Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day 184 - Eating Kidney

I have never eaten kidney. Like many of my “I have never...” Tasty Tuesday events, eating kidney has never been an experience on my “to-do” list, but I knew the experience would open my eyes to previously unknown culinary roots. As a result, I added the skin-crawl-inducing event to my “I have never...” list several months ago when a bit of research led me to discover several regions of the world regularly use kidney in a variety of dishes. Although I didn’t know when or where I would be able to track down a local establishment offering the food, I figured I would take the chance to give it a try if I ever encountered the opportunity through the course of my “I have never...” year.

It wasn’t until early last month that the prospect of the opportunity of eating kidney finally arrived. As we sat at home one early October evening, Rachael brought up a local Asian Fusion restaurant, Fugu, she had become aware of through conversations with co-workers. She stated the restaurant was known for its more unique entrées, which included yak tongue, tripe, stomach, and, of course, kidney. Amazed at my lack of awareness about such a place in my hometown of Madison, I expressed a degree of skepticism in the face of the information, which inspired Rachael and I to look up information about the restaurant on the spot. An inexplicable degree of excitement gripped me as my eyes fell onto an entry reading “Sautéed Pork Live with Garlic” printed at the center of Fugu’s online menu. Although the discovery made me feel slightly disgusted, the idea of tackling another Tasty Tuesday event guided me in locating a suitable time to take on the experience of eating kidney for the first time. With that, I dropped the experience into my schedule for this evening, which happened to fall on the birthday of my brother, Abe.

Given the coincidence of my plans to eat kidney and my brother’s birthday, I invited Abe and his wife, Missy, out to dinner this evening. After explaining my “I have never...” event for the day during a phone call, Abe cut through his laughter with a confirmation he would like to attend and celebrate his birthday with what would undoubtedly be a memorable event. In turn, Abe, Missy, Rachael, and I headed to Fugu for dinner this evening and cautiously settled in for an experience with the unknown in my “I have never...” journey.

Here goes nothing...
Sitting at our table, we began sifting through the menus to narrow in on some selections for the night. While everyone else commented on the variety of unique foods and entrées of a more familiar origin, I actively scanned the menu for anything containing kidney. Eventually, that effort revealed three choices for my “I have never...” experience, which eventually led me to settle on the entrée I first discovered some weeks earlier, the Sautéed Pork Kidney with Garlic over white rice. I chatted about the idea and about my uncertainty over the event as the rest of the group continued rifling through the menu in search of a preferred meal. Eventually, Abe and Missy settled on some more routine choices for an Asian restaurant, Kung Pao Chicken and chicken curry rice, as Rachael tossed around the idea of trying a more taboo choice along with my “I have never...” experience with kidney. After a little deliberation, Rachael decided she would roll the dice and try some deep fried pig intestine while I tackled my dish of pork kidney. With her decision one thing became clear; it was going to be an interesting night.

After placing our orders, we chatted about the forthcoming experience as we waited patiently for our food to arrive. I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness as we bided our time until dinner, but I knew I wouldn’t be alone in my unique food experience given Rachael’s choice of intestine for her meal. Ultimately, our plates began arriving to our table one by one, with Missy and Abe receiving their food first, followed by the delivery of Rachael’s intestine dish. With everyone starting to pick away at their meal (and a healthy bit of discussion about the degree of disgust we felt at the sight of the pig intestine), I sat at the ready for my pork kidney to arrive. After several minutes, I finally saw a single plate emerge from the kitchen and begin working its way toward our table. Seconds later, a steaming plate of pale, rubbery brown meat mixed with an array of spices plopped down in front of me. Suddenly, the whole experience became real. I was about to eat kidney.

How does that look?
With the food finally sitting in front of me, a felt a sense of hesitation rush into my mind. I slowly shifted the mixture of food around my plate, looking over the features of the kidney as I thought about the best approach to tackling the meal. In doing so, I flipped pieces of the kidney over, which revealed an odd, tongued surface on the interior of the organ. The sight was enough to cause me to set down my chopsticks and lean in for a closer look. I struggled to wrap my head around the idea of eating the dish as I looked over the spiny brown surface of the sliced pieces of kidney buried in the mess of peppers and garlic. With each passing moment, I felt my aversion to the food growing. As a result, I knew I had to act to fulfill my “I have never...” experience for the day. With a lift of my chopsticks I picked a piece of the kidney from the plate and murmured, “It’s now or never... and never isn’t going to happen.”

Down the hatch!
In one swift movement, I lifted the piece of kidney to my mouth and dropped it on my tongue. Without delay, I immediately began chewing the slightly rubbery piece of kidney to force it down my throat as quickly as possible. As I did so, a wonderful mix of peppers, garlic, and an unknown flavor filled my mouth. Although it is hard to describe, the kidney offered a mildly sweet flavor that blended well with the intensity of the hot peppers and garlic. To my surprise, it didn’t taste anything like I expected an organ used to filter waste might taste. Of course, that may have very well been a result of the array of spices used in the rest of the dish, but the reality is the prepared dish was actually quite delicious and it offered a kick of spice that appeal directly to my tastes. Although I will admit the texture took a little getting used to, the overall experience was good to the extent that I convinced the others at the table to try a piece of the kidney. As I expected, the group almost universally agreed the kidney was beyond tolerable, it was actually rather tasty.

Getting full...

Given the surprisingly enjoyable flavor of the kidney meal, the rest of my first experience eating kidney went relatively quickly (I can’t say the same for Rachael’s experience with pork intestines, however). By the time we reached the end of our meal, Abe, Missy, Rachael, and I were full to the point we were sharing the remaining portions of our meals to clear off our plates. As expected, there weren’t many takers on the remaining portion of my meal, but the idea of taking more leftovers home for future meals didn’t upset me at all. In fact, I was glad to take the spicy mix of this odd food with me so I could enjoy the rest of it.

Leftovers? Leftovers!

Today’s Tasty Tuesday event in my “I have never...” journey was a rare example of “matter over mind.” Leading up to tonight’s event, my uncertainty and the stigmas I had assigned the idea of eating kidney almost resulted in my backing out of the new experience. Luckily, I bit the bullet and took the dive, which exposed me to the uniquely delicious taste of kidney. As a result, I came out with a completely different perspective on the idea of eating kidney and a much more open mind as it relates to trying unfamiliar foods I baselessly write off as “icky.” Although that isn’t the first time I have experienced that takeaway this year, tonight’s experience with kidney was probably the most prominent source of reinforcement for the concept. I went into tonight’s experience wondering why I was about to eat pork kidney, and I left the restaurant knowing I would willingly eat the organ again. That’s a pretty big turnaround, and I have nothing to thank for the experience other than the idea of living to seek the unknown.

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