Note: Some people might find this post a bit icky. If you have problems with quirky food or a certain degree of language, may I suggest you stop reading now.
There is an old saying about Chinese people, that they will “eat anything with legs, except a table.” And man, is that true. For those of us soft westerners who haven’t had to suffer through famines and poverty for a very long time, Chinese cuisine can shock with the extent to which every part of an animal is used somehow (though, to be fair, this is probably a better practice than throwing things away, and makes sense when you consider that the nation is still relatively young in its development and its people’s wealth). Duck cheeks at a Beijing roast duck dinner, chicken heads and feet bobbing in the soup, pig’s feet piled up on the streetside meat counter, spiders and scorpions still wriggling on skewers at the night markets, jellied brain dishes served at weddings – you name it, they probably eat it…and love it!
Which makes it pretty impressive that I was able to make my husband scrunch up his nose in disgust at the idea of eating something (is there a special China merit badge for this?)!
A little while ago, my husband and I sat at home talking in the evening, and one of us brought up the fact that Steven Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, had recently visited China on an official trip. The regular topics had been discussed between the two leaders – trade, the value of the yuan, etc. But another key topic for Harper’s stop in Beijing had been to attend the opening of a new Canadian tourism office. One of the Canadian “cultural festivals” that was promoted was the Calgary Stampede – a big exhibition held in that city every summer and featuring chuckwagon races and a rodeo.
This made my husband think of me and some of the things I had told him about where I grew up and the lifestyles of people in my hometown.
I’m from western Canada, and grew up on a grain farm. Most of the people in the area are farmers and/or cattle ranchers. Yes, that’s right, I grew up surrounded by cowboys! I’d told him about rodeos and brandings (full disclosure: I’ve actually never been to a branding in my life…bad farm girl!) and what goes on at these events.
I’m not sure what was triggered in his brain, but the mention of the Calgary Stampede and cowboys caused my husband to remember that special delicacy served up at cattle brandings that I had told him about – we call them “prairie oysters” (if you’re not familiar, a branding is held at each ranch in the later spring, and it is when the young calves are roped, burned [with a hot iron] with that ranch’s identifying brand, have tags placed in their ears, may be given some medicine, and sometimes, are castrated. The little calf testicles are then cooked up and eaten by those in attendance – these are the prairie oysters and no, I’ve never had one).
More than anything, I was surprised that he remembered this information (but I guess I shouldn’t be – I mean, Chinese and crazy food go together like peanut butter and jelly, right?!).
Being my husband, you should know by now that I wouldn’t be writing this if he simply remembered the concept of prairie oysters and left it at that. Oh no.
It was at this point that he informed me that when he has the chance to visit Canada and my hometown, he wants to attend a branding. He plans to more or less ‘call out’ the cowboys there by saying (and I quote), “Come on! I’m Chinese and we eat everything! Bring me the balls!!”
He kept on this way for a bit, and when I finally got my laughter under control again, I asked him if he would really be willing to eat them. Of course, he said firmly, as if he already felt he had something to prove to these cowboys.
“Really?” I asked. “Because you already get upset enough when we talk about possibly having a dog in the future and I insist that if we do, I want to get it fixed.”
It was at this point that I saw a glimmer of confusion in his eyes. He seemed to not be making the connection. After a few more questions, and him insisting he had already eaten this part of an animal before and making the gesture as to where they came from, I realized that he thought we were talking about kidneys.
I then had to explain to my husband that no, prairie oysters are not kidneys at all. They really, truly are the castrated testicles of the calves.
Suddenly, his nose wrinkled up and he made a disgusted sound. “That’s terrible!” he exclaimed. “Even Chinese people won’t eat that part of an animal. Ewwww! What is wrong with them?”
Laughing again, I inquired as to why he thought Chinese people would choose to eat intestines and brains and bugs and feet, but would draw the line at testicles. “Because they are so close to everything else ‘down there’ and they would taste like pee!” he exclaimed. “There might even be pee in them!!”
I did feel the need to point out that Chinese people are willing to eat chicken and pig feet, and that these animals have been trotting around in all kinds of waste, so they were just a wee bit dirty as well. “Yeah,” he said. “But they clean them before we eat them.”
At the end of it all though, curiosity got the best of my husband, as a look of wonderment spread across his face and he murmured, “Just how do they cook them? Are they fried? BBQ’d?”
So there you have it – that is where an average Chinese person draws the line between edible and non-edible animal parts. And now you know, if you ever want to disgust a Chinese person, you can apparently simply suggest cooking up a meal of testicles. 好吃!