My colleague James Delingpole likes to say that the best fur is cruel, rare fur. The same law holds just as well for food. In fact, I feel confident he would agree with me that virtually all the most enjoyable experiences in life are based to some degree on annoying the right people, which is why hunting with hounds has experienced such a renaissance in popularity in recent years.
And little gets aloof city-dwellers, who know nothing of country life and imagine foxes to be sweet, dog-like companions rather than the odious, disease-carrying vermin they really are, like a bit of so-called “animal cruelty.” Newsflash, idiots: it’s a scary old world out there, and sometimes one animal eats another. Humans are not exempt from this natural order.
So to food. Last year, in France, I tried ortolan, which in case you don’t know involves biting the head off a small bird that’s been drowned in brandy and then roasted so the head falls off onto the plate in front of you. (The rest of the bird stays in your mouth, having gone in feet-first.) This is typically done with a napkin over one’s head.
You then bite through the body, bones included, until eventually your teeth puncture its lungs, and all the lovely warm brandy the bird was killed with floods into your mouth. Heavenly–though, inexplicably, banned in French restaurants since 2007 on spurious grounds of cruelty. We had to get a private chef in to make it. I thoroughly commend the experience to you.
You’ve probably heard about the ban on foie gras, pâté made from fattened duck or goose liver, being lifted, albeit perhaps temporarily, in California. Foie is a sort of entry-level cruel food, really, but boy is it tasty. How anyone can live in a state without foie is beyond me–but I’m told by friends in Hollywood that there is a healthy black market in the stuff, if you live on the right street.
Anyway: having ticked ortolan and foie gras off my list, and heartily enjoyed both of them, I turned to the internet to find out what other cruel and delicious delicacies there are out there, only to find a bunch of blog posts whinging about how evil and wicked certain cooking methods are but absolutely no one explaining what these dishes actually taste like, which is the only thing I want to know.
That’s why I’ve decided to make 2015 my Year of Cruel Food. So here’s the stuff I’ll be on the look-out for on my travels. Check back with me this time next year and I’ll let you know how I got on–and which supposedly barbaric dish was the most lip-smackingly good.
Apparently, monkey brain has never been served in a restaurant. But it has at various times been popular in parts of China and Africa. The monkey is dragged to a dining table, held down and then has its skull cracked open with a hammer. Diners use long forks or skewers to pick out morsels of spongy brains. Particularly hungry diners get up in the skull with a teaspoon. The whole thing is consumed raw, dripping with blood.
Japanese, of course. It means “prepared alive.” The trick is to slice into the fish in a way that leaves it still gasping and wriggling on the table, so you can tuck into its raw flesh with one hand while holding its face down with the other. Or something. Here’s a video.
Another Chinese specialty. A donkey is chained to a post in the street, or your table leg, and sliced open. You eat it, to the sounds of terrified braying until eventually the donkey sinks, its pulse fading, to the floor. I might skip this one, actually, in part because I’m not completely sure it’s real, but also because chowing down on Eeyore is just a little bit too close to eating my childhood pony, Merrylegs.
After being seasoned, a turtle is immersed in water, which it begins to drink. Heat is applied. The animal remains alive as the temperature gradually rises. When the animal panics and starts ingesting gulpfuls of boiling liquid, its insides begin to cook too. It is then flipped over and its flesh is scooped from the shell. The liquid becomes a soup highly prized for its restorative properties.
Grilled unborn lamb
A pregnant goat is tossed into an oven or onto a charcoal fire and roasted until golden brown. When entirely cooked through, its stomach is sliced open and the tender, flavoursome, bright pink unborn lamb is removed from the womb and served immediately.
What is it about Japanese chefs? It’s as if they’re all permanently 15, stuck at the age you try microwaving the cat. You take a layer of tofu, throw some baby eels called loaches on top and then add boiling water. The loaches will attempt to escape being boiled alive by burrowing into the cold tofu, which creates a sort of Emmental cheese effect. Ultimately, the water seeps into the passageways and cooks both the tofu and the fish.
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