Be open minded. People in other cultures eat things we would deem inedible or at least not desirable. But sometimes you may be surprised.
I am currently doing research on Chinese culinary culture. In April my friend and colleague and I made a trip to areas of western China where Sichuan cuisine is dominant. We spent a couple days in the city/municipality of Chongqing. Whenever I go to a new city where there is a distinctive cuisine I spend a fair amount of time researching the unique food of that area, and that city particularly. This research includes reading books, (mostly in Chinese because there is so little available in English), reading blogs, both English language and Chinese, reading online Chinese foodie forums, and talking to people from those areas. I have a Chinese food notebook where I make lists of dishes that I want to try in those cities that I visit. Pig ears was not on my list of things to try in Chongqing.
We arrived in Chongqing by train from Chengdu around midday. We transferred to the excellent subway system and rode out to near our hotel. After checking in we were starving so went in search of a close, convenient meal. We found a promising looking place nearby and sat down. We chatted with the lady who owned the restaurant a bit about what we should order. We told her we wanted traditional Chongqing dishes. It was a surprisingly excellent meal. As we were eating the owner and a couple workers came out to talk to us. I think they were intrigued that I was photographing all the dishes and taking notes in my notebook. Indeed they were curious about these two middle-aged foreigners taking such an interest in their food. In the course of our conversation we asked them what we should eat while in Chongqing, and if there were any specialties that were not on our list (I showed them the list of dishes in my notebook). The became very animated and told us that we had to eat at this restaurant just up the street. They said they had a very special dish that was very famous, “pig ears”. We weren’t sure we heard them right, and thought maybe that was just the name of the restaurant and not the actual dish served.
The next day we looked for this restaurant and couldn’t find it. We asked some people on the street and they immediately knew the place and directed us to the restaurant. We had walked right by it. I guess we were looking for a big, fancy restaurant, not the small, nondescript place that is was.
It was a bit past the lunch hour so most of the workers were out front playing Mahjong. Only two other tables were occupied in the restaurant. Inside there were only four tables, with that many outside as well.
After seeing the name of the restaurant, we presumed that maybe that the shape of the noodles were like a pig ear. There are dozens and dozens of different shapes of noodles in Chinese cuisine. In my research on Northern Chinese food (Lu Cuisine), I read that many chefs there know how to make at least two hundred different shapes of noodles, including “cat’s ear,” which are noodles shaped like a cat’s ear. So, it was not too ridiculous for us to think that maybe this pig ear noodle shop made noodles shaped like a pig’s ear, right?
The bowls of noodles were ordered by weight. We weren’t too sure on how much to order so we played it conservatively and ordered the lesser amount (I think it was 4 liang). While we were waiting for our bowls of noodles, they brought us a bowl of some kind of appetizer. We asked them what it was, and they all laughed and said, as if we were complete idiots, “the pig ears.” And there they were.
Of course, the pig ears. We felt a little foolish. So we dug in . . . and they were not bad at all. In fact, they were pretty good. They were a little crunchy, and a little soft, and the chili oil was a bit spicy and quite flavorful. I’ve convinced myself that eating strange things is all psychological. If you can get your mind past it, no problem, strange stuff is often pretty tasty. And this was the case with the sliced pig ears. The were marinated in a chili pepper-vinegar and probably some other seasonings. They were a little hesitant to divulge exactly how they made them. The owner explained to us that her pig ears were famous not only in Chongqing, but all over China. She explained that they also had a mail order business and shipped their famous pig ears all over China. She even brought out a very large binder full of shipping receipts to literally every part of China. She was rather proud of this.
After a few minutes our noodles arrived. This was a really good bowl of noodles. They were fresh pulled chewy noodles cooked perfectly, with minced seasoned pork on top with some fresh fresh spinach.
The broth was deep, spicy, rich, and flavorful. Most of the spice was from chili peppers, though there was just a hint of Sichuan pepper. It also contained chopped scallion, garlic, ginger, and oil. It was the kind of broth that you must drink down after you have finished the noodles; that is, if you could after eating the noodles.
After we began eating the noodles, we realized we should have ordered bigger bowls. It was delicious and this was certainly not going to be enough, so we each ordered another bowl. We were good with the one dish (each) of the pig ears though.
