Sure, everyone eats the spare bits of whatever animal happens to be dinner, but no one does it quite like the Chinese. The Bengalis diligently polish off every inch of a fish, the English trot out the occassional trotter, the French wax about tripes and sweetbreads while Bycullah trumpets khiri and kaleji to all and sundry. All this, however, pales in comparison with the average street vendor in Hong Kong, whose entire existence seems focused on what the English translation rather guilelessly calls ‘offal’. Intestines, tongues, feet, knuckles, necks, ears, wings, after a while you start wondering where the regular bits of the animal go. Maybe to McDonalds.
This is also one big aspect of Chinese cuisine that is never exported. I don’t think we’re likely to see Mainland China featuring intestine or skin anytime soon. Even cities like New York or San Francisco boasting substantial and authentic Chinatowns steer clear of organs.
Some of the offal is rather droolworthy. Pork-neck barbecue, Beef trotters, braised chicken feet are three examples immediately spring to mind from the last few days of culinary trawling. Some others were inedible – fried salt fish skin, what might have been bits of a lung, a tasteless yellow octopus thingy. Most were more experiential than revelatory. Many I can’t even identify, and without instructions in English can only stumble along smiling cheerfully.
Its quite obvious that offal (a rare English translator euphemised it to “varied organs”) seems to be a cultural preference rather than a necessity. In Bycullah (or France) the khiri and kaleji are adjacent to large quantities of regular beef portions – here that seems to be largely absent. Few dishes on the menu feature full cuts or display them in the pictures that dominate shop windows. From what I can observe, it seems to me that most of these stalls actually buy only the offal – skin, lungs, spareribs, intestines, all were stacked up in bags at the back. The exception is poultry – full ducks and chicken are prominently hung out in front – but that may be because the intestine of the average chicken is unlikely to get you very far.