By Anna Swann-Pye
If the name is at all telling, it’s no wonder that Americans are often squeamish about offal cuisine — the word ‘offal’ means literally ‘off all’ and refers to food that utilizes all the parts of an animal. The practice of cooking and eating entrails, brain, tongue, and more has, for a long time, made North Americans understandably uncomfortable.
Charles Schwabe began his popular odd-food preparation book, Unmentionable Cuisine, by lamenting on America’s wasteful eating habits.
Stewed beef offal.
Photo by avlxyz.
“Because of prejudice or ignorance,” wrote Schwabe, “we Americans now reject many readily available foods that are cheap, nutritious and easy to eat.”
Schwabe’s book was written 30 years ago but even today, popular Offal chefs, like Incanto’s Chris Consentino, have had similar complaints. Although Chris, it seems, is relatively understanding.
“Heads and feet remind consumers too directly that the food is of animal origin,” he explains in his OffalGood blog. “Ambivalence about eating certain bits of an animal’s anatomy, such as TESTICLES, is expressed through the used of euphemistic names. Some internal offal has surreal shapes and strong flavors, which are not to everyone’s taste.”
So offal cooking is quick to weird people out, but New Yorkers are daring and independently-minded. Thus, offal has become something of a trend here in the city. From Maharlika’s Epic Balut-Eating Contest (a popular snack in the Philippines, referring to a duck egg that has been only partly fertilized), to the Meatopia festival on Roosevelt Island (the “Woodstock of edible animals”), unmentionable meats are taking the city by storm.
In 2011, New York Magazine even did a report on offal, voting the West Village’s Takashi as the best offal joint in the city. For a restaurant that serves only beef, Takashi has quite an assortment of exotic dishes. Their menu lists “flash boiled Achilles tendon,” “third stomach with spicy miso sauce,” and “calf’s brain cream” as only a few of the restaurant’s options.
BreakThru Radio sat down with Reece Barakat, Takashi’s General Manager, who told us a little bit about the numerous benefits of offal cuisine.
“There are so many different vitamins and minerals in the various cuts,” says Bakarat. “And not just the flavor. I mean, like sweetbreads are good for your skin. The first stomach has a lot of B-12 and zinc in it.”
The benefits go on and on and yet, Reece suggested, it still takes a daring customer (of which Takashi has many) to try some of the more exotic items on the menu. For instance, take the Testicargo, or cow balls, escargot style – a dish you can only find at Takashi, if you’re staying in Manhattan. After all, offal hasn’t been considered a delicacy until only very recently.
“In Japanese, they call offal, ‘hormone’ — things that you throw away,” Reece tells us, “And after World War II, all the Korean immigrants in Japan really couldn’t afford the red cuts of beef so that’s what they would eat.”
But from the bottom, offal has risen in popularity, and with it, Takashi has become an incredibly successful restaurant in New York City. Reece recommends that everyone come and try his favorite: the large intestine — and from what it sounds like, ordering that off Takashi’s menu would be a decision worth making.
Offal may not be for everyone. Perhaps we’re not all ready to eat a duck fetus or to dabble in some brain cream, but it’s a cuisine that’s certainly got people talking.
“Everyone should come at it with an open mind,” Reece tells us in conclusion, and this seems about right. Because, with so many benefits and a whole slew delicious flavors to boot, offal may not be so awful after all.