When I told my friends about moving to Hong Kong, several kind souls offered their friends up to me. One such offering, Super Host, made it his business to ensure that I was getting everything out of my time here that I wanted to (this is an extremely intelligent and driven man, who I suspect has no idea that I’m a rampant underachiever who naps daily).
So we met for coffee, and a few days later Super Host mentioned that he and Super Hostess would like to invite me to dinner at their house. I was thrilled.
He called a few days later to propose our dinner more formally, and asked what I’d like to eat.
‘I’m really not fussy. I like just about everything.’
‘Would you like traditional Chinese food?’
‘I’d love it!’ (Super Host is Chinese, so I assumed he’d have a pretty good working knowledge of the cuisine)
‘Okay, how about 1000 year eggs? Pig’s knuckles?’
‘Sure, sounds great.’ I said, thinking he’s got quite a dry sense of humour.
‘I admit, I usually eat fried chicken and things, but I don’t want you telling your friends that you came to Hong Kong and I served you KFC.’
Ha ha ha. Yes, a very dry sense of humour.
On Monday Super Host called to confirm dinner for Wednesday. ‘So, I talked to my wife and our maid, and the maid's going to make 1000 year eggs, pig's feet ... anything else you'd like?'
I was really getting into the absurdity of this conversation. ‘Anything with beaks in it?'
And he said 'I’m not sure about that.'
At which point I realized he was serious. ‘Ha ha ha,’ I said nervously, ‘I’m just joking.’
And he said 'Okay, and she'll also make traditional rice and Chinese vegetables'.
And that’s how I talked myself into a dinner serving most of the things that get left on the butcher’s floor in the west.
On my way home on the escalators on Tuesday I stopped by the wine store. What does one pair with rancid eggs and delicacies that have stood in their owner’s faeces? Anticipating a side-splitting conversation, I asked the young Chinese proprietor what the best wine might be to serve with pig’s feet, 1000 year eggs and chicken feet.
He didn’t miss a beat, or crack a smile. He walked straight to the chilled cabinet, fished out a cheeky 2008 Australian Sauvignon Blanc and presented it to me. ‘This will be perfect.’ he said without a trace of irony.
And that’s when I knew beyond a doubt that this wasn’t an elaborate joke. I’m really going to have to eat these things.
As we sat chatting in Super Host’s living room the maid announced that dinner was served. When Super Host said ‘Did you bring your camera?’ I knew there was no going back now.
Not generally one to shy away from a challenge, I took a 1000 year egg first. It was indeed as unappealing to the eye in real life as it is in photos. So I bit it in half and chewed.
It was delicious. Not good-and-I’m-just-saying-that-to-be-polite. Not edible-when-nose-is-held-and-chocolate-thought-of. Delicious. The yolk isn’t slimy or jelly-like at all. It’s a little firmer than a hard boiled egg, with the same taste. The yolk is creamy instead of dry like said hard boiled egg, with the consistency of a mousse, and slightly sweeter than I expected. I’d order it in a restaurant.
Next I dug into the pig’s knuckles. These do indeed look exactly like a pig’s foot, with a thick layer of skin and subcutaneous fat covering the small meaty bits and bone. I suppose the closest thing I can think of is, if one were a cannibal and, let’s say, stewing up an arm for lunch, this is what it would look like.
So I popped it in my mouth. Mmm. Fatty. The meat was tasty but too much work to get to.
At this juncture I pointed out that Super Host wasn’t eating anything (by which I meant he wasn’t eating anything gross). He said ‘Oh I don’t eat that stuff.’
By stuff, he looked pointedly at the chicken feet. All right.
For the record, picking up a chicken foot with chopsticks isn’t easy. As it once supported an entire chicken, it’s rather heavier than, say, a dim sum bun. But I managed to wrestle it to my bowl.
‘Do I eat it bones and all?’ I politely asked Super Hostess, at which she regarded me with something like horror (no doubt imagining having to spend the night with me in the hospital) and said ‘No! just the outside!’
So I started at a toe, slightly put off by the large nail sticking off the end of it and thinking about all the time that nail probably spent scratching in the guano. I nibbled off the skin.
It tastes like chicken.
The rest of the meal was delicious, finished off with egg tarts that Super Hostess had found for me, and a mysterious purply fruit with a hardish shell that, when cracked open revealed soft white fruit with a seed in the middle and tasted a little like a peach and a mango.