Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rabbit Heads

In my post last night about Dou Hua Mian, I noted that it was a good entry point for people reluctant to try the more exotic street foods (to a Western palate). This post is not for those people. Today I go to the other extreme, to a food that only the more adventurous travelers will seek out: rabbit heads.

Some street foods you need to ask around to find. They might be advertised on a sign, but if you don't read Chinese you're out of luck. This is not one of those foods. To identify a vendor selling rabbit heads, look for this:

Yes, this terrifying army of zombie-esque rabbit heads could be your lunch. For 6 yuan, you receive one rabbit head and some plastic gloves. 

The outside of a rabbit's head does not have a lot of meat. To access anything worth eating, you are required to take this head apart, piece by piece. Now, for as long as I can remember, I've been a mammal. In my time as a mammal, I've eaten many other fellow mammals with little or no compunction. But there's something about grabbing a rabbit's lower jaw in one hand and its upper jaw in your other hand and pulling them apart like a wish-jaw that doesn't sit quite right deep within my mammalian soul. Perhaps if I were a farmer or hunter I wouldn't have that same hesitation. I don't know. For me, it was a tad discomfiting. Anyway, if you are able to push on through your soul's protestations, there are some really nice flavors to be had. I had the sense ahead of time that this would fall into the category of foods (along with chicken wings) that are too much work and too much mess for too little reward. In this case, I am glad to say that my supposition was proven false. Don't get me wrong--this is a food that requires a lot of work on behalf of the diner, and in return you get messy fingers and not very much meat. What sets the rabbit's head apart from other high-energy, low-yield dishes is the variety of flavors to be had. You are expected to eat anything here that isn't bone: the jaw muscles, the tongue, the upper palate, the eyes, the brains, and any other miscellaneous flesh that you can find. Each of them has a different taste and texture, which makes the reward much greater than a mere chicken wing. I was particularly fond of the jaw meat (brown, gamy, succulent) and the tongue (chewy, mild flavored, a bit tough). 

I want to emphasize one more time that this is not an easy food to eat. After the first bit where you break open the jaws, as if opening up a stapler for reloading, you have to pull all sorts of sections of bone away. The hardest part to access is the brain--I was instructed to bite the top of the skull to crack it open like an egg. Through the whole ordeal, the rabbit tries to defend itself by having very, very sharp bones. I actually ended up with a small gash on my thumb towards the end. If you sample this delicacy, I would recommend being very careful with the bones. 

My verdict? Definitely worth a try. If you can get past the nagging awareness that you're tearing apart an innocent bunny's skull with your bare hands, an interesting mix of flavors and textures awaits.


AritĂȘ gunĂȘ Akasa said...

I have to ask- was the head meat really soft? When I was in China, my group was at one point treated to dinner in a very upscale restaurant and one of our dishes was hunks of rabbit meat. The best way I could describe the taste was "it tasted like tenderness". I'm just wondering if that's a rabbit thing in general or if it had something to do with the way that particular dish was prepared.

Frank Kasell said...

The head meat was not notably softer than most other meat. I've had other rabbit meat as well that was a bit stringy and rough, so I would guess that it had something to do with the way your dish was prepared. It sounds great!

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