Blood sausage

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As a boy I never would have chosen blood sausage. I was happy just eating burgers and hot dogs. Now that I’m a bit older – OK, a lot older – I’m also a bit more open to trying new things. At Ron Gastrobar in Amsterdam, the Michelin starred restaurant where I tried foie gras before, there was also a dish f cauliflower, blood sausage and cheese.

I found the dish to be outstanding. All the elements really complimented each other. On its own however, I felt the blood sausage a bit bland and nondescript. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, I just expected a stronger flavor. I will have to try some blood sausage again on its own. I will let you know how I get one.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 7

Foie gras

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Foie gras is a fattened liver of a goose or duck that is a famous French delicacy. There are many countries were producing of foie gras is illegal because the birds are force fed in order to fatten up their livers. Besides France other big producers of foie gras include China and Canada.

The livers are traditionally pan-fried whole, though they can also be made into a mousse or pate. I’ve always loved pate, so the first time I tried foie gras was in a bistro in Paris where they served foie gras pate on toast. It was beautifully smooth, buttery with just a hint of iron that one associates with liver.

Last summer I visited a Michelin starred restaurant in Amsterdam called “Ron Gastrobar”. One of the dishes I ordered was pan fried foie gras served with raisins and almond. Foie gras is often paired with a sweet counterpart, and I found the raisins were in absolute harmony with the liver. I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor of the liver, but I was a little put off by the texture which was both soft and firm like silken tofu.

Fear Factor – 3 / 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

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

Barbecued chicken hearts

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I’d tried chicken hearts once before at a Brazilian barbecue where the waiters come by with all kinds of meats. At that time the heart was very tough and chewy, and so I was not looking forward to trying it again. At a recent barbecue with friends, someone had brought some chicken hearts, and I could hardly refuse.

To my great surprise these chicken nuggets of sorts were super tender and soft in a way that you would normally associate with uncooked meat such as tartar. The biggest reason why I don’t enjoy eating offal so much is due to texture. Often times it’s rubbery or fatty, but these chicken hearts were just fine.

The taste was pretty nondescript, much like chicken meat tends to be. Most of the flavor came from the marinade of chili powder, salt and cumin. The hearts themselves didn’t have an overpowering taste. If it’s served like this all the time, I’m sure I would eat hearts more often.

Fear Factor – 8 / Taste Test – 7

Spicy beef tripe

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Although I will always try everything – how else can you know if you like it or not – I was definitely not looking forward to trying tripe. The good thing about going out to China is that you always order a few dishes to share among your friends, so I knew that if I didn’t like the tripe, I could always eat the rest of the dishes.

The aroma that came off the tripe wasn’t making my appetite any bigger. It was so musty it kind of reminded me of a wet dog after the rain. I almost chickened out, but I have to live by my rule of trying everything.

My first bite was expectantly pleasant. It was nice and spicy and little sour. The texture was a little chewy, but it wasn’t leathery at all. I even went back for seconds and thirds. After a few bites though, I came across a few pieces that tasted how it smelled, and I decided to switch to my sweet and sour pork dish.

All in all it was not a bad experience, and I do think I will try it again in another country where it’s cooked in a different way.

Fear Factor – 9 / Taste Test 7

Pig’s blood cake

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In almost every country in the world you will find some dishes that are made of blood. In my own country I’ve eaten blood sausage before, so I was not too afraid of this dish. However, on closer look I did get a bit squeamish.

Here in China you can go to a restaurant where you pick your own ingredients, and hand them over at the counter where the chefs will turn them into a dish for you. This is known as “malatang”, or spicy soup. I had done this many times before, always going for the plentiful vegetables and safer meat options, but I’d never ventured out into the unknown.

One thing that always struck me as odd was this brownish tofu-like cake, which on further inspection turned out to be made of pig’s blood. I thought it would have been cooked with spices to make it more interesting, but my friend assures me it’s simply congealed blood.

It would be safe to try one piece, as I still had my vegetables to fill my stomach in case I didn’t like the blood cake. Well, I sure was glad that I picked some other ingredients. On my first bite I was confronted with such a strange texture. It wasn’t exactly soft, yet it wasn’t exactly hard. The closest thing I could describe it with would be an overly set jello. With every bite I felt like my teeth were going to stick together.

The taste, however, was not that upsetting. There was a slight coppery flavor, like licking on a copper coin. It makes sense as blood contains a lot of iron. It reminds me most of liver. If not for the texture, I wouldn’t mind having another go.

Fear Factor – 7 / Taste Test – 4