While the discovery of traces of horse and donkey DNA found in supermarket meat labeled “beef” caused outrage across Europe this year, China’s ecumenical devotion to eating meat has extended to these animals since the Ming Dynasty.
Indeed donkey meat has a huge fan base across northern parts of the country and donkey stalls team with enthusiastic devourers of donkey throughout the day. As the Chinese saying goes “In heaven there is dragon meat, on earth there is donkey meat” (天上龙肉，地上驴肉).
I am generally skeptical about meat from animals that I am unaccustomed to eating and will admit that upon eating crocodile, the only insight I could muster was “it tastes a bit like chicken”. However, I was persuaded both by the Chinese love of donkey meat and by its nutritional value – donkey meat is very high in protein, low in cholesterol and contains few harmful chemicals due to the animal’s intolerance of food additives. I was ready to give it a try.
My donkey diner of choice was (小红驴肉) or literally “little red donkey meat” an unassuming restaurant hidden in the backstreets behind Jintailu (金台路) in Beijing’s Chaoyang district (朝阳区). As a newcomer to the craze, I left it to my more experienced fellow diner to decide on the order.
The dishes were cheap. 5元 (82 cents) can buy you one Lurou huoshao (驴肉火烧), or baked flour cake with donkey meat stuffing – the most popular snacks with Beijing’s donkey connoisseurs and rookies alike. 40元 (6.50$) pays for a large Luza guozai (驴杂锅仔), an assortment of different parts of the donkey all thrown into a hotpot.
The Lurou huoshao went down a treat. It wasn’t as tough as I had expected and was complimented by an array of herbs and spices with a sweet aftertaste too. It is the closest thing you will find at a Beijing street stall to a steak sandwich and at a smidgen of the cost. That was more than could be said for the Luza guozai however. While I would consider myself adventurous when it comes to exotic dining, eating the entrails of a donkey’s digestive system is about as appealing as it sounds. The liver was dense with a rubbery texture and the less said about the intestines the better. While the rump meat provided a more familiar taste and the soup was pleasant, my suspicions about what other parts of the donkey had been used in the dish were compounded by the waiter’s passionate description of the meat’s supposed aphrodisiac qualities.
My experience of donkey meat had been mixed, but there is no questioning the price, the meat itself is nutritious and it can be delicious.
And even though the Luza guozai had left me feeling green, the more popular Lurou huoshao is sure to put a donkey’s grin on your face.
Image courtesy of the Telegraph on www.telegraph.co.uk