I’m not a fifth-quarter guy. Some adventurous eaters begin to drool when the discussion veers to offal and other tasty bits, but not me.
I don’t reject it out of hand, however. Years ago, when the only tacos I’d eaten came from Taco Bell, my friend Rick took me to a little hole-in-the-wall taqueria. There I had my first street tacos and life was forever changed. That was 30 years ago, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve stepped into a Taco Bell in the ensuing decades.
For those first street tacos I chose the meat no true carnivore can resist: carnitas. There’s a cosmic symbiosis that occurs when you wrap a soft corn tortilla around those seasoned, fried chunks of pork butt.
Taquerias — which are now as common in my old home of Southern California as Taco Bells — provide all kinds of tasty bits to wrap with tortillas. One time Rick surprised me, subbing carnitas for lengua. It was probably too much back then. I was a shy boy, not quite ready for some tongue.
Over the years I expanded my taco game and grew to appreciate lengua. With salsa verde, a lengua taco is pretty good — a little like a spicy French kiss. And then there’s menudo, that Mexican soup made with beef stomach that’s supposed to be a hangover cure. I can’t speak to its medicinal properties, but I will say menudo is delicious and best enjoyed before noon on a Sunday.
Ideally, washed down with a little hair of the dog.
I love game meat, especially elk and quail, yet I’ve shied away from the tender bits. I saved the heart and liver of both elk I killed, but that was so I could dice them up and boil the chunks for the dogs. A handful of thawed elk protein mixed in with a bowl of kibble is a good winter treat for finicky English setters.
When it comes to bird giblets, Doll expects sautéed heart, liver and gizzard as a post hunt reward for all her hard work. I have considered keeping a limit of quail hearts for myself. The little nuggets are barely the size of the tip of my pinkie and I understand they’re quite tasty, but then I’d have to contend with that mournful look of disappointment on my dog’s face.
One primary characteristic of all the tender bits is texture. It’s different than the muscle meat we’re used to eating. The stomach in menudo is a bit chewy, like sliced tendon in that delicious Vietnamese soup, pho. American’s usually don’t do chewy.
But lengua is even further off the charts. Beef tongue tastes like beef, but it’s fatty in texture. The recent popularity of pork belly — especially pork belly confit — suggests we’re learning to appreciate fall-apart soft.
One taco protein I’ve never tried is calf’s brain. It’s a little scrambled eggy in texture from what I understand. If I was ever headed there, the mad cow scare in Britain 20 years ago and the current epidemic of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer has made me think otherwise. Lengua is adventurous enough.
And then we learned this week that scientists in China have slipped human genes into the brains of macaque monkeys. To the best of my knowledge bush meat is not a major contributor to the diet of the rural Chinese, as it is in some areas of Africa, and so far all the genetically modified monkeys remain in the lab. If any escape in the wrong place, however, it could raise ethical concerns about cannibalism, as well as lab experimentation on animals.
There’s that, and also the worry a new super race of primates will make one of my fave movies “Planet of the Apes” a reality.
And Cornelius might not like monkey-brain tacos.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.