When I was five years old my dad and I would snack on tongue.
This may sound like the antics of a sadistic parent giving their child gross food for yuks, but the truth is that we both loved it. Hell, I didn’t know that tongue wasn’t typically consumed by the average American, and even if I did, I was really too young to care. Looking back, I can only gather that cultural conditioning was the main reason people steered away from this atypical meat product. If there was a beef tongue Happy Meal served with a Hot Wheels toy back in the day, I am certain that it would have been all the rage.
Much to my mother’s chagrin, eating strange and atypical food items became me and my dad’s thing. Sure, sometimes we chomped on ancient gourmet cheeses because the peculiar aromas made us laugh, but more often than not, we discovered delicious meals in unexpected places—dishes that, while most Americans would wretch at the mere thought of, are sought after delicacies all around the world.
And fortunately for us, Columbus is a haven for rare and exotic dishes—you just have to know where to look.
808 Bethel Rd.
Nestled in a strip mall off Bethel road, the Tandoori Grill has been a popular Indian restaurant in Columbus for nearly a decade, building a reputation among locals and immigrants along the way. (It’s also my personal opinion that a joint with a .biz URL is typically an undiscovered treasure.) My dad and I stopped in because it is one of the few places that served up a popular Indian delicacy that we were both hankering to try: goat brains.
Served in the traditional Masala spices of ginger, and garlic, the Brain Masala looked texturally like thinly shredded chicken. Topped with fresh basil, the brains were creamy, melting in your mouth like scrambled eggs, but squishier and more unctuous. Despite my choice of a rose-flavored basil seed drink—which I can only compare to an old lady’s perfume—the meal was quite appetizing, especially over a yellow rice and a hunk of naan.
Liver Kidney Masala
Though high in cholesterol, goat’s liver is said to be a capital source of Vitamin A, and apparently, a good remedy for night blindness. After marinating in buttermilk to remove the inherent bitterness of the meat, the liver was quite mild compared to other livers we have encountered. Roughly the size of grapes, the kidneys were much more lean and flavorful than I expected, each bite bursting with traditional masala flavor. While these varieties of meats may seem odd, they are considered commonplace and a mainstay of a Muslim diet as they are much more affordable cuts of the animal.
620 N High St.
Taking over the short-lived Hot Pot restaurant in Old North off of Ackerman Road, NE Chinese’s hyper-traditional menu boasts authentic Northeast Chinese dishes, making them a staple for Chinese immigrants and Columbusites alike. As we walk in during lunchtime, the place is bustling with hungry diners. After ordering a table full of food, the server took our menus, smiled, and said in a thick Mandarin accent, “You’re brave.” I can only surmise that the words that followed in her head was, “white boys.”
Boiled with aromatic spices until tender, thinly sliced and then marinated in vinegar, the ears were served cold with a side of soy sauce and ginger. The cross section of the ears resembled the lines of a bacon strip, or perhaps a squid-like cinnamon roll. They were firm and almost gelatinous, but tasted quite good when dipped in the sauce, a key ingredient to make the dish a success.
Pig Skin Aspic
Ok, to be fair, this is the one dish that seemed like it could be found in Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge—thin, cold squares of meat gelation with tiny bits of skin inside. In case you are unfamiliar, aspic is a savory jelly made with meat stock, set in a mold, containing tiny pieces of meat, seafood, or eggs. Think Jell-O salad, except with exotic meats inside. While the bland gelatin dominated the flavor of the skin, the ginger and soy sauce once again championed this traditional appetizer.
Sauté Pig Intestine
The south knows them as chitterlings or chitlins. I’ve always known them as goddamn delightful. At first glance, this looks like a run-of-the-mill stir-fry, as they are sautéed in a traditional brown sauce, paired with green onion, carrots, peppers, and onions. To be fair, intestines is an extremely hard dish to prepare—if they are not fresh, the digestive matter will surely taste like rotting bunghole, and can be texturally unpleasant if cooked for too long. However, our chefs cooked them perfectly. The innards’ consistency is the main attraction of the dish—tender and fatty like short ribs. They were rich with a savory, porky flavor, blending quite nicely with the traditional brown sauce.
That’s just a few to check off me and my Pops’ list.
The goal in writing this article was not to poke fun at strange oddities found around the world—but to relish in their pleasing and exotic flavors. Columbus is a melting pot of people and cultures and our food certainly reflects that diversity. So the next time you are at the store perusing the chicken breasts, stop and think…maybe you would be better off getting the gizzards. Who knows? You might just find your new favorite food…or at the very least have an interesting story to tell your friends.