Raw horse mane sushi

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As if eating raw horse sushi wasn’t strange enough, the plate of sushi I grabbed from the conveyor belt of a sushi restaurant in Kyoto also presented me with a raw horse mane nigiri. Raw horse mane? What does that even mean? I thought the mane of a horse was the hair growing on its neck, so I reckon this might be the meat from the next.

It turned out to be pretty much a big slice of fat. It was slightly yellow like chicken fat can be. The texture was somewhere between soft and chewy. I was not blown away. I have eaten fat in other places where it was rendered down, and tasted pretty nice, but this was just one horrible bite of fat. I managed to eat it though, but it’s truly a thing of nightmares.

Fear Factor – 9 / Taste Test – 2

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Salted beef tongue skewers

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I had tried ox tongue before at a Korean restaurant, where the tongue was very thinly sliced and then grilled on a barbecue. I had wanted to try again to see if I would also enjoy a bigger piece of tongue. On a visit to Japan I finally got my wish. After a long train journey from Tokyo to Osaka, I sat down at the counter of a yakitori grill restaurant and found an exciting array of chicken and other meats on the menu.

Among the options was a so-called salted beef tongue. When my platter of skewers arrived, one of them contained big chunks of tongue, covered in sliced spring onions. Funnily enough this time I had a completely different experience. I didn’t find the taste to be all that profound. I mean, it tasted of beef, but not as concentrated as I had had before. The texture, on the other hand, was much more exciting this time. There was something to chew on, without being chewy. Not like steak at al, but closer to the texture of a chicken breast. After two tries I can definitely conclude that tongue is a pretty tasty part of a cow.

Fear Factor 1 / Taste Test – 7

Duck blood soup

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Having eaten blood sausage before, I’m not afraid of any dish that contains blood. On a recent trip to Shanghai I took my friends for breakfast to one of the best soup dumpling restaurants in the country. On the menu was also a duck blood soup for a less than a dollar. That was a financial risk I was willing to take.

I had imagined to be confronted with a blood red soup, but instead I was served a clear broth with chunks of blood cake in it much like the pig’s blood cake I had tried earlier. At that time I had not liked the texture of that, so I was starting to grow weary. The broth itself was wonderful though, with a strong dosage of ginger. Hey, at least I could drink the broth. It turns out that the duck’s blood cake wasn’t that bad either. Sure, it had a texture like jello, but not the overset jello texture I got from the pig’s blood. This was very much doable, if not even a little tasty.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 8

Veal sweetbreads

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Sweet breads are one of those things that chefs always rave about, yet I had never tried. I knew they were some kind of gland and often fried, but that was as far as my knowledge took me. Then last summer I went to visit my family in Holland and took them to a local restaurant called Sjuuteaendj which was voted the most organic restaurant in The Netherlands. As a main course I went for the slow cooked veal, which was served with – you guessed it – sweetbreads.

It turns out sweet breads are a kind of gland that is only found in young animals, which is why I’ve only seen veal sweetbreads served. At this restaurant they were also cooked first and then fried until crispy. This is done to increase the textural experience, as it is very soft if only boiled. I didn’t get a very strong taste of it, but I still thought the texture was a bit mushy and strange. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t exactly like it either. I hope my sister enjoyed the second one I gave to her.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 5

Chicken liver crostinis

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I’ve always loved pate. When I go back to Holland for a visit that’s one of the things I bring back to China with me. That and cheese, of course. This summer I also visited the beautiful city of Florence and we went to the Mercato Centrale for lunch. This is a huge indoor market with a food market on the ground floor and restaurants and food stalls on the first floor.

At restaurant Nerbone I ordered a couple of crostinis with chicken liver as an appetizer. It’s not exactly pate, as it’s much coarser, but it’s not a big hunk of cooked liver either. The livers are cooked and then chopped to a rough paste with some alcohol. It’s one of the traditional dishes local to the city. I found it resembled pate in flavor with an added acidity that I thought was lemon juice. The texture was much wetter than pate, but not unpleasant at all.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 8

Fried goose liver

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I’ve eaten plenty of pâté in my life, but I had never actually eaten any unprocessed liver. That is if you don’t count foie gras, which is highly fattened. Normal liver always is much redder in color. I’d seen it cooked on TV where the chef would leave it slightly pink in the middle. At a traditional Polish restaurant in Warsaw called Polska, I ordered some goose liver.

