Duck Tongue - New Capital Seafood Restaurant. San Gabriel, CA.
New Capital Seafood. San Gabriel, CA.
You wouldn’t want to survive a plane crash with me. Especially if we were unfortunate enough to end up atop of an inhospitable Himalayan peak where the odds of being rescued were Gilligan’s Island odds. As an omnivore I won’t be able to promise that if the shizzle hits the fan and we ran out of food and there was nothing else around to eat, you wouldn’t find yourself on my makeshift palm leaf platter as the main course. Nothing personal but you’d make a decent stew given the right combination of native spices and herbs. (Most likely you’d end up as sashimi without the wasabi.) Not even my wife is safe. In fact I tell her on a regular basis what part of her I’d consume last in this plane crash scenario because when I eat I like to save the best part for last. I sweetly coo this to her while we snuggle. She’s used to this kind of banter and interprets my twisted thoughts as pillow talk. (BTW the best part is the soft niblet near her armpit.)
So it’s no grand revelation that I’d eat just about anything depending on the situation. But just because I’d eat almost anything doesn’t mean I like everything I eat. It still needs to be good. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older but I’ve recently started to notice a slight repulsion to certain exotic things people eat. Things in the past I never would’ve flinched at if I saw them steaming on my plate. Things I actually would’ve gone out of my way to eat just to say I ate them. Things like rabbit ears or cockscomb or duck tongue. Perhaps this ambivalence stems from a feeling that some things just don’t translate well into good food. Some things like duck tongue.
The first time I ever saw duck tongue on a menu was when I ventured into Tung (rhymes with tongue) Lai Shun Islamic Cuisine (one of the many sensational Asian restaurants in the San Gabriel Square otherwise known as “The Great Mall of China”. Get it?). That was also the first time I realized people even ate duck tongue. Duck tongue is an odd dish. It’s not widely available, not even at many authentic Chinese restaurants. And on a practical level I had to wonder about the quantity a person needed to consume in order to be sated by this strange snack. After all, it’s duck tongue. Duck tongue is tiny. How many teensy tongues does it take to temper a tummy? That age-old question would remain unanswered because I didn’t order the dish at Tung Lai Shun. However, three years later I would have another opportunity to taste duck tongue at a different restaurant just around the corner.
Located in a much smaller strip mall adjacent to “The Great Mall” is New Capital Seafood Restaurant. It is a bright and plainly adorned eatery with lots of pictures of its specialty plates displayed like cheesy, overlit wedding portraits (convenient for the point and order patron). Tongue in general is a kinky dish — in a way the food is tasting you. But due to the puny size of duck tongue I imagined a dozen lickers tasting ME while I was tasting THEM. I don’t normally gross myself out like this before trying bizarre new food but I felt with duck tongue I needed to do a preemptive strike in order to focus on the food and not the weirdness of it. This dish was listed on the menu under the appetizers as “Soy Sauce Goose Liver with Duck Tongue.” The appetizer arrived with the soy sauce goose liver on one side of the plate and the duck tongue on the other, both lightly garnished with parsley and red chile slices. Mercurially swirling under the food was a spicy soy sauce. I quickly snapped up one of the miniature tongues with my chopsticks and held it against my own tongue sophomorically simulating a French kiss. My wife ignored me. My mom looked at me and wondered how she could have given birth to this duck tongue molester. Then the tongue went into my mouth.
The first thing I noticed and never expected was the bone running down the center of the tongue. You see, the problem when you anthropomorphize the world around you is you don’t anticipate something like a hard little bone jabbing you when you bite into a duck’s tongue. Ouch! I don’t have a damn bone in my tongue, why should this duck? Suddenly duck tongue transformed from being a gross dish into an obnoxious one. I couldn’t (like I had imagined) simply kick back and knock back a fistful of tongues into my mouth then chew then swallow and finally follow up with a Tsingtao chaser. No, now I had tongue bone to contend with. I had to painstakingly manipulate and nibble the tongue meat off of the bone. It was like crocheting with my tongue. I don’t even crochet with my hands. It was a chore. Even worse, the longer the duck's tongue hung around my tongue the more I tasted it. I didn’t like what I tasted. Chicken fat was all my tongue registered. The flavor of nasty boiled chicken fat was telegraphed from my taste buds to my central nervous system to my brain. Then my brain formed the thought, “This duck tongue is basically boiled then seasoned with soy sauce. Yuck.” The cooking method was the problem I supposed. I tried to keep hope alive but gave up after three more tongues. Alas, it just wasn’t worth it. Plus nobody at the table was amused by my Donald Duck vs. Daffy Duck impersonations while tongue wrestling bit. At any rate we still had a table full of outstanding Cantonese seafood. Duck tongue is just something New Capital Seafood Restaurant didn’t do well. Perhaps if they changed their name to New Capital Duck Tongue Restaurant…nah, doesn’t flow. Too specialized.
Duck tongue is pretty specific, however, after doing research for this article I learned that there are other ways duck tongue is prepared besides boiling. Thus I’ll reserve ultimate judgment on duck tongue for when I try the other incarnations. Until then, duck tongue licks…and it sort of sucks too.
bon appetit ;)
This article was so funny. Duck tongue didn't sound that gross until I read the part about the bone. For some reason that really creeps me out. I just tried lamb tongue for the first time and it was incredibly delicious. Although it was also braised in Madeira and red wine. That might have helped a bit...
I live in San Francisco and there are some fantastic dim sum houses here, but one of my most vivid memories from an early dim sum experience is the table next to us having a heaping plate of tiny ovoids of meat in a lovely looking sauce delivered to them. We debated what it was at our table for a good 5 minutes and finally asked the waiter. He looks at us like we're idiots and says, "duck tongue!" and walks away.
I still haven't found anyone who will consent to ordering duck tongue with me, but I am so happy for the warning about the bones in case I ever do manage it!
By the way, I had pine shrews in China, where they are a mountain speciality. Too bony and gamy at the same time.
Thanks for the comment and for mentioning Deep End Dining on your cool blog!
But yeah. Stay away from the "mountain specialities", especially in these days of Chicken flu and SARS.
I wouldn't feel so bad if I ended up dying as a result of eating something truly delicious. But for a rubbery, ill-flavored chunk o' pine shrew? No.