As my time here in Hong Kong winds down and I realize I only have three weekends left in this culinary utopia, I feel pushed forcefully away Western restaurants and fast food joints (sorry, Subway Teriyaki Chicken Footlong with Honey Mustard, so perfect after a day on the beach…) towards rice porridge-arias, street food stalls, local bakeries and wet markets. Every time I go to Mong Kok or TST not, my eyes wander to the stuff on sticks, the unrecognizable ground animal based balls and the perhaps all too recognizable grilled and fried innards. I am checking things off my list, assessing the options and weeding out the ones I have either already tried or believe I will have the chance to try elsewhere in the world. I have checked off the very popular Hong Kong signature curry fried fish balls, the octopus tentacles, I have tried a dress-up version of the Hong Kong waffle, and I have battled deep fried stinky tofu… and lost. Some things remain. Actually many things do. Gizzard, intestines, stomach, offal, shumai, beef/pork balls all on a stick. And in the next few weeks I plan to check them off one at a time. Beginning with deep fried pig intestines.
I chose these to revisit Hong Kong street food with partly because they sound kind of crazy and interesting (especially to Western ears), and partly because I have actually seen many locals with them. Actually, with the exception of fish balls, these seem to be the most popular choice. For some reason I can’t really comprehend they are often misconstrued to be chicken gizzards, a mistake that becomes apparent when you see the whole organ that bits of the stuff is cut off of (…with scissors). They also are very different texturally from gizzards – less chewy and grainy, more layered and fatty, with a minerally innard twang to it. After selecting the stick of your choice and paying the disgruntled stall lady 12 HKD (1.50 USD), she takes the thing and throws it in a vat of screaming hot oil for a surprisingly long amount of time, around 3 minutes. She then throws the thing into a metal bowl between you and her so that you may apply the sauces by your own accord.
They look like this. The outer layer of the intestine become incredibly crispy, almost bacon-like in consistency. The insides cook and lose their original, impossibly chewy texture, retaining a slight bite but becoming mostly soft and tender. The flavor is, unsurprisingly mineral and farmyard, tasting a bit like manure smells, locking together upsetting and refreshing in its complex appeal. If I were to compare only the flavor (excluding texture) to anything, I would compare it to that of liver – slightly irony, tasting and smelling of digested pasture. Fresh and healthy while also a bit repulsive. These flavors are maintained throughout the bite and are not hidden by the sauces squeezed on. I tried both hoisin (sweet and marine) and a chili sauce. Both blended in different ways but neither masked the flavor ingrained in each layer of the intestine.
Still undecided on whether I liked it or not. Might get it again though, if that’s any indication.