10 Places to to Enjoy Organs, Bugs, Stinky Fruit, Feet, Ears and Edible Offal (or, The Adventurous Diner in Houston).
This is NOT a Houston version of Andrew Bizarre Foods America. There is nothing “gross” in this list. It is merely a guide to some of the food items eaten as staples all over the world (and in Houston), yet shied away from by many here as weird or icky. Remember that in many poorer countries such as in South America, Central America, Mexico in North America, people don’t waste food like we do! There is a tasty way to eat every part of the “food animals” that are indigenous to the area. Even along the bayous in Louisiana, Cajuns love to celebrate the “whole hog” where at celebrations called boucheries, friends and neighbors gather and dance to Zydeco music while they cook and eat everything on/in the hog except the hair on its chinny chin chin.
Try these dishes… you will like them (most of them). The purpose of this article is for many to broaden their culinary horizons. Here are some delightful dishes and where to find them (“Delightful” except for the Durian, in MY opinion). Many will say that they have tried most of them. 95% will not have tried all of them (if any at all). Why not make this your bucket list of bugs and edible offal? You will not qualify to compete for the title of “The most interesting man (or woman) in the world” without putting a dent in this list. Hey, I’m just trying to help you gather a crowd at the next party you go to!
1. Pork Salivary and Pituitary Glands
If I asked you to try pork salivary glands and pituitary glands, you might say “No, thank you.”, yet you have probably already eaten them and loved them. Take a look at the ingredients on the label on any package of Chorizo. Pig salivary and Pituitary glands are the main ingredients in most versions of Chorizo. Now that you see that you have probably already taken the first step toward being a culinary adventurer, see how far you can get down this list! I started with this item that will seem like a no-brainer. Most Texans have eaten dishes like the scrambled eggs with chorizo that I made above. My question to you is if you had known what you were ordering the first time you ate Chorizo, would you have still ordered it if the menu said “Scrambled eggs with tender pig salivary and pituitary glands”, might you have just ordered ham & eggs? With that in mind, the next nine offerings might seem a little less frightening. Just sayin’…
2. Chapulines (Pan Sautéed Grasshoppers) at Hugo’s
I start off with Chapulines (grasshoppers), a menu item at Hugo’s Regional Mexican Cuisine at 1600 Westheimer in Houston, because it is something that makes most people (who are not adventurous) shiver at the thought of eating them… until they try them. I have eaten them in more than a dozen places in Houston and Mexico. I’ve had them as menu items in tacos, sopes, or sold as munchies piled on a table at outdoor markets in town squares and farmers markets in Oaxaca, Chiapas and even in Tijuana. Crispy, nutty and buttery, I order them every time I see them anywhere. The important point here is that of all of those who I’ve convinced to try them, no matter how much they were afraid of that first bite… LOVED them and was surprised by that fact.
Also called Black Pudding or Blood Pudding, it is sausage made from blood or dried blood (sometimes mixed with a filler… but the main thing is that the blood is cooked in a pot until it is thick enough to congeal when it cools. The blood used can be from many different types of animals, but based upon the particular country, it can be from pigs, cattle, sheep, ducks, or goats. It is available in many Houston restaurants, including Pradaria Churrascaria at 10694 Westheimer… and to some, it may be an “acquired taste”. It’s not that the taste is hard to handle, but initial resistance seems to come from the texture of Blood Sausage (and the knowledge of what it is). If you eat your steaks rare, you regularly drink blood anyway. As Blood Sausage may be made in many ways, I also recommend my wife’s favorite version of it, which is at Tango & Malbec. Also, Hay Merchant at 1100 Westheimer has a dish called Blood Sausage Queso Fundido that is a good first step for those who are hesitant to take it straight. Because of the richness of the blood sausage, the Queso Fundido at Hay Merchant is way up there in my favorites. My wife (Sally), though, feels that it is totally unremarkable (yet tasty).
Tripe is the rubbery lining of the stomach of cattle or other ruminants. It is the main ingredient in Menudo (soup). I was eating a bowl of it at Taqueria Arandas on Shepherd near 11th Street on a Sunday morning (it is usually served only on weekends in most Mexican restaurants and Taquerias) and a Hispanic police officer approached our table and told me that he had “never seen a gringo eat it before”. Of course, many gringos eat Menudo… but not all of us. The bowl shown here was eaten at Ruchi’s Taqueria el Rincon de Mexico on Westheimer at Winrock. Frankly, I can live without it, due to the chewy texture, but I still try it in different places to find a version I can’t live without.
If you are looking for a way to be able to brag about how good the last Pig’s Ears you ate were, these at Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer, are crispy, and spicy. If you like pork cracklins, you will enjoy these. They are crispy, yet succulent… sweet and slightly spicy and served in a paper bag like popcorn. Better than popcorn, in my opinion.
Head cheese may be flavored with onion, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, salt, and vinegar. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a cold cut for sandwiches. It can also be made from quality trimmings from pork and veal, adding gelatin to the stock as a binder.
The Head Cheese that I have pictured here is from La Michoacana Meat Market at 3012 Hillcroft between Westheimer and Richmond and is made only from the snout and the skin of the head. However, various versions of it are available at most meat markets and many supermarket deli counters in Houston.
9. Chicken Feet at Golden Palace
10. Goat Brains at Indika
Brains evoke images to many of Hannibal Lechter declaring that he likes his brains “with fava beans and a nice Chianti.” Brains get a bad rap. However, many Houstonians enjoy them frequently as specials at Feast, or up Westheimer at Indika (a regular appetizer item for dinner there). You can buy brains at many meat markets like La Michoacana and cook them yourself (They are particularly nice in a creamy soup or chowder). First of all, there are calf brains around town… there are Halal lamb brains at Phoenicia (many find these to have a little stronger taste),
However, I really like the Goat Brains at Indika. They are braised with an amchur masala, and served on a pistachio and apricot filled naan. The thought always crosses my mind when I eat this dish that it may be the best dish I have ever had… but, without a doubt, this creamy item IS the best Indian dish I have ever had.
I know that this article is light-hearted and most of us chuckle about eating these dishes. We look at eating a $12.00 appetizer of brains as being adventurous. However, many in the world are hungry every day and ANY of these things may be all they will get to eat… or might be a luxury.
There are cultures in the world where no food is wasted and “whole hog” isn’t a description of a barbeque event… it is a necessity to eat everything from an animal… NOT an experiment. There are 49,000,000 hungry Americans who actually either go hungry, or are obese because they can only afford unhealthy high fat/calorie fast food for meals. Of the 49,000,000 hungry Americans, 17,000,000 of them are children. Many full-time workers still rely on soup kitchens to survive. In 2006, 27,000,000 were on Food Stamps. In 2012, nearly 50,000,000 are on Food Stamps.
A PLACE AT THE TABLE, a film documentary by filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush (opening Friday, the 1st of March at the River Oaks Theatre) will follow the lives of three people who wage a daily struggle with hunger. It will also and speak with several experts about what must to be done to ensure that every American is well-fed.
On Wednesday, February 27th, at the Asia Society, Bank of America invited Houstonians to share an evening with Chef Chris Shepherd, owner of Montrose’s Underbelly (and enjoy food from his restaurant, which he served) and see a pre-opening special screening of Participant Media’s and Magnolia Pictures’ upcoming documentary A Place at the Table, which examines the 49 million people, including one in four children who go hungry in the U.S. every day.
I urge you to see the movie and buy the companion book. Go to www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table and www.publicaffairsbooks.com for more information about how you can get involved.