The 1,000 Year Old Egg (and the Three Penis Wine)
Grocery shopping with a Chinese local is a bit like doing mushrooms for the first time. You gingerly step through the automatic doors, and tumble head first down the rabbit hole, into an alien world of saccharine colors and challenging smells; a horrifying culinary wonderland.
Up until that point, I never knew just how many of my favorite animals were edible.
I followed my Chinese friend, Tao, and my expat friend, Pip, past a bloody deli cart piled high with animal guts; something out of a horror movie.
“Cold duck neck tastes great with beer,” Pip instructed me.
“Chemically preserved chicken feet are great for camping,” explained Tao.
Pip couldn’t recommend the vacuum sealed bag of horse intestines, but insisted they make a great gift.
Tao proudly lifted up an item and proclaimed, “Here it is. The most disgusting food in Asia.”
He was holding an egg—a black egg, to be specific. A one-thousand-year-old egg.
I had heard of these notorious eggs before (also called century, or millennium eggs). They weren’t as old as their forbidding name suggests, but still, they’re old, and this particular one had the sulfurous, rotting stench to prove it. The egg undergoes an aging process in which it is coated in an alkaline, lime-based clay (which allegedly contains horse urine), and is then buried in soil for about three months.
The result is a black egg, with a greenish yolk and an amber egg white, flecked with delicate mold growths that resemble snowflakes.
“You should eat it,” said Tao, and I nodded in agreement, tossing a couple in my basket.
Tao suggested that, in case I found the taste as offensive as the smell (as most foreigners do), I should buy a drink to wash it down.
And of course, he had just the suggestion.
“This is Chinese Three Penis Wine,” he said, taking a brown, dusty bottle off the shelf. “It’s very popular in traditional areas.”
I frowned. “I’m assuming that ‘Three Penis’ is the name of the vineyard?”
“Oh, no,” Tao smiled. “It’s made with three penises.” He placed the bottle in my basket, before adding, “Dog penis, Yak penis, and Goat penis.”
I was fairly excited about my taste test until I actually cut the egg open, and the perfume of septic tank filled the kitchen.
I’ll let the videos speak the rest…
A second opinion from the Dutch:
For more unfortunate culinary disasters, check out my five most terrifying meals of Burma in, “Have You Eaten?: An Angry Foodies Portrait of Burma“
For a true food adventure, check out my thirty hour quest by Indian train for an authentic bowl of Hyderabadi Dum Biryani, before I paid the bill, returned to the train station, and rode all the way back: “A Hyderabad Idea: Part One“
Or, if you’re too goddamn lazy to read, check out the “Photo Travelogues” for more videos and photos.