Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Vegetarians eat spinach for breakfast

Hong Kong.

A strange kind of day, culinarily speaking.

The vegetarian breakfast served on board the British Airways flight this morning comprised a scrambled egg lump with a texture not dissimilar to expanded polystyrene - and marginally less flavour. It was accompanied by two things that may once have been hash browns, one tomato, and - insert your own drum roll - a green pile of spinach. As unsurprised as I was by the former, I was significantly more surprised by the latter. I've never had the pleasure of spinach for breakfast before. Quite strange.

But rather pleasant. If this is what vegetarians habitually have for breakfast, I'll definitely be considering signing up.

By stark contrast, this evening - in the spirit of culinary adventure - I ordered marinated duck's tongues, thinking they might provide an amusing and tasty morsel or two, as well as the opportunity to upset or terrify my dinner companions. Having never had them before, I fancied I might receive perhaps three or four tongues, richly brown and cheerfully flavoured with soy sauce or some other dark, possibly sticky, sauce.

What arrived at the table some moments later was a huge mound of greyish slugs that I at first mistook for someone else's dinner. Indeed, I was already chuckling at their poor choice, when the waiter's words, and a glimmer of recognition told me that this was in fact my own dish.

I stared at the huge mound of tongues, each as long and thick as my little finger, and resembling nothing more than a sickly slug. My witty observation died on my lips. There must have been fully two score of the things, maybe more. I couldn't actually focus well enough to count them all.
But my dinner companions were watching - staring, actually. And if I was to terrify them as I had planned, I had better get on with the deed. I seized my chopsticks, selected one of the choicest-looking morsels from the top of the pile, and popped it into my mouth.

From the first taste I knew that I would not finish the dish. The marinade was, alas, not to my taste, with an unidentifiable flavour - perhaps the very flavour of duck tongue - that set my teeth on edge and my gorge rising. Gamely I chewed thoughtfully, trying to make a meal out of something I very much wanted to spit straight onto the floor.

The texture was equally - or quite possibly, even more - vile. There was a gristly kind of chewy sponginess to it, and I seem to recall something popping under my teeth with a quiet noise that made me think - without basis - of tendons or ligaments or something unplesantly fleshy.

With an effort, I swallowed, wiped a tear from the corner of my eye, and forced a weak smile.

"Delicious." I declared with what I hoped was a confident, insouciant air. I pushed the dish towards someone - anyone, the main attempt being to remove it from my eating zone. "Try some!"

For the record, only one of my companions took me up on the offer. And found the experience to be remarkably similar to my own.

Honestly, if that's what ducks are tasting all the time, it's no wonder they're quacking all the bloody time.

Happily, the dumplings with pork and hairy crab were delicious - unctuous and flavoursome.

And the snake with asparagus was very pleasant - light and pleasingly textured with a flavour that was not overpowering. It was, I can report with some confidence, reminiscent of chicken.

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