What did we just say about the Japanese? Well, just like freshness is the key to good seafood, so too is it important for all manner of Japanese sushi. However, when it comes to eating raw fish, the issue is less with potential sickness and more with flavor. With nothing to disguise the taste (for better or worse), only quality and preparation matter. The less time the meat spends being dead or refrigerated, the more tender and delicious it is. Or so some people will have you believe.
So the true test of the master sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish) chef is ikizukuri, literally translated as “prepared alive”. They work against the clock to get the meat on the table while the animal it came from (usually fish, shrimp, squid, etc) is still alive and twitching. Not only do they need to do it under time and cut the meat properly, they also need to leave the star of the dinner with enough organs and nerves to keep them alive.
The whole process is pretty intense. There is some debate over whether the fish is cognitive while it’s on the table. Some argue that even though they’re twitching and the heart is beating, they’ve gone on to the big blue ocean in the sky. Still, the practice continues, largely due to stuff like this next example that makes it look humane by comparison.
Ying Yang Fish (China/Taiwan)
So maybe you don’t want your fish raw because that’s gross, but you’re tired of going to those seafood restaurants we mentioned earlier. Most of them are a scam anyway: you pick your lobster, they take it in the back, cook a frozen one and throw the guy you chose back into the tank when you leave. You can’t ever be sure exactly how fresh your food really is in a restaurant.
That is, unless they’re willing to serve you some kind of half live-half dead, half cooked-half raw zombie monstrosity. Which is, of course, no problem in Taiwan and mainland China, where the dish Ying Yang fish originated in what we assume was an attempt to ruin deepfrying forever.
Gonna let that one sink in. It’s like watching the Spanish Inquisition, but with less robes and more fish with expressions of betrayal. Supposedly, restaurants had been having a lot of trouble with people questioning the freshness of their food. After some hard by what could only be some of Asia’s cruellest scientists, they were able answer their critics with a resounding: “Fresh? FRESH!? WE’LL SHOW YOU FRESH!”
And in case you were wondering, that’s not blood you see on the plate. The fish is served with a delightful sweet and sour sauce, because blood would just be weird.
A Whole Bunch of Lies (Everywhere You Don’t Live)
There are undoubtedly many more examples of live animals being consumed for their deliciousness or the mistaken belief that it will give you an erection. However, these cases are dwarfed by the number of made up examples and half truths. While it might make us feel superior to think that other cultures are constantly torturing animals for fun, and xenophobia can help kill a boring afternoon, the truth is a lot more... well... boring.
Lists and whispered tales are all over the internet, full of the crazy things “those people in other countries” eat. Live foods are a taboo in most cultures, and so it tends to pop up a lot. Live monkey brains is a popular one. Meat cut out of animals while they are still kicking is also fairly common. So is eating live babies, be they snakes, chicks or even an interesting made up dish of day old rats called “Three Squeaks”.
Now you can’t out and out say these things never happened, and considering we’re the species that invented both the snuggie and made the chick who wrote Twilight a millionaire, they might have once or twice. We’re pretty messed up.
The point is, just as Jeffery Dalmer eating a few people doesn’t make all Americans cannibals, the unproven possibility that someone ate a monkey brain doesn’t mean all Chinese/Indian/Vietnamese people are straight out of “Temple of Doom”. Though we can still blame them for that annoying child sidekick.Image Sources
- - Casu marzu (Italy): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/27/Snob_food.jpg/800px-Snob_food.jpg
- - Oysters (Widespread): http://farm1.static.flickr.com/78/182331812_10bbc4e911.jpg
- - Sannakji (Korea): http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_8Owus5aOSrs/SlhCpqKan4I/AAAAAAAAAIA/v6BYEQ2NiHU/s400/IMG_5538.JPG
- - Drunken Shrimp (China): http://f23.yahoofs.com/myper/ITI0qQWBGBTxVKxlp4LmRwzbcKCP/blog/ap_F23_20080907094132488.jpg?TTA2h2LBomgEnFTC
- - Ikizukuri (Japan): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4e/Ikizukuri.jpg/800px-Ikizukuri.jpg http://www.theonering.com/images/medialibrary/gollum%20enjoys%20a%20fish.jpg
- - Ying Yang Fish (China/Taiwan): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/ff/YING_YANG_FISH.JPG
- - A Whole Bunch of Lies (Everywhere You Don’t Live): http://www.virginmedia.com/images/1indy-tod-snake.jpg http://www.culinaryschools.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/three-squeaks.jpg http://starsmedia.ign.com/stars/image/article/875/875862/short-round-vs-chewie-undercard-20080521042824447-000.jpg