I just finished reading a review at Eater from earlier this year of Dhamaka in the Essex Market, which advertises itself as “the other side of India, the forgotten side.” Among the dishes about which the writer waxes rhapsodic is gurda kapoora, which he explains is a mix of chiles, goat kidneys, and testicles.
I have eaten all of those “exotic” foods along with a great many others, including raw liver and lamb brains, the latter rated by Secret NYC as one of the “10 weirdest foods you can eat in” the city. But there is something about the gurda kapoora — and maybe it’s the author’s overwrought descriptions — that have me wondering whether the “forgotten side” of India should remain forgotten. Consider this:
Outside of sweetbreads or pate, the wondrous world of soft tissue offal — stomachs, gonads, brains — doesn’t tend to occupy a ton of real estate at cool-kid venues like this one. It’s a shame, really, as the snappy, slithery, and sometimes custardy textures of these viscera, which don’t boast the same steak-like meatiness as, say, grilled hearts, often bring an added layer of complexity to a dish.
The kidneys pack a wonderfully firm pop, followed by a sweet, grassy funk that’s only a degree or two muskier than goat butter. The testicles, in turn, exhibit a soft bounciness, like an unpeeled grape.
The whole business got me to musing over a question I as a reviewer have been asked before: What foods or dishes won’t I eat? Where do I draw the line?
Here are my current answers:
Anything live. Years ago in her four-star review of Hatsuhana in the New York Times, Mimi Sheraton wrote about a lobster that reached her table “alive and crawling.” More recently, the late Anthony Bourdain boasted about having eaten in Vietnam the “live and still-beating heart of a snake.” More recently still, the Korean barbecue Sik Gaek in Woodside, Queens served a dish of octopus that was “not technically alive, but it is actually still squiggling when they serve it to you.” Earlier this year, the restaurant announced that it was discontinuing service of the dish. The occasion was one time when I found myself agreeing with the weirdos at PETA.
Anything that is commonly a family pet. I suspect you know where I’m headed with this one: China. In June I read a report from Humane Society International noting that a truck packed with several dozen dogs headed to China’s Yulin dog meat “festival” was intercepted by Chinese activists. I can’t say I was sorry to hear it, even though I realize I am trampling on the traditions of another culture. The bottom line is if I personally am ever offered dog or cat meat, I will politely but firmly decline.
Anything that crawls.* The asterisk is my way of denoting that I am slowly but surely finding myself gravitating toward sampling some bugs. In particular I have been drawn increasingly toward eating grasshoppers, which are on the menus of several New York Mexican restaurants such as The Black Ant. On the other hand, if there’s one critter that is unlikely ever to cross my lips it is the one pictured below. I’m not referring to the burger but its “condiment” — a nice furry tarantula.