Eye of newt and toe of frog. on the eating of disgusting things.
In Chinese, the word for 'frog' translates literally into something like 'field chicken.' (Much like 'tomatoes' in French is something like 'love apples,' only the former is gruesome and the latter is romantic. I think this illustrates the difference between Chinese and French rather well). So if you are in a restaurant and are offered something called 'field chicken,' know that what you are eating is not, in fact, chicken, but another creature altogether. I first ate frog's legs some time around 1985; I remember gripping each leg by the...I suppose you could say the ankle, stripping the flesh away from the fine bones with my teeth, much like eating chicken wings. In Chinese restaurants they come fried (in the tapas bar of our hotel somewhere in Spain last year, we ate platters of fried frog's legs and lamb sweetbreads), the meat sweeter and more tender than chicken, the batter-coated toes crisp between your teeth.
So far I have covered the eating of disgusting things, what with talking about things made with blood or with hearts, or sweetbreads, but there is no limit to the sorts of strange and revolting things I have eaten over the past twenty-six years. But my idea of revolting is green peppers, whereas what other people consider revolting seems perfectly normal to me. There is probably nothing I have not or would not eat. There has not been any eye of newt, but certainly fish eyeballs have appeared on dinner tables (as fish in Chinese restaurants are cooked and served with their heads on). And there has been many a toe of frog.
In China some four or five years ago we found ourselves in a small town deep in the countryside. At dinner we were led into a private dining room, a group of ten or fifteen people, at a round table with a lazy-susan bearing dishes of peanuts and hot sauce and bottles of soy sauce and pots of tea. And a large bowl of deep-fried bugs, black - I forget what kind of insect they were - and crisp, each one the size of my thumbnail. It was like eating popcorn, all crunch and salt, all of us popping them in our mouths like teenagers having an M&M-tossing contest. But the craziest dinner I have ever had came at the hands of one of my favorite chefs.
Rover's is one of my favorite restaurants, and its chef-owner, Thierry Rautureau is very charming, funny, witty, and kind, not to mention being a fantastically inventive chef. I challenged him to come up with a menu that would accomodate the fact that we would eat any part of any animal he could think of, and he presented me with a dinner that involved lamb testicles, rabbit kidneys, and lamb hearts. (Not on the same plate). The lamb testicles were peculiar, yet strangely delicious, with the faint taste of lamb and a texture rather like softly scrambled eggs. The kidneys had been sliced and sautéed and the sauce seemed to have an aura of sesame and ginger and perhaps soy sauce, which was not so different from the way my own mother prepares kidneys.
It is fun to gross people out by telling them about the weird things you ate for dinner the night before. (I have a not-too-deeply hidden sadistic streak in me). But it is only part of the pleasure of food. There is also the pleasure of taking something that looks unappealing, perhaps even smells disgusting, but as you taste it the flavor reveals itself as something extraordinary. When you push yourself beyond the limit of what you might otherwise imagine, who knows what sort of (culinary and otherwise) adventure waits?