A stew at Island of Taiwan incorporates pig bung and blood, a match made in heaven.
When it comes to dining, we each have our own comfort zones. Some avidly down handfuls of Sichuan peppercorns, relishing the burn, while others consume animal glands of the earthiest and most arcane sort as if they were poached chicken breasts. Blood is a tasty turn-on to many, while others are not quite happy unless eating insects and snakes. The world is a vast cornucopia of foodstuffs, and in it we can certainly find something to alarm everyone.
The firefly squid at Momokawa has an elusive texture.
In assembling our list of the city’s most challenging dishes, we cast no aspersions against any food preferences or nationalities that produced them. We guarantee that every dish on the list, no matter how edifying we may have found it, scared us at least a little bit at first. Not as much as a Big Mac scares us, but it gave us a scare nonetheless.
Here without further ado are Our 10 Most Challenging Dishes.
10. Tete de Veau — One evening the Organ Meat Society attacked a calf’s head at French old-timer Tout Va Bien in the Theater District. Arriving on a large tray, the pieces of face had been laid out methodically as if Hannibal Lecter had performed the dissection — ears, lips, tender cheeks, and pieces of brow, the parts as recognizable as animal illustrations in children’s books. A sprightly vinaigrette was served alongside, and many of the parts were gelatinous or chewy. The ears made the biggest impression, causing an audible crunch when bitten into. 311 West 51st Street, Hell’s Kitchen, 212-265-0190
9. Large Pig Intestines With Duck Blood — They say it’s good for blood pressure, impotence, dropsy, and all sorts of human ills, but who likes the taste and surreal texture of the wobby blocks of congealed blood that form one half of the focus of the stew seen at the top of the first page, from the restaurant called Island of Taiwan? The porcine intestine is another horror show for those who can’t appreciate its squishy and skanky majesty. 6817 Eighth Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 718-680-0033
8. Firefly Squid — Some are fans of the raw octopus served in sushi bars, because it has a creepy, slightly sweet mouthfeel. Take that a step or two further, and you have firefly squid at Kyoto-style restaurant Momokawa. This tiny, naturally phosphorescent denizen of the sea is served raw, slimed with a solution of seawater and ink. The texture, as you suck it off the end of your chopsticks and into your mouth, is, well … strange. 157 East 28th Street, Murray Hill, 212-684-7830
7. Barbecued Pig Head — While it may sound like a romp in the forest, assaying the barbecued pig head at Fatty ‘Cue is hard work, peeling layer upon layer of trembling yellow fat from the face and jowl, as the bloodshot eyes look up at you pleadingly, the ears tremble, and all sorts of bodily fluids squirt in various directions. 91 South 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-3090
The fabled pig head at Fatty ‘Cue.
The durian fritters at Very Tong are very creamy and smelly.
6. Duck Tongues — “Like French-kissing a duck” is how one wag described it. Duck tongues are so small that one serving often includes over 100. At East Harbor, each tiny pointed tongue, laved in rich soy sauce, seems to have a bone down the middle, which much be crunched up or spit out — you decide. 714 65th Street, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 718-765-0098
5. Pork Chitterlings — The vinegar used to pickle this soul-food staple can barely cover the smell of the stomach acids and decay that somehow made their way into this swollen and distended digestive organ. And the chewing required to swallow them at Sylvia’s (weekends only) means they’ll be in your mouth for a long, long time. 328 Lenox Avenue, Harlem, 212-996-0660
4. Durian Fritters — You’ve seen the bumpy footballs, often restrained by a thin yellow net, on sale in Chinatown, but have you ever been present when one of them was cracked open? The smell is like something out of Dante, as the earth opens up and the souls of the damned stream out. Even deposited in ice cream or pastry, the latter found at Very Tong, the fetidity remains uncompromised, making you wonder why would anyone use this fruit in a dessert? 6202 18th Avenue, Borough Park, Brooklyn, 718-236-8118
3. Natto Beans — Why do the Japanese love these stinky fermented beans so much, held together with a gooey and stringy protein that resembles bull ejaculate? At Curry-Ya, you can have a big wad deposited on your hamburger curry — a particularly lethal combination. 214 East 10th Street, East Village, 866-602-8779
2. Goat Eyeball Tacos — The square pupils are weird enough when they’re in the animal’s eye sockets, but once popped out, and roughly chopped, the real strangeness of the viand comes out, and you’ve never experienced a texture so strange and gooey. At Taqueria Puebla, it never fails to send shivers up our spines. 1285 Castleton Avenue, Port Richmond, Staten Island, 718-720-1447
Great gobs of gooey goat eyeball at Taqueria Puebla.
The pig blood chocolate Easter pudding at Villabate Bakery, our most challenging dish.
1. Sanguinaccio — You all like chocolate pudding, right? Creamy and rich, just imagine the effect if you dump a bunch of dark salty pig blood in it. That’s the recipe for sanguinaccio, the Eastertide pudding of southern Italy, and a dish readily available at many of the city’s old-guard patisseries, including Villabate Bakery — though often not marked as such. Just look for the dark bowl of pudding in the refrigerator case just before Good Friday. Good grief! 7001 18th Avenue, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 718-331-8430