Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 282 - Eating Intestines

I have never eaten intestines. Let me start by saying this is something I never would have done prior to my “I have never...” year. Although I have eaten plenty of strange things in the name of gaining a deeper understanding of cultural cuisine over the course of the past nine months, the bulk of them have been things I would have been willing to try regardless of this year’s objectives. Durian fruit, ghost peppers, bone marrow, and beef tongue had enough appeal to me to draw my curiosity on their own, but intestines are an entirely different story. The idea of eating an organ that serves as the last conduit in the process of digestion is so outwardly disturbing to me that I almost dismissed the idea outright when it was presented to me as a potential new experience during the course of this year.

This perspective was only reinforced when Rachael decided she would “test” the food for me during a “Tasty Tuesday” event that fell on my Brother’s birthday back in November. After she was barely able to eat more than a few pieces of the meal, she passed the dish off to my Brother and his wife, who responded to a taste with the type of shock usually only reserved for unexpected life-altering experiences. After witnessing the trio of responses, I struggled to justify putting myself through the experience as a part of my journey. As a result, I shelved the idea as a last resort for a Tasty Tuesday event and hoped the experience would not come to pass.

In the weeks that followed that decision, the story of Rachael’s experience came up on and off among different company we encountered during my daily new experiences. To my surprise, the few people that stated they had tried intestines almost universally stated they enjoyed the meal and insisted Rachael’s experience was the result of poor preparation. Of course, the comments did little to shift my perspective on tackling the experience, but the information caused Rachael to start encouraging me to eat the dish as one of my “Tasty Tuesday” experiences.

In a final conversation on the matter one evening Rachael said frankly, “I just can’t believe it... but it kind of means you have to try it to see if mine really was prepared incorrectly, right?” I dismissed her comment with a statement welcoming her to order the food again at the next opportunity we encountered. “No, I can’t do that. I know the memory of my experience will affect my taste buds,” she said as a matter of fact, “Come on, you have to do it.” I brushed off the remark once more, grimacing at the idea of eating intestines. In response, Rachael paused momentarily and followed up with three words she knew would rope me into the experience. “I dare you,” she said grinning, “I dare you to eat intestines.”

My head fell at the remark as I did my best to fend off her prodding, but the outright challenge was too much for me to avoid. “Fine. Alright, I’ll do it,” I said in defiance, “I’ll eat the damn intestines.” In a near state of disbelief at the words that had escaped my mouth, my mind quickly reeled and searched for some way out of the challenge. In that moment, I realized there was no turning back unless I offered some sort of ultimatum. “I’ll do it, but it has to be at a different restaurant in town that serves them so we can compare,” I said, somewhat confident the task would be impossible at a local level. Rachael simply grinned at my comment and turned her head toward her laptop computer. “Ichiban,” she said a few moments later. I looked at her a bit puzzled by the statement. “Ichiban on Park Street serves them; a few kinds actually.” She turned her computer to face me and pointed at the screen. The picture of the prepared pork intestines facing me was easily recognizable as the dish she had eaten on the night of my Brother’s birthday. With that, my fate was sealed. Against my better judgment, I was going to eat intestines.

Over the coming months I did my best to come to terms with my commitment to eat intestines until I eventually realized my only outlet was to act on the experience and get it over with. As a result, Rachael and I found ourselves at Ichiban this evening to follow through on my anxiety-inducing plan. As if to mock my discomfort with the forthcoming experience, a picture of the dish was plastered on the wall in the entrance of the restaurant, which caused me to shake my head as we were guided to our table. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to the experience, but I knew there was no way I was going to back out after making my promise to take on the challenge.

“I can’t believe you are doing this,” Rachael said as we sat down at our table and opened our menus. In response, I looked at her sharply and said the only thing I could, “You know why I’m doing this.” She simply smiled in reply and began pouring over the restaurant’s expansive menu, being sure to point out the other unique and different offerings that lined its pages. We chatted a bit about some of the more appealing entries until our server arrived and offered to take our order.