The bottom line is that pig ears were not too bad, and the folks in Chongqing make an excellent bowl of noodles.
Even if I am open to new ideas and cultures (which I really am), I am a bit faint-hearted dto try out these!
What if you didn’t know what it was, tasted it and thought it was pretty good. Then only afterward found out they were pig ears. Would that still gross you out? Again, I think it is the psychological issues that get in the way.
Darn it; now I’m thinking about the consumption of human flesh.
Having eaten pigs feet [we called them trotters] when young it came as a surprise to be offered the ears and toes of the pig! As ‘food’ I find them as pointless as chicken ‘wings’ but as you say to each his own. Now what did shock me was seeing my first bowl of fish soup complete with the whole fish! The art of filleting fish seems to have been lost over the millennia 🙂
We the BENGALI peaple(INDIAN) may not like these dishes,but it appears from the photos ,those are delicious to eat & enjoyable.Am I not right ?
Yes, you are right.
At least the pig’s ears were sliced. In Spain we were served a Galician stew with the still very recognizable ear floating in the broth. It didn’t look nearly as appetizing as the Szechuan version.
I agree with Wanyu. The pig’s ears do not appear as themselves allowing them to look very appetizing. In my case, for many Mexican dishes, sometimes I prefer not to know what I’m eating. If I like the plate, I will ask what it is. If I don’t, why bother asking? Sometimes what you think could be the worst tasting food can turn out to be amazing.
I thoroughly enjoyed your pictures from Lhasa having been there recently myself. I would like to know which of your photos were taken at Jokhang monastery.
地 道. dì dao!
Having traditional dishes is one of the best ways to explore and understand local culture. Bon Appétit!
And I thought I was the sensible one. Thanks for setting me strtigha.
Pig ears are popular all over Chinese, especially in Chongqing.
There are a lot of different foods that can be considered strange or hard to eat coming from different cultures. In the U.K. or Asia for example eating coagulated blood or blood mixed other meats is common, but from an international perspective seems odd because most have no experience with intentionally consuming blood. It may seem weird, but expanding your horizons can lead to an enjoyable venture, and the pig ears could be a great example of this depending on the individual.
It’s hard for me to not trust Chinese cuisine, on the whole I enjoy it leaps-and-bounds over my “native” cuisine. Also, after a century egg I think I down for almost anything. Plus I grew up with pickled pig lips, feet and pretty much every other part of the pig. So out of all the new dishes I’ve heard of, or had, pig ears aren’t really new territory. But all this is to say half the fun of food is trying new things, if you don’t like it don’t eat it again. My two cents anyway.
The first time I ate this dish, I thought it tasted great. After I knew that it was pig ear, I was very surprised but could not stop eating them!!
I think it would be very hard for me to get over the psychological part like you said. I would probably have to close my eyes to eat it, but I must agree with Facetosoul, 很地道！The noddles looked very delightful though!
I have eaten pigs feet and chicken feet before; I thought both were good, but the picture of the pig ears you posted looked really good!! I always think it is fun and exciting to try new foods, even if they scare you at first. If I ever get the chance to travel around China, I am going to make sure that I try all of the local and famous dishes from that part of the country. If I only get to go once, that is a once in a lifetime experience that I will never have again, so might as well try as many things as possible! I can’t forget to mention that those noodles you ate also looked delicious!
The Pig Ears looked interesting! If I ate meat, I would want to try them, because they look outstanding! And certainly a once in a lifetime culinary opportunity! It is always so fun to try new foods, especially when you hadn’t realized that it could be considered food. It is so cool how they had the noodle bowls set up. It is also refreshing that some noodle chefs in China can create over 200 different kinds of noodles, including in the shape of ears.
Wow! The broth of those noodle soups looks so flavorful and delicious. It looks really amazing. I wish I could try it! I would like to imagine I’d be willing to try the pig ears. I think I would have an easier time with pig ears over something like brain!
It is interesting to hear that pig ears are considered a strange thing to eat. I am Mexican, and many Mexican dishes have “weird” components to them, ranging from chicken hearts to unmentionable parts of cows. I am used to things like this, so pig ears are no surprise to me. Looking at the pictures, the dish looks like it tastes really good! I know some Chinese dishes also have “weird” components to them, and it is always interesting to see the comparison between these meals and the meals in my culture.