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Tales of a Fearless Eater
He'll Try Anything - Once

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 1999 9:31 AM

I have eaten chicken feet.

I have eaten raw shrimp.

I have eaten marsh hare, which I thought was rabbit but discovered was muskrat.

I have eaten pigeon and jellyfish and octopus and squirrel and ox and turtle and snail and snake.

I became aggressively adventurous in dining when I was 13. I went with my older brother to a Chinese restaurant, a real Chinese restaurant in New York's Chinatown, with real Chinese people eating there. Hot tea was served in water glasses, with flakes swirling on the bottom; to me, this seemed an impressive touch of the exotic Orient. We ordered chow mein, or some other damn thing. All the time, I couldn't take my eyes off a Chinese family at a table in the center of the room. They were all picking at the same dish, a giant, steaming soup made from what appeared to be fishheads. I craned my neck. Yep. Fishheads.

I have eaten bull testicles.

I have eaten shark fins.

I have eaten alligator and goat and buffalo and spicy kangaroo jerky.

I have eaten a preserved Asian duck egg so old its insides were black paste.

I have eaten raw beef and raw lamb and raw lobster and raw scallop and raw mackerel.

There was no fishhead soup on the menu. So I summoned the waiter and asked him to identify the dish the Chinese family was eating. He misunderstood the question, and thought I was ordering it.

I have eaten tripe.

I have eaten the thymus gland of a calf.

I have eaten buckwheat groats and fiddlehead ferns and something called a snot-apple.

I have eaten sea cucumber, which is not a vegetable but an echinoderm, a sac of slime from the ocean.

I have eaten frog, not just the legs but also the flanks and head.

I have eaten a giant Pacific clam so fresh its muscle still rippled.

But the waiter didn't bring me the fishheadsoup. He smiled patronizingly and waggled a finger and said: "Only for Chinese people. Only Chinese like. Americans no like."

I have eaten abalone and cuttlefish and conch and cockle and periwinkle.

I have eaten calf brains.

I have eaten tomalley, which is the wet green liver pudding from within a lobster.

I have eaten an uncooked quail egg.

I have eaten soups made from melon, and from grass, and from fungus.

And because I was 13 and intimidated by this person and this place, and because I had a 13-year-old's fear of the unfamiliar, I went back to the safety of my chow mein. For days afterward, though, I felt shame. I had witnessed social injustice and held my tongue.

I have eaten duck tongue.

I have eaten sea urchin.

I have eaten chitterlings, which are shredded pig intestines.

I have eaten baby eels in hot oil.

And so, a few weeks later I marched back to the same restaurant and found the same waiter and asked for--no, demanded--the fishheadsoup, even though the thought of it was somewhat nauseating. This was eating as a political act.

I have eaten the worm from a bottle of tequila.

I have had milk still warm from the udder of a cow.

I have eaten squid raw, and squid sauteed in its own black ink.

I have eaten fishheadsoup.

And do you know what?

It was terrific.

FishHeadSoup

(6 to 8 servings)

Adapted from "The Chinese Cookbook" by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee (Lippincott, 1972).

3/4 pound cod cheek or heads of any non-oily fish, gills removed

1 raw chicken liver

10 spinach leaves

1/2 cup snow peas

2 tablespoons chopped tree ear, cloud ear or wood ear mushrooms

5 cups chicken broth 1/2 cup diced bamboo shoots

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 egg whites

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the cod cheek or fishhead and the chicken liver. Bring back to a boil, then remove from heat. Drain, discarding the cooking liquid. Set the liver and fish aside to cool.

Remove any meat from the fish bones and set aside. Dice the liver into 3/8-inch pieces and set aside.

Bring a clean pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach leaves and let them cook for 10 seconds, then remove with a skimmer. Run the spinach under cold water, then squeeze out any excess water. Set aside. Bring the water back to a boil. Add the snow peas and cook 10 seconds. Drain. Rinse the snow peas with cold water and set aside.

Soak the mushroom pieces in hot water for 10 minutes. Drain.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the bamboo shoots, chicken liver slices, tree ears and fish meat. Simmer very gently, until fish flakes easily.

Blend the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and stir into the soup. Bring to a boil and cook just until the soup thickens. Remove from the heat and add the spinach and snow peas. While still piping hot, gradually add the egg whites, stirring constantly.

Serve in a casserole dish, garnishing the soup with the fishheads.

Per serving (based on 8): 97 calories, 13 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 192 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 145 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

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