The ultimate guide to eating this delectable condiment.
There’s a saying about the Cantonese most often used by their snobby northern cousins: “They’ll eat anything with 4 legs except the table and chair”. Everyone’s been to an Asian restaurant and seen stuff on the menu that turns the stomach. There are bits of animal on there that most westerners wouldn’t eat in a million years. But you know what? You should eat these foods! Nose to tail eating is only now back in vogue in Australia and Europe, but it’s been a part of Asian cooking for centuries! The innards are often the most nutritious parts of the animal, and when they’re prepared in a delicious stew, soup or stir-fry, you can’t even tell what you’re eating. So, to help you get over your fear of the unknown, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite weird, yet wonderful dishes for you to try next time you feel like venturing out of your comfort zone.
If you’ve had yum cha, you’ve seen chicken feet go past on the cart. If you’ve mustered the courage to try them, then you’ll know how delicious they are! Braised in a delicious mixture of stock, spices and herbs, the meat falls off the bone and it’s like eating any other delicious slow-cooked dish. And it’s good for you! Just like a hearty bone broth, chicken feet are full of collagen (great for nails, hair and your complexion), calcium (teeth and bones) plus a whole heap of trace minerals and vitamins. So stop the cart next time and give them a go—your body will thank you and so will your taste buds!
It’s just soup, right? It’s not made from a real bird’s nest, right? Why is this even on the list? Well, I have news. It’s not bad news, it’s just news. Bird’s nest is bird saliva. Swiftlets use their own gummy saliva to build their nests, sculpting it as it hardens into any shape they require. It’s also pretty expensive, with a single bird’s nest costing upward of $100. The flavour is also subject to change depending on where the nest is sourced from, with seaside nests tasting salty and briny for example. The texture has been called slimy, but it’s no worse than any bone broth you’ve ever eaten. The nest itself is almost all protein, so it’s great if you’re in a shredding phase. There’s also calcium, magnesium, aspartic acid, proline, cysteine and phenylalanine. All those things are good for your body, so if you can afford it, give it a go.
Okay, now we’re getting into the real guts. Literally. Tripe is a very broad term that usually refers to the stomach and intestines of an animal. But before you run screaming from the room, you’re not going to get served a bowl of anonymous tubes. Tripe is nearly always diced and braised or stir-fried with other delicious, flavourful goodies. If your ancestry hail from Britain, I’ll guarantee your parents and grandparents ate tripe. But trust me, they did it wrong! There’s no haggis hitting your plate in an Asian restaurant. Instead expect some delicious, spicy, tender and meaty dish that will fill you up and make you smile. It’s even served in dumplings. And, like all these other iffy ingredients, it’s good for you. Tripe is chock full of vitamin B-12, a key ingredient in blood cells and your DNA. It’s also packed with zinc and phosphates and selenium, which helps your body control enzyme activity. So to summarise: It’s tasty and good for you, so give it a try.
Traditionally used as a method of preserving eggs when they were too plentiful to eat fresh, century eggs— or 100 year, thousand year or millennium eggs as they’re also known— are now considered a delicacy. They’re made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice husks for several weeks to several months. The preservation process turns the yolk a dark green/grey colour, with a creamy consistency and concentrated flavour, while the white becomes a dark brown, translucent and salty jelly. I’ll be honest, these do look kind of weird, and the texture is a shock when you eat them for the first time, but the taste is fantastic. It’s a really delicious salty, yet creamy egg. That may not sound like your cup of tea, but seriously, it’s yummy. And they have a higher protein level than regular eggs, fewer carbs, are a great source of vitamin D, iron and selenium. So yes, they’re also good for you. Sensing a pattern here?
You see them on every pho restaurant’s menu, and to be honest, pho is one of the best ways to eat them. Tendons have a rich, beefy flavour (they’re fantastic for making stocks), but they can be a bit chewy, so being cooked in soup, stews (if you prefer Chinese) or slow-braised are the preferred preparation methods. Like chicken feet, tendons are full of goodies, like collagen, vitamins and trace minerals. We in the west need more collagen in our diets full stop—it’s one of the main ingredients needed for our bodies to regenerate connective tissue, hence why tendons are such a good source of it. So next time you’re hankering for Vietnamese, get some tendon on your chopsticks.