Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Weird Meats of Tibet

"Vegetarianism is harmless enough though it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness."

Robert Hutchison, address to the
British Medical Association, 1930

After mucking about in McLeod Ganj for a couple of weeks, I've grown rather familiar with a lot of the usual suspects of Tibetan cuisine like thukpa, momo, tsampa, phingsha, tingmo and laping (particularly the dry, yellow ones which I really liked). I've even had Tibetan butter tea or pocha before which was quite horrible none too suitable for my palate, but I still remain ready to give anything new a try. On that note, I went to my ever-helpful Tibetan Spirit Guide™ to see if she had anything a little bit more uh, exotic to recommend to me.

That's when I first learned about lowa khatsa, one of her favourite dishes. I wrote it down in my notebook so I could order it the next time I find myself in a Tibetan restaurant.

And I did.

Lowa Khatsa
Oooh, what is it?

It's spicy bits of fried LUNG. Surprise!

I am not a fan of animal innards. With the exception of a piece of barbecued goat liver straight from the cooking fire which I ate when I was trekking in the Thar Desert a few years ago, I've never taken a real shine to any internal organs of any animals. It's not that I'm squeamish or anything - I just don't like the taste and texture of viscera. Now, lung... I've never eaten that before. I never thought I'd acquire a taste for pig's blood tofu either, but I did.

For those who are curious as to what manner of creature the lung were appropriated from: it's goat. Or at least that's what the waiter told me. I'm not sure if it's a dish prepared exclusively using goat lungs or if any lung would do just fine though.

The texture of the lowa was spongy and squishy, like deep fried bean curd but airier (it's filled with hollow cavities after all). It reminds me of the time when I was in the first year of med school and the lecturer invited me to squeeze a whole human lung just for fun. I still remember the little bubbles of formaldehyde frothing out of the bronchus. Chewing on a wad of lowa feels very much like that except instead of my palms, I'm getting that sensation in my mouth. Some people might find that upsetting, but I bet it's not as upsetting as that time when my Ex-Grrrfriend™ swallowed a piece of human fat (remind me to tell you that story sometime).

There was no extraordinary lung-ey flavour which I could ascertain, but it was quite heavily spiced after all. As a whole, it tasted okay but I was too busy noticing the alien texture to notice much of anything else about it. I wouldn't shun it if it's on the table, but I am sure I wouldn't be in a hurry to order it again on my own volition.

Another Tibetan delight which the Tibetan Spirit Guide™ got me to try is gyurma which she described enigmatically as "Tibetan sausage".

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what gyurma looks like.

They looked exactly the dismembered ends of cancerous penes deep-fried in oil. Go ahead. Google 'penile squamous cell carcinoma' if you dare.

Then again, I'm pretty sure Chinese sausages or lapcheong (which I consider to be delicious) look equally unappetising to people who are unused to its how it looks like. Anyway, gyurma is described in Wikipedia as Tibetan blood sausages with yak or sheep blood and roasted barley flour or rice as filler, a fact I wasn't privy to when I tucked in.

The sausage skin was rather tough and rubbery, like several layers of condoms melted together, while the inside was firm (but not uniformly so). All in all, it was a rather dry affair. Unlike lapcheong which has a very strong savoury and sweet fragrant taste, the gyurma I had was bland, surprising considering its very in-your-face appearance. I experimented with salt, vinegar and hot sauce, but the results were less than exciting.

Since I've only tried the the above two dishes only once, I'm not sure if what I had was how they usually taste like - but in my defense, I did order them from a certain restaurant that the Tibetan Spirit Guide™ vouched for. Still, I can't possibly like everything that comes out of a Tibetan kitchen right?

Especially when they are pieces of fried lung and blood sausages. Heck, I don't even like everything that comes out of a Chinese kitchen! Yes, I'm looking at you, chicken feet. You are bloody disgusting.

Strange meats before him,
k0k s3n w4i


Phoebs said...

what happened to all the nice food?! T_T

Liz said...

OMG, same here ! I really dislike the taste of chicken liver, heart etc. YUCKS. And gosh, that Iowa looks, em, very unappetizing indeed.

I have, though, tried beef noodles with all the innards. A friend ordered it for me as a recomm, and I was feeling adventurous. I guess cow innards aren't that bad to the taste (as compared to chicken, somehow). I guess not knowing what you're chewing on kinda helps @.@

And yes, chicken feet are disgusting !!!!! >.<

Liz said...

Oh, btw, I just remembered I wanted to ask this: When and how did the Ex-Grrrfriend™ swallow a piece of human fat??? DO TELL !!!! xD

k0k s3n w4i said...

Phoebs: you ate all of 'em.

Liz: you should eat a cow's tongue sometimes. just thinking about chewing on one gives me the willies. and i'm saving the Ex-Grrrfriend™ cannibalism story for another time ;)

Phoebs said...

how is that even possible? T^T i haven't eaten nice food in a long time. i tried the GCB burger at mcd's today! it was nice :D hehe