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I'm the self-proclaimed queen of the innards-eaters. To say Hong Kong is following the nose-to-tail trend is to put the cart before the horse - or the pickled pig nose before the braised ox-tail.
Innards, while not daily fare, were eaten regularly in my Chinese-American, food-loving family - but without the song and dance of the 'nose-to-tail' movement. Don't get me wrong, I really like Fergus Henderson's food - on my last visit to London I ate at St John Bread and Wine (the more casual of his two restaurants) twice in a week. But none of the meaty ingredients I tasted there or at the original restaurant, in Smithfield, was anything I hadn't tried before in one form or another. Pig tails? Check. Marrow bones? Yes; but I prefer pig marrow. Gizzard and tongue? I didn't even realise these meats were considered unusual. I hadn't tasted gulls' eggs before but then Henderson may never have eaten balut (fertilised duck eggs) or wong fa cheuk (tiny rice birds that are eaten whole). Squirrel wasn't on the menu when I was there - but hey, it's just another rodent like rabbit and guinea pig.
'Extreme eating' isn't new - the Chinese (and the French) have made an art out of cooking animals (and animal parts) that more conservative diners would throw away. Blood and guts have more flavour than standard cuts of meat and the textures are much more varied. Brains and balls (the male kind) have a rich creaminess; sweetbreads are denser while lungs have a spongy bounciness. Intestines change in texture from animal to animal and according to how they're cooked: goose and chicken intestines have a resilient bite, large and small pig intestines can be soft and slightly chewy when braised or boiled but take on a fatty crunchiness when fried. Fallopian tube, which I ate for ages before realising what it was, looks like the small intestine of a pig but the texture is chewier and more dense. Blood, as eaten by the Chinese (coagulated, then cut into squares that resemble red tofu) has a slipperiness that isn't apparent when it's made into boudin noir, or black pudding. Three of the four cow stomachs are eaten as tripe and each has a distinctive look and texture.
In Hong Kong, you don't have to make a special trip to try these so- called variety meats - they're listed on the menu at almost all Chinese restaurants. Yung Kee in Central makes roasted goose livers (not to be mistaken for foie gras d'oie) that are so popular they need to be reserved in advance; salt and pepper sea cucumber stomachs; and goose-testicle fritters (these need to be specially ordered). Most dim sum places serve steamed tripe with garlic and chicken feet with black beans. Visit any Chiu Chow restaurant for blanched goose intestines with a garlic-vinegar sauce; Hakka restaurants usually serve deep-fried pig intestines (they're even better when stuffed with a spring onion); while Shanghainese places with a good variety of cold appetisers will offer dishes of chilled marinated pig ears or sliced duck gizzards. At congee shops, order your next bowl of jook with poached pig kidney or liver - the gentle cooking method means these meats will be tender and moist (overcooked liver is awful). For a really extensive selection of unusual 'parts', visit hotpot restaurants such as FF (in Wan Chai) and Lin Kee (Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui): they usually offer ingredients such as chicken testicles, goose and pig intestines, tripe, liver, tendon, blood and marrow.