Tongues ‘N’ Lungs In Beijing
[Originally published on Vice.com.]
When we were kids, we used to play a game called “Pro Skater.” You pick your favorite pro skater and imitate him. Steve Caballero, for instance, was easy: you just tilt your head to one side when you drop in. Now that I’m dabbling in food writing, I’ve taken to playing “Pro Cheffer.” One of my favorite celebrity chefs to imitate is the roly-poly host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern. To play Zimmern, you just go to a foreign country, find the most fucked up food they have, and then put it in your mouth. It takes less talent than Pro Skater, but it’s no less dangerous, as I was to find out on a recent trip to Beijing with Tania. It happens to be one of Zimmern’s favorite haunts.
After a long day of strolling around the Forbidden City, we decided to visit a popular Beijing restaurant called “The Old Beijing Noodle King.” On the front page of the menu, besides the specialty “Zhajiang” (basically a bowl of noodles), there were pictures of two other curious dishes: a bowl of eggs and honey, and a plate of “cattle lungs.”
“EWWW!” we squealed, pointing and laughing, and making disgusting faces. We’re Americans, after all. Got to play the part.
I was so bummed because I was starving and exhausted. I wanted a beer and something comforting to eat, but we both knew that we had to order the cow lungs. It was time to play Pro Cheffer.
The lungs arrived at the table just like they were pictured: no garnish, nothing, just a big plate of black lungs. The color made us wonder if the cows weren’t ardent smokers like their owners, or if it was simply the result of being raised in the smog laden air that seems to hang all over Beijing? I extracted a hunk of lung from the pile and held it up for a closer look. It looked like dog lips and squid tentacles. I didn’t really want to put it in my mouth, but to play Zimmern, you have to smile, shrug, and take a big ole bite. So I did. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.
“It tastes like what it looks like,” Tania said, “grey.”
The problem was the texture. It was like chewing on a condom and it took every last effort to get it down. On my next bite, I took a cue from the locals around us and dunked it in a bowl of sesame sauce. The sauce did little more than change the flavor from a chewy grey condom to a chewy sesame condom. It was marvelously horrible, and so we considered it a “win” in the game of Pro Cheffer.
Still hungry, we decided to explore the neighborhood around our hotel. We stumbled into a restaurant that looked tourist friendly. It wasn’t. Besides the eyeballs, the only other thing I recognized on the menu was something that looked kind of like Kung Pao Chicken.
“I think you just ordered organs,” Tania said.
She was close. Turns out it was “Tongue Pao Chicken” (hold the chicken). Mutton tongue to be exact. (I think it was mutton. There were a lot of cartoon sheep on the walls.) It was good, it was tender and tasty, but I had a hard time eclipsing the image of sheep licking each other’s dirty buttholes and French kissing each other.
As we walked back to our hotel after the tongue meal, I farted. I couldn’t help imagining a little sheep sticking his tongue out of my butthole and going, PFFFFFT! Tania laughed and imagined that the lung was right behind it and it took in a big gulp of air (Le Petomane!). Then it blew it out again. Which again made the tongue go PFFFT! Then the lung gulped more air. The tongue goes PFFFFT! And so on. It kept me entertained all night. It was funny all the way up until I took a shit the next morning, when a tongue and a lung came flying out of my bung.