The small livers came in a pan with apples and a very sweet, sticky sauce. The liver wasn’t pink at all. In fact it was so well cooked through it had almost turned gray. I don’t think liver is normally cooked like that, but I honestly didn’t mind. At least this way there was none of that peculiar texture one associates with organ meat.

I’m not going to lie and say I loved it, but I didn’t mind it either. It was better than expected. The texture was like a fine meat loaf, and the flavor was, surprise, slightly coppery due to the blood pumping through the livers. The combination with the apples worked well, but I did feel the sauce was too sweet for my taste. Perhaps a more traditional side of onions would have been more appropriate.

Fear Factor – 6 / Taste Test – 6

Veal brain

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At Ed Red in Krakow, where I had the bull’s testicle, I also tried some veal brains that my friend was eating. I had tried brains before in China, and really didn’t like it then, but you always have to give things a second chance, so in I went.

The brain wasn’t served whole as a piece, but mixed with herbs on a piece of bread. In looks and in texture it really resembled scrambled eggs. It was really creamy, but thick at the same time. The last time I had brains I didn’t like that texture, but as this one was mixed it was just like eating any porridge or scrambled eggs. The taste was a lot better too with the added herbs and spices instead of just eating it plain. If you hadn’t known it was brains, you would have eaten it with no problem

Fear Factor – 9 / Taste Test – 7

Goose gizzards

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Up until I started this blog I never really knew what gizzards were. I’d seen them in the supermarket and I could tell it was some kind of organ. It looked like hearts to me, but I still didn’t know what gizzards were. According to the wisdom that is the Internet, gizzards are internal organs that help break down food for animals that can’t chew very well. Most of those animals are birds, though some fish and crocodiles have them too.

During my trip to Krakow, I visited Zazie Bistro, a French restaurant holding a Bib Gourmand by Michelin. They offer a ridiculously cheap three course menu for lunch. One of the option for main was a potato gratin with goose gizzards. The gratin was slathered with tomato sauce and cheese, and reminded me of a lasagna in taste.

Among the components were also a handful of the gizzards. They were totally different from what I expected. In my mind organ meat is either chewy or soft, but these goose gizzards were very meaty. You could pull apart each strand of meat, much like cheeks, except this is much denser and not as soft. The taste was also quite meaty. It was hard to believe this was poultry and not beef.

Fear Factor – 7 – Taste Test – 8

Stewed ox tail

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I remember eating ox tail soup as a kid on special occasions such as Christmas dinner, and I always loved it. To this day it’s one of my favorite soups. You can imagine that when I went to Rome recently and I found a classical Roman dish of stewed ox tail I was quite excited. The only thing holding me back was that it was served on the bone, and I’ve never been good at picking meat of bones.

The dish arrived with four big chunks of ox tail covered in a tomato sauce – anything “alla Romana” usually had tomato sauce. Like I was afraid of, the meat was difficult to get off the bones. It had been cooked till very tender, but it wasn’t exactly falling of the bone either, so you really had to pry at it. The meat that I did manage to get off was just like I remember from the soups, mild in flavor and super tender. Just a shame I couldn’t get much meat off of it.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Polish blood sausage

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As part of an appetizer platter at Starka restaurant in Krakow, we were offered some kaszanka, Polish blood sausage. Kaszanka is made my mixing blood with buckwheat, a staple in Poland, and uses marjoram as a spice. In this case it wasn’t technically a sausage as it didn’t come in a skin, but was served warm in a small bowl.

I scooped up some of the stuffing and spread it on some dark rye bread. The blood sausage was perfectly palatable. It didn’t have a big coppery taste and the rye gave it some added texture. Every once and a while I would get a hint of copper, but overall it was quite ok. I do think they could have used some more spices to give the dish a bit of a kick, as I found it a bit bland.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 6