Friday, August 12, 2005


I’ve eaten some...interesting things in the course of my travels over the years.

Some of these things are not exactly kosher, but, then again, I grew up in a family whose level of Jewish observance was such that our second Seder would, like as not, be take-out pizza. So I do stray from the path every so often: I admit it.

If you want Weird Food, I’m pretty sure you have to give the King-Hell Exotica award to China, where they will pretty much eat anything that’s not nailed down. I’ve eaten jellyfish there, and one time had some snake soup. That soup was served to me in a cavernous restaurant at the Dong Fang Hotel in Guangzhou, an eatery so huge that I took to calling it “The Great Dining Hall of the People.”

If you want to know what snake soup tastes like, it’s a lot like chicken.

Chicken that has spent its entire life crawling around on its belly.

On another trip to Guangzhou, I had serendipitously timed my visit to coincide with the China Hotel’s Wild Game Festival. There were all kinds of strange things on the menu, but one that really caught my eye was the “Double-Boiled Raccoon Head and Hoof.” Err, no thank you.

Elsewhere in the region, I’ve had other interesting fare. Bird’s nest soup in Hong Kong, which is actually made from difficult-to-harvest nests made of Congealed Bird Saliva. Really. Shark fin in Hong Kong and Singapore. Expensive stuff, that, with a bowl holding enough for 8-10 people going for about $200 US funds – and this was 25 years ago. Tasty.

But Acidman’s recent post about crab picking reminded me of the time I had Shanghai Hairy Crab in Singapore, back in 1990.

Hairy Crabs!Shanghai Hairy Crab (AKA Yangcheng Hairy Crab, as their Ancestral Home is Lake Yangcheng) is a seasonal delicacy, available only for a few weeks in the fall. This particular trip brought me to Singapore in October, right dead smack in the middle of Hairy Crab Time. Our local rep insisted that we have Hairy Crab for lunch – probably because that would allow him to write the meal off as a business expense, and Hairy Crabs ain’t for the Bargain-Minded.

So we go in, sit down, and soon afterwards, a monstrous platter of crabs shows up at our table with the requisite minced ginger and vinegar accompaniment. They’re a little bigger than the average blue crab, these fellows are, and a little more squared-off in shape...but the thing that really sets them apart is the brushy, hairy-looking crap that grows from the bottom of the carapace. Impressive.

We fell to our luncheon, and my local host took it upon himself to inform me that you could eat pretty much everything inside that shell, except for the fibrous lungs. There was a bounty of yellow roe in each crab, and our host wanted to make sure that the possibly squeamish Westerners did not miss out:

“That yellow stuff? You should eat that. It’s not the crab’s shit.

Ah, erm...thanks!

What these guys didn’t know is that crustaceans don’t bother me. I learned to eat Maine Lobster from my mother, who knew how to extract every edible molecule from those armored bastards. When Mom finished off a lobster, it looked like a small hydrogen bomb had gone off on her plate: nothing left but the smoldering ruins of the shell.

So these little hairy dudes were No Problem. Messy as hell, but I rather enjoyed them.

What Exotic Crap have you eaten?

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