Duck Tongue, Chicken Feet, and Other Delicacies
I am a fairly adventurous eater in the sense that I will try almost anything once. One of my coworkers has discovered this and has recently made it his mission to present me with a number of Asian delicacies in situations where I can’t really turn them down without looking like a jerk. What usually happens is that I politely try something and then say, “That was interesting, but I don’t think I’d order it on my own.” More than once he has followed up my reaction by saying, “Oh, I don’t like it either.” Then why are you making me try it???!!!!
Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of trying duck tongue, ham jelly, a Chinese Century Egg (black egg), and most recently, chicken feet. To be completely fair, I have tried new things before and discovered that I like them (for example, I already knew I liked the jellyfish salad) but none of these quite made the cut.
The duck tongue had no real flavor apart from whatever it had been cooked in and there was a big bone in the middle which I was not expecting. Why all this fuss over a tiny bit of very tough meat that didn’t even taste like anything.
The ham jelly I couldn’t handle on principle. I don’t like jellied anything. I barely like strawberry jam. Jellied meat. Not for me.
The Century Egg, or black egg, was not as bad as I thought it would be. The name is misleading since it is not in fact 100 years old or even close to it, but it is indeed black since it’s been preserved in a mixture of strong tea, lime, salt, and ash from freshly burned wood for several months. It more or less tasted like a boiled egg where the outer part was more rubbery and the inner part was creamier. The one I tried had been cooked into a pastry, so there was something sweet surrounding it which may have helped.
And those chicken feet…I have successfully avoided the chicken feet for years in spite of encountering them when I lived in Korea and many times while traveling through Asia. But my time finally came. I can’t say that the flavor was bad since they mostly tasted like the chili sauce they were cooked in, but the texture was everything that turns on my gag reflexes. Chewy skin, sharp claws, crunchy bones and tendons. Again, I find it hard to understand the appeal when there is so little meat on them, but I suppose for some people the appeal is those textural elements I find so off-putting. It didn’t help that the first instruction I was given was to “bite off the big toe.” Just in case I dared to pretend it was something else for a minute.
I think there’s something to be said for how western carnivore food culture often divorces consumers from the reality that what they are eating are the body parts of other animals. We don’t like to be reminded of it, and I would venture to say that if we were confronted with it more, it might change some of our consumption choices. Having said that, I’d just as soon not eat something that looks like it was walking around yesterday.
What’s in a Name?
One unique element of Hong Kong being a former British colony and currently being such an international city where English is widely spoken is that children are given English names along with their Chinese names from a very young age. Unlike most of my students in the US who either chose their English names in school or had one assigned to them by a teacher, in most cases the parents here choose both a Chinese name and an English name for their child. As someone who loves names, I’ve enjoyed meeting these small kids often with grand old names or completely obscure ones. Here are some of the best I’ve encountered broken into self-selected categories. Keep in mind that these are the names of kids between 2 and 7 years old.
The Heroes of Legend
Arcus and Aeris (brothers)
The Names of Our Parents
Are You Sure That’s a Name?
Rafael and Gabriel (named after angels, but that’s where the resemblance ends)
Janis and Yanis (identical twins)
Donald and Daisy and Louie (siblings)
He Said/She Said
This is my 6th year as a teacher, specifically teaching students who are not native English speakers. One mistake that I have seen consistently across every level of English language learners (including adults who have been speaking English for years) is the tendency to confuse the gendered pronouns “he,” “she,” “him,” and “her.” This isn’t so much of a problem for those whose native language is more similar to English, but for those whose native languages don’t have gendered pronouns, it can be difficult to remember.
One of my friends recently told me about an interaction she had in Africa with a man who kept referring to his wife as a “he.” As in. “I love my wife so much because he is such a good mother.”
Since my Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking students are not used to these gendered pronouns either, it leads to some funny interactions. For example, last week I was teaching a class of 5 year olds:
Me: Please put your books away.
Jonas: (saluting) Yes, Sir!
Sofia: (passionately and self-righteously) No, Jonas! It is not “Yes Sir!” because he is a girl. He is a “Ma’am!”
Jonas must have taken this rebuke to heart because this week when I gave a similar instruction he saluted and said, “Yes Sir, Ma’am!”
What do I know? Perhaps they are actually little geniuses making revolutionary statements about gender. Regardless, I love my job.