Friday, January 10, 2014

Cow Organs and Radishes

If you make a Venn diagram with two circles, one for people who like radishes and the other for people who like cow organs, you might as well label the overlapping section in the middle “people who like luó bó niú zá.”

Like so.

One of Guangzhou's signature dishes, luó bó niú zá (萝卜牛杂) is nothing more than a stew made with beef hearts, livers, spleens, stomachs, intestines, and lungs, along with some large chunks of soft, white radish. They are all boiled together in a large drum of water with a shelf near the top for organs that are finished cooking.

Like so.

As the various ingredients cook, the organ juices leech into the soup, which in turn soaks into the porous radish flesh. When you order a bowl of luó bó niú zá, the vendor will reach a ladle deep inside to scoop up some radish pieces from the bottom of the barrel, chop up some of the offal off of the offal shelf, and dump both components into a bowl with a small amount of the broth.

Like so.

The dish you end up with is a real highlight of South Chinese cuisine. The organ meat can be chewy, soft, tough, sweet, salty, rich, or savory depending on which part it is. And the tender radishes have soaked up so much of the juices that they themselves are hot and juicy, retaining just enough of the piquant flavor that you look for in a fresh radish. Even the broth is tasty, having been flavored with a vendor’s particular blend of spices. Put everything together and you get a wonderful combination that I absolutely recommend trying in Guangzhou—particularly if you find yourself in that middle point on the Venn diagram.

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