do like croquettes, so I had big expectations for this dish. Luckily this time I was not disappointed.

The meat in the croquette was super tender and almost sticky. It was perhaps about 90 percent meat and only 10 percent ragout. The taste had a great umami taste and was very rich. The richness was cut through with a gorgeous salsa verde packed with lemon. It was a perfect accompaniment for the croquette.

Fear Factor 2 / Taste Test – 9

Fried pig’s ears

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There are lots of parts on a pig that we never really eat in Holland. My grandparents would maybe cook some liver or put a trotter in their soup, but these days that’s a long forgotten business. Lately some chefs have taken to so-called nose-to-tail dining, where no animal parts are left unused.

Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens opened a restaurant in Hong Kong called That Fat Pig dedicated to, you guess it, the humble pig. One of their bar snacks is a crispy fried pig’s ear that comes with a relish. Ears are mostly made up of cartilage, so they can be a bit chewy. There was definitely some chewiness to these crunchy strips, but they were soft enough to bite through.

Taste wise though, there was no prevalent taste of any kind. It was neither meaty no salty, and the relish didn’t hold mustard either. Literally. I mean a bit of mustard would have been most welcome.

Fear Factor – 6 / Taste Test – 6

Goat curry

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During my trip to Sri Lanka I wanted to try some local food, which in Sri Lanka often means rice and curry. I found a restaurant called “Kaema Sutra” by one of the best chefs in Sri Lanka, Dharshan Munidasa, whose two other restaurants rank among the 50 best in Asia.

On the menu were several curries that featured ingredients that I’m not used to having in curries back home. My travel companion and I decided on a fish curry and the goat curry. In Holland we never really eat goat, unless perhaps at some more ethnic restaurant. I’d always heard that goat can be very dry if cooked incorrectly, but I trusted the hands of the chef.

It turned out to be a great choice. The meat was mostly very tender, though a few pieces were still quite chewy. The curry itself was very fragrant and very spicy. The meat was served in one dish, with the bones served in another.

With the bones came some straws that could be used to suck out the marrow. That made for another thing I had never done before, and I’d wanted to do since seeing Anthony Bourdain doing just that in Singapore. The marrow was fatty and flavorful, as marrow should be, and it actually gave my taste buds a moment of relief from the spicy curry.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 8