Are exotic meats sold here tasty?
Turtle or dog on the menu may repulse and even anger some people. But these 'exotic' meats are common fare to those who eat them. What makes a dish acceptable?
When The New Paper on Sunday was at Old Geylang to give crocodile paw a try, restaurant director Catherine Ong was initially hesitant for the place to be featured.
She shares how a man stormed into the restaurant at Lorong 23 Geylang last year and chided customers for eating turtle soup. He berated the diners, asking how they could bear to eat the dish, obviously disgusted with it.
But turtle is a common dish throughout Asia, and many restaurants in Singapore serve it.
Meat here can be imported only from Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority-approved sources that have met public health and food safety standards.
The incident speaks volumes about how food can be a polarising subject.
Take the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China's south-west that has enraged the global community, many angry over the Chinese eating dog meat.
According to animal welfare activists, up to 10,000 dogs were slaughtered for the festival.
It has earned the ire of Westerners who tend to see Chinese cuisine as barbaric, catalysing their revulsion.
But we have seen stranger food served.
In Singapore, there is crocodile meat. Uncle William's Shop, the retail outlet for Lian Wah Hang Farm, sells crocodile meat on bone for $28.80 per kg according to its website.
FAMILIAR LANDS, STRANGE FOOD
The Taiwanese have figured a way of deep-frying a fish while keeping it alive. It is served with its gills and mouth still moving - as proof of its freshness.
The beating heart of a snake is served with a shot of rice wine in Vietnam.
In Italy, there is a cheese known as Casu Marzu that is left out in the open for flies to lay eggs in. The resulting maggots that grow are eaten with the rotten cheese.In the US, Rocky Mountain oysters - deep-fried bull, pig or sheep's testicles - are commonly eaten.
Exotic dishes such as snake wine or edible insects can no longer be found here, but there are strange dishes still waiting to be devoured.
The TNPS team hunts down four of them - deer penis soup, fried Fallopian tubes, stewed crocodile paw and live octopus - that can still be eaten here.
Pig out on these tasty tubes
On the menu of Old Mother Hen Seafood Restaurant is "Famous Pig's Intestines".
But it is not intestines, as restaurant manager Jimmy Chen, 37, tells The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin.
It is pig's Fallopian tubes.
This a pair of tubes along which eggs travel from the ovaries to the uterus in any female mammal.
Old Mother Hen imports its supply mainly from the UK.
Pig's intestines and innards are not exotic food here. But pig's Fallopian tubes are.
A plate of this fried zi char costs $10. The eatery has been offering it since it opened about 10 years ago.
Mr Chen says the dish is popular with locals, hence the word "famous" in their menu.
I have no problems eating pig's intestines and liver.
But the idea of Fallopian tubes sounds unpalatable.
Like intestines, it does not have much nutritional value.
But Mr Chen says: "Customers order it as it tastes good, not because it's healthy."
The fried Fallopian tubes arrive at the table within five minutes of ordering.
They are fried with onions, garlic, ginger and a dash of dark soya sauce.
All the ingredients are combined in a piping hot wok and flash-fried.
The result is a dish that is fragrant with the scent of onions, garlic and soya sauce.
SOFT AND JUICY
The meat is soft and juicy. It feels just like a pig's ear or duck's tongue when you bite into it.
It becomes unsavoury only when you think about which part of the animal you are eating.
But why should it be?
It is just another type of innards to add to the long list animal parts we already eat.
Gruesome but wholesome
TASTES LIKE CHICKEN: Old Geylang’s stewed crocodile paw is slowly braised with onions, garlic, star anise, ginger and cinnamon. It is like eating chicken feet. PHOTOS: OLD GEYLANG, ARIFFIN JAMAR
Crocodile meat is relatively common fare in Singapore, but few places serve crocodile paws.
One of those places is Old Geylang - it has been serving crocodile meat for about three years.
One serving costs $28.
Restaurant manager Sam Ng says the restaurant has a number of regular customers who come just for crocodile.
That is because he claims that crocodile meat is good for asthma sufferers.
