When it comes to eating like the locals, in a new city, I’m the first to lead the charge. But I was stumped when large plates of pigeon turned up for dinner. I never want to be the fussy dinner guest, or the one in the group who doesn’t join in, (as they say: ‘there’s always one’). Recently I travelled to Guangshou, in China, a trade and manufacturing city that was once named Canton, and is the reason why most of us have been eating Cantonese inspired cuisine for many years in the west. Who doesn’t love a dim sim?
I was asked if I wanted pigeon, as we walked into the restaurant. While I decline, the rest of the table ordered the dish (we were after all, sitting in a local pigeon specialist restaurant). Who knew these types of places existed? Down Ban Tan Street, there it stood, with red neon Chinese characters luring locals in. The place was packed when we arrived.
Served up two pigeons on each platter, with three flavours to choose from (tea soaked, ginger, or preserved bean curd), interestingly enough, none of the flavours or even the sight of these birds made me want to eat them (this includes their little heads with beaks intact, their cut up cooked bodies which were arranged on white plates ready for consumption). Their heads looked much like a deep fried Lord Voldemort head, including a beak. I’ve realised that I’m very much a visual eater. Don’t judge me, but they just aren’t for me.
As my fellow diners “oohed” and “aahed”, wrestling with the tiny little bodies of our once feathered friends, some diners had special plastic gloves so as not to get their hands dirty or come in direct contact with the pigeon. Funny really, considering they were happy enough to put them in their mouths. I guess they didn’t want to get their hands dirty, handling these little messenger friends. With hardly any meat on their bones I was asked why I wasn’t trying them. “I prefer the meat of a chicken – something you can get your hands on,” was my response. “For all that work wrestling with those bones, there didn’t look like there was much meat on them.” Also, to be honest, the sight of their heads and beaks sitting there didn’t leave much to the imagination in terms of what their steamed and roasted bodies once looked like.
I’ve never heard anyone say, “I can’t wait to get home and eat my favourite pigeon dish.” To be honest, I’m happy to see them nibbling away on crumbs left behind in parks, and pooping on statues and the odd passer by. I just don’t think, having seen what I have seen, I can ever look at a pigeon in the same way again.
Noticing that I wasn’t partaking, our local guide ordered a very special piece of beef for me. It looked as though fat had become its friend since leaving the kitchen, and it was sitting, almost bubbling in it. I was not sure how to cut it, I asked for a knife. The recommendation came to just use my chopsticks. Really? I’ve never known chopsticks to be able to cut beef?
I had a bowl of rice instead. I think they should stick to pigeons.