Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The parts we never heard of...

Phsar Depot area, Phnom Penh--Cambodia. I suppose we take it for granted that cows have a complex system of internal organs, many of which do not resemble "beef" as we know it. Although there are undoubtedly small-scale farmers and restaurantiers who are aware of this "gray area", most of us in the West are pretty much used to three or four parts of the cow. I'm not sure if the terminology applies, but I suppose everything else gets lumped into a rather forsaken category known as "gibblets".

My experience in Cambodia thus far has mostly shattered that holy ignorance. The days of being "grossed out" by my mother's opting for cow tongue at the supermarket have been replaced with an almost daily experience with new and mostly unfamiliar cuts of cow. Now let me just say that I've been incrementally picking up the Cambodian words for various parts--I count about 10 new words added to my dictionary. But most of the time, when I inquire about the cow "part" I'm consuming, I end up having to learn a new word! Anyway, I should say now that the week-stomached should not read on.

In the first week of arriving I decided to take my friend and interpreter out for cook-it-yourself-beef soup. I've grown accustomed to this soup arriving with a few succulent and marrow-filled shanks stewing in it, but this time I was caught a bit offguard. The soup, which was very tasty in a gamy way I couldn't really associate with beef, came with slabs of a meat with a sheen on one side, and a strange "hair" on the other side. Visually, the hair reminded me a bit of a rubbery doormat. It's texture, however, was succulent and soft and I found myself enjoying it immensely. Eventually, I did inquire as to the part of the cow. My interpreter, caught by surprise himself, translated that we were eating cow teets. Indeed, upon closer inspection there were nipples and areolae and the shiny side did indeed have that striated look of teets. The first thought to go through my head was: given the popularity of chicken breast, why hasn't cow breast at least made it a little bigger? The answer is probably a combination of funky-looking texture and, more generally, the aversion to non-steaky beef.

Now, I had heard a bit about mountains of pigs feet being shipped from foot-averse Europe to foot-loving China, but... may I ask, what happens to all the other parts? Is the world market equipped to move that kind of product around or are we just wasting massive amounts of obviously edible meat?

1 comment:

jadevine said...

Hahaha! funny observation... well there is much grosser or yacky parts of cow that are delicacies in Iloilo (one island in the Phil), ... now im figuring out of something =p