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Chinese cooking: Heaven and hell in China



WAISers know that Paul Simon has many goats. He said he had eaten goat meat and crow. I wondered if he meant that literally or figuratively, eating crow meaning to be humiliated. Incidentally, the expression arose during an armistice in the 1812 war. A New Englander unwittingly crossed the British lines while hunting and brought down a crow. An unarmed British officer heard the shot. Each forced the other to take a bite of the crow. Both ate crow, but neither could crow. It is said to be an Americanism. Is that true, John Heelan of the UK? "Crow-eaters" is said to be the nickname of South Australians. Is that true? In any case, Paul Replied:

"You might have to live in China to get this: 'In Heaven you get take-out Chinese for dinner In Hell you get taken out by Chinese for dinner'. That's the essential oxymoron of eating in China; most Chinese food is delightful. Few occidentals have any problem with it, if they have some input in what is ordered. But Chinese do eat anything and everything. My theory is that during various famines, everything, including human flesh, got tried. Being great cooks, the Chinese came up with recipes for everything. Today many of the odd things survive as delicacies. As you know, I can curdle blood with my tales of what I have been served at banquets when there was no face-saving way to say "no".

My most horrid memory is of April, 2000. I must have appeared ragged, shagged, and fagged by overwork, because all my Chinese friends insisted on feeding me penis for my vitality! (read on at your peril). I had grilled ox penis slices one day, deer penis soup (the penis is slit open and curls up in the soup, rather like a double-length vienna sausage). The crowning glory came at a dog meat banquet when the guest of honor, me, was forced to eat several steamed dog penises (penii?) in brown gravy. I know things about canine anatomy that only veterinarians should have to know: spongy tissue, there is a triangular piece of cartilege involved, etc. I also know things that vets mercifully never learn, like the chewy texture of dog scrotum and foreskin.

So, have I eaten crow? You bet-- in Tarlac, in Luzon. And goat--many times. Goat curry is available here in Chengdu!"

My comment: Some WAISers plan to visit Paul in Chengdu. They will surely want to try the local cooking.

Ronald Hilton - 2/13/02


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