Writer: Anissa Helou
The first time I read about eating penises was in a BBC story in 2006, where the writer gingerly described his meal at a penis emporium in Beijing. By then, I had published ‘The Fifth Quarter’, a book dedicated to the less ‘noble’ parts of the animal - innards and extremities - but despite thorough research, I had not come across this part, which certainly counts as an extremity!
The description of the meal did not make it sound appealing but penises are eaten for their aphrodisiac properties, so I decided to try some for myself, if just for the sake of research. Europe was not quite the place. Nor the Middle East, for that matter. It took a few years for me to spot my first edible penises - it was in the central market of São Paolo but they were raw and I had nowhere to cook them, not that I would have known how. Last year though, I travelled to China for the opening of Zaha Hadid’s opera house in Guangzhou and finally had my chance to taste that bit of offal that had eluded me so far.
It took a bit of organising. The hotel concierge in Beijing was not much help in finding the restaurant but a lovely Chinese friend came to the rescue, introducing me to two of her friends, who not only found where it was but were willing to accompany me on my culinary adventure. Unlike my travelling companion. So it was on my first afternoon in Beijing that I found myself outside the penis emporium, a shabby red and black building in the middle of nowhere.
We were led into a private room where a pretty waitress handed us a large illustrated menu listing the different types of penises on offer. As the menu was in Chinese, I let my friends pore over the choices. The one thing I had not banked on was that penises are an expensive delicacy. As a result, I had to limit myself. After some deliberation, we settled on a hot pot formula with four different types of penises: sheep, donkey, stud ox and deer. They came neatly sliced and arranged around a lurid erect member made of hard red jelly. They were very different to look at. The slices of donkey penis were large and meaty. The stud ox slices looked like tongue whereas both deer and lamb penises were very gelatinous.
Now came the real test: which of us was going to plop the first morsel into our mouth? I’m not squeamish but the idea of moving from theory to practice was a little daunting. Still, I had instigated the whole adventure so I had to lead the way. And I did. Not as gingerly as the BBC writer but without enormous enthusiasm either. I started with one of the meaty looking bits, which the waitress poached in a turtle soup before handing it to me to dip in one of three sauces. The verdict: not good but not bad either. Like a piece of fatty meat. This was the cheapest of our selection. The most expensive – deer (no pun intended) - was saved until last. It was marginally better with a somewhat silky texture but I can’t say that any part of the meal was a gastronomic delight.
As we left, our lovely waitress handed each of us a small goodbye gift, a red sachet like those the Chinese use to give money for the New Year. Wondering what was inside, we should have guessed. She had slipped a condom inside each, which did leave me wondering about her and just what happens when she finishes her shift in that secluded little Beijing room.