In an effort to remove any chance of doubling back on my plan I immediately declared my intent to try the intestines and asked for the server’s advice on selecting the most tolerable intestine entrée. “They are all pretty good,” she said making reference to the multiple styles of intestines offered by the restaurant. I looked at her with a heavy degree of skepticism and remained silent. “For your first time, though, try the spicy crispy intestines.” I nodded my head in agreement and handed her my menu. “Alright, I’ll do that,” I said quietly as I looked over to Rachael. The server promptly scribbled my order on her notepad before turning to Rachael and asking for her order. Their conversation faded from my attention as I stared at the empty plate on the table in front of me and thought through the forthcoming experience. In that moment I decided my only choice was to take on the task headlong and hope for the best.

I can still turn back...
Our meals arrived surprisingly fast after Rachael placed her order. In fact, the speed with which the plate of fried intestines was in front of me left me feeling a little scattered and underprepared for the experience. Doing my best to collect myself, I took a deep breath as the server set the plate of golden brown, oblong rings in front of me, served Rachael her food, and left us to our meal. In response to the presence of the intestines, I looked up at Rachael briefly and mulled over my approach. I promptly reminded myself of my plan to take on the task swiftly, which spurred me to grab my chopsticks and plunge them into the pile of food. Scooping out a large piece of intestines, I raised it to my face, gave it one quick look, and forced it into my mouth.

Before the flavor could hit my tongue, I chewed through the layered, slightly elastic ring rapidly, hoping the taste wouldn’t overwhelm me with disgust when it finally itself known. Almost expecting an earthy, squalid taste to rush into my mouth, I closed my eyes tight as I continued chewing, but to my surprise no abnormal of undesirable flavor rolled onto my tongue. Instead, a familiar lightly fried taste accompanied by a nutrient, somewhat sweet sensation filled my mouth. Comparable to that of the kidney I ate several months ago, the taste wasn’t bad but it wasn’t outstanding. It was good enough to eat and enjoy; assuming one could look past the fact it was intestines, of course.


Intestines... Gross.

My relative ease handling the intestines caused Rachael to look at me with equal concern and disbelief. “They don’t make you want to throw up?” she asked firmly. In response, I worked through my second bite of the meal and answered her question, “Not at all. It isn’t all that bad; certainly not as bad as I thought it would be after your experience.” Rachael looked at me like I was crazy before shaking her head and getting back to her meal. “I don’t know how you can do it,” she said stirring her chopsticks through her meal, “The stuff I had was nasty.”

The first bite

I shrugged at her remarks before returning to my meal and happily nibbling away at my food until I began to feel full. In an outcome I never would have expected from eating intestines, I had worked through nearly half of the meal, eating several dozen pieces of intestine during the process. The flavor and light body of the meal actually made it easy to eat, and although the texture left something to be desired, I couldn’t deny the fact the intestines were much better than I ever expected they would be. While the food was anything but a favorite, it served its purpose well and it resulted in me having a full meal. It was surprising, but my first experience with intestines was largely uneventful.

Ok, I've had enough...

Eventually, our meal drew to a close with me taking on a few more bites of the half full plate of intestines. After paying our bill, Rachael and I headed back out to our car and began the drive home. “I still can’t believe you were ok with that stuff,” Rachael said as we pulled away from the restaurant. I thought about her persistent disbelief for a moment before offering a reply. “I don’t know,” I said doing my best to focus on the road, “Maybe I’m just getting so used to eating strange stuff that I just look for the best in each meal.” That concept was an interesting insight that I hadn’t acknowledged before that moment. “I mean, maybe I’m just trying to find the best in the food so I can make the most of, and learn from the experience, you know?”

Rachael didn’t offer a response to my largely rhetorical question, but the premise behind it was an important takeaway for me to gain from tonight’s experience. By far, this was the “Tasty Tuesday” I dreaded most of any thus far in my “I have never...” journey, but like the others that came before it I walked away with good meal and a continued willingness to try new and exotic foods. After tonight's experience, I doubt I will eat intestines again in the near future, but I know this event gave me deeper insight than I would have gained otherwise. That tells me something good is coming from these little challenges I am putting myself through, which makes me happy I have kept after this year of new experiences.

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