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The whole hog – Chinese nose-to-tail eating


The thought is, if you’re going to take a life, it shouldn’t just be for a few choice cuts. You should be able to look the animal in the eye as it looks up at you from your plate.

Asia. A place where you’ll find all sorts of eyebrow-raising things on the menu. But it’s no longer the Far East that is throwing every part imaginable into the mix.

Unlike cultures not so keen on animal products being visually identifiable to their owner (say, by an eyeball gazing up from a plate), the Chinese are perfectly happy to confront their protein head on.

It’s part of their practical philosophy that, when you take an animal’s life, none of it should go to waste. From the nose to the tail, nearly everything gets eaten (from oxtail to fish lips). This has its roots in economic need. Traditionally, meat was hard to come by, so no one could afford to waste any part of the animal. As a result, the Chinese have found ingenious ways to cook more challenging cuts, including sliced offal, pork jelly and chicken feet.

In this, it’s not so much the individual ingredient that’s important, but rather the harmonious balance and contrast between all elements in the dish – this is a collectivist society, after all.

With this sort of adventurous palate, the Chinese have developed what you might call a high threshold for texture. Here, sucking the marrow from the bone is the best part of the meal, along with chewy, gooey, gloopy and rubbery foods. Flavour, too, is less of a concern, barbequed, pickled, fried or smoked.

While this all-animal approach was once out of favour in Anglo-Saxon countries, it’s now coming back into fashion for its ethical merits, at both high-end restaurants and street eateries across the UK. On the menu at Taiwanese outpost Old Tree Dai Wan Bee, in Chinatown, you can find all parts of the pig. No trotters spared.

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