Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Life in the bowels of Taiwan

Despite typhoons, earthquakes and malodorous grilled animal parts, I am thankful as always to be here. As for the animal parts, I went to one of my favorite little places a few nights a go (where I eat at least once a week) and was urged to try the "pork" things that look like waxy carrots. Meat carrots, they look like big orange candles with a stalk of scallions sticking out. I've seen them every time I go there, but have never gotten past a vague curiosity. I'm generally suspicious of foods pretending to be entire other food groups, let alone specific foods. It's like animal clothing for food. But animal clothing for animals unnerves me. I imagine the little beast in a tux is about to say something; or, if a male, readjust itself; or, if a female, pose in a tiny pawheld mirror. I want my animals naked and my neighbors clothed. And I want my carrots to look like carrots and my meat to look like meat.

But I was feeling frisky, trying to feel more at home as a "regular," so I said, "Okay, chi chi kan. [Okay, I'll try them.]"

Minutes later, a plate of... them came out to me, grilled and cut into rings. My misgivings began to swell. I assumed they were a sort of pork wrap, but didn't see a seam. First hint. The server lady told me to eat them fast while they were still hot and crispy. So, I prayed especially fervently over my food, unsheated my chopsticks and went in for the first extraction.

I should have taken the second hint -- a distinctly fecal musk in each bite -- but I kept on shouldering through the plate of hot crispy O-rings. Eventually, though, the endless chewing of fat and very unyielding skin slowed me down. I looked closer, rang up my old anatomy knowledge, and held back a gag. Chewy smooth skin on the outside. Then a layer of fat. Then a ring of striated muscle, textured like a tongue, on the inner perimeter. Bingo. Intestines. Grilled intestinal carrots.

"Hao chi ma?" the server asked me with a smile. "Good food, eh?"

"Oh, hao, hao," I managed to squirt out past the musty O-rings and fat. "Good, right. You said they're pork?"

"Inside a pig. They're inside a pig," she said, still smiling, now waving her hands in a circle over her belly.

All I could manage in reply was to raise my eyebrows in mock approval and mutter, "Ah, dui, dui. [Right, right.]"

My only solace at the time was that they were the small intestines, not the large -- not the colon itself. But I was later relieved of that comfort when I learned the name of the food wquite simply means "big intestines," the pig's colon itself.

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