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Organs, Entrails, and Feet Still Popular Foods in China

TAIZHOU, China- I went into a noodle house and ordered a bowl without looking at what was floating in the pots first. I’m in China and I should have known better: almost all parts of animals are not only eaten here but relished. Organ meat, intestines, stomach membranes, feet, heads, faces, anuses, penises are consumed [...]

TAIZHOU, China- I went into a noodle house and ordered a bowl without looking at what was floating in the pots first. I’m in China and I should have known better: almost all parts of animals are not only eaten here but relished. Organ meat, intestines, stomach membranes, feet, heads, faces, anuses, penises are consumed in this country without ado, and a traveler must take care of what they order in a restaurant least they end up with a bowl full of boiled livers, hearts, kidneys, and stomach pieces. That’s what I did to myself somewhat accidentally, but I can’t say I minded my error too much: as is the case with most world travelers, I’ve warmed up to organ meat long ago.

I ate my soup, enjoyed it. The only problem that I have with eating liver, hearts, and stomach (or was it intestines?) is that they are often very chewy, and their consumption gives the mandible a good work out. Though I would rarely choose organs over muscle fiber I don’t really understand why the people from my home country embrace one and treat the other as some kind of gross taboo: it all comes from the same place. When I brought my liver, heart, stomach noodle soup back to my table and began chowing my wife went green in the face just from watching. In a haste she ran from the restaurant and did not kiss me for a week.

Pig stomach

Sichuan pig stomach

Cooked pig stomach

I recently ate Sichuan pig stomach for the first time. In China, if a food is prepared Sichuan style it usually means that it’s cooked and served in a blanket of hot red peppers. In such a setting I must state that it was difficult to savor the taste of the stomach, as it was completely overpowered by the essence of the peppers — for better or worse. What I can say is that the stomach tissue was pretty much little cubes of rich fat that were slightly tinged and textured on the exterior through being fried. It tasted like spicy fat.

Chicken feet

Chicken feet

Petra eating a chicken foot

I had a friend in China who had a saying about chicken feet:

“If a girl puts a chicken’s foot in her mouth she will put anything in there.”

He thought this was sexy.

Perhaps because of this statement I’ve always had a hard time bringing a chicken foot up to my mouth. But this sentiment is not shared in China, as chicken feet seem to be a popular treat. You can see people pigging out on them in bus terminals, on trains, in the streets, and in restaurants. They are even candied in spices and shrink wrapped so you can take them wherever you go. Though I’ve put many types of insects, organs, reptiles, and miscellaneous pieces of animals into my mouth during these 12 years of travel, I still can’t ace the chicken foot. I suppose everyone has their limits.

My daughter has no such bounds. When I asked her if she wanted to eat a chicken’s foot she shrieked with delight. Petra has no cultural taboos when it comes to food. Ants, grasshoppers, and chicken feet are all fair game to her. She tried chicken feet, but didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Waving the food around in front of her face she looked for a point of attack. She peeled off some of the scaly, sinewy skin with her teeth from the pointer claw, and ate it down. It did not seem to satisfy her too much, as after a few exploratory bites she was finsihed with that expedition.

She says she wants to eat a dog next.

The health benefits of eating organs

Organ soup

It is no secret that organ meat has high nutritional properties, humans have known this for millenia. Many cultures call the hearts, livers, eyes, kidneys, fat et all . . . the best parts of animals. Liver was once a staple of the American diet and some predatory animals — such as bears, tigers, and lions — eat the livers of their prey before anything else. Western science backs up these natural taste preferences, as organs have an enormous amount of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in them — which are essential for the health of any animal’s innards.

My liver, heart, kidney soup was probably the most healthy meal I’ve eaten this past month in China.

Conclusion

It is a game among long term travelers and expats in China to go to a restaurant and point to something that you can’t read at random off the menu, and wait in anticipation for the surprise that you could receive. I had a friend lose this game big time when a steaming pig anus was presented to him on top of a bed of noodles. In China, what USA culture would generally call the byproducts of meat production are not only commonly eaten but are popular. Livers, hearts, brains, balls, entrails, tongues, and feet line the restaurant menus and supermarket meat sections, providing the people of China with sources of vital nutrition that Western culture turns up its nose at. I do not know when or how USA culture stopped eating organ meat and innards on a mass scale. The Europeans who settled the Western hemisphere and the people who were there before them certainly ate — and in many instances savored — the organ meat and tidbits that are now considered not only disposable but taboo. In China, there is no such high brow attitude paid towards these incredible sources of nutrition.

Filed under: China, Food

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3548 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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3 comments… add one

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  • David May 2, 2012, 3:24 am

    Well… Westerners still eat all that… They just prefer not to know it…

    Just go to a polony/vienna factory… 😉

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    • Wade Shepard May 2, 2012, 4:16 am

      Haha, right on! Just so it’s in the shape of a hot dog it’s fine.

      Link Reply
  • BobbyWong March 11, 2013, 1:35 pm

    Well, not everyone can eat top cuts. Somebody has to eat the entrails. Luv chitlins BTW.

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