The eatery also gets tourists who come for the "exotic" seafood like turtle soup.
It gets its crocodile meat from a farm in Kranji and no part of the animal goes to waste.
Mr Ng shows me the raw crocodile paws and other parts of the body that are used.
In its raw form, the paw looks intimidating, with its sharp claws.
First, the cook cuts it into smaller pieces for quicker cooking.
Then, the paw is braised for a few hours with onions, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, mushrooms and star anise.
There is a secret ingredient which the cook refuses to divulge.
The most striking part of the dish is how visible the individual crocodile claw and its pointed tips are.
But biting into it, I am reminded of eating chicken feet.
The crocodile skin is gelatinous and the flesh comes off the bone.
It takes on the flavour of the broth - similar to how chicken feet are cooked and eaten, except that the crocodile paw has more meat.
Try not to think of the deadly predator as you are eating it and there is nothing to be squeamish about.
A moving eating experience
RAW: Chef Park Sang Deok preparing the octopus served at Sojap Neun Eobu, which is imported from Korea. TNP PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Sannakji, or raw octopus, from Korean restaurant Sojap Neun Eobu is the toughest to stomach among the dishes I tried.
The eatery imports the octopuses from Korea, which explains why a single serving commands a hefty $50.
Chef Park Sang Deok, 52, says the dish is popular among Koreans living here.
But fewer locals order it.
And I can see why - to see your food moving after it has been chopped up is disconcerting.
But Chef Park tells you know that it is a sign of just how fresh the ingredient is.
Eating it raw is the best way to taste the freshness.
I watch as the chef takes all of a minute to get the octopus from the water tank to the kitchen to prepare the dish.
When Chef Park picks the animal up, it resists by attaching itself to the nearest object it can find - a plate.
It hugs the plate and the rest of its tentacles flail around wildly.
After chopping up the octopus, Chef Park completes the dish with chopped cucumber and chillies, a drizzle of sesame oil and some salt.
I have heard of cases where diners have had octopuses stuck to their teeth because of the strong suckers.
And cases where unlucky diners have even choked on octopuses as they latch on to the throat.
My experience? Apart from the odd sucker clinging on to my lips, it goes down smoothly.
Although I am assured that the animal has already been killed, the tentacle moving in my mouth makes me squeamish.
No matter how odd the experience is, I cannot deny the dish was very fresh.
Oh deer, is it really good for manhood?
SUPER SOUP: Imperial Restaurant serves deer penis soup (top) made with a wide array of Chinese medicinal items (above) including sea horse. PHOTOS: IMPERIAL RESTAURANT, CHIN YONG CHANG
As the waiter at Imperial Restaurant serves me the bowl of deer penis soup, he jokes in Mandarin: "You'll be superman tonight."
Restaurant manager Eddie Yap, 57, says: "It's good for increasing energy levels, and is especially beneficial for the kidneys."
Mr Yap also claims the soup "stimulates male hormones".
Jokes apart, the waiter explains that it does not happen overnight.
Mr Yap says I will have to drink the soup regularly for over a month before it starts to take effect.
And there are no adverse effects for women who drink it, he maintains.
"It's medicinal after all," he says.
The dish originated in China, where tiger penis, bull's testicles and insects are also eaten.
Imperial Restaurant gets its supplies from local medicinal shops, says Mr Yap.
The dish, which has been offered since the restaurant opened in 1988, attracts a steady stream of patrons.
A bowl costs $35 and customers have to order it a day in advance.
Mr Yap says there is a regular crowd which repeatedly orders the dish.
The deer penis looks like a piece of tree bark after it is cooked, similar-looking to other dried herbs in the soup.
A whole dried sea horse is also used.
I do not eat any of the ingredients, other than the pork meat.
But the soup is dense and rich, with a pleasant bitter taste combined with sweet notes from wolfberries.
I would gladly eat venison, which is also deer meat.
So why is this deer soup suddenly so objectionable?
Perhaps it is because the dish is meant to be an aphrodisiac.
It is certainly what inspired the waiter's chuckle.