Visit any number of upscale restaurants in major food cities across N. America and Europe and you will find an interesting new trend on the menu…’Offal’. Don’t let the name fool you; when properly prepared, offal is simply wonderful. What is Offal, you may ask? Well, it’s not for the squeamish, yet it is not nearly as bad as the name sounds. Offal is all of the underutilized parts of the animal like brains, testicles, stomach, tongue, bone marrow, trotters, and sweetbreads to name a few. They are historically the innards and “throw away” parts, but current global food trends are putting gourmet versions of these less desirable parts back on the menu at some of the world’s best restaurants.
Historically, people ate offal out of necessity; when finer cuts of meat where neither available nor affordable. The reasons people eat offal today are more varied. Some choose to eat offal for the novelty of it or to be adventures and try something new; while others eat it as part of their social consciousness philosophy. This second trend is all part of a new global awareness about sustainability issues around the food we eat and a conscious effort to ”waste nothing” and employ a “nose to tail “philosophy to the meat that we consume. Chefs around the world are pushing boundaries and looking to reinvent classic dishes for the modern palate using these often neglected ingredients. It is not uncommon to see high end restaurants in places like New York, Melbourne and London place gourmet offal on their menus. Most famously, FergusHenderson and Trevor Gulliver opened St. John Bar and Restaurant in London. They are credited as culinary leaders in the arena of nose to tail cooking and regularly feature items on the menu such as Chitterlings & Braised Fennel;Lamb Tongues, Butterbeans & Green Sauce; Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad andCrispy Pig’s Cheek & Dandelion. While diners are not yet kicking down doors and demanding offal on the menu, chefs who are adding it to their menus are receiving accolades and are often perceived as modern day trail blazers in the culinary world.
People in Asia; along with most cultures around the world, have a long history of serving and consuming offal. Yet in Bangkok, it seems to be more commonly served as street food, rather than as high end gourmet fare. This might be due to the fact that there is still a certain amount of ‘status’ that is associated with the foods you can afford to eat in Asia, and people may not be as willing to pay top dollar for parts of the animal that they may consider inferior. But do not despair; there are a few places where you can find some fantastic offal dishes in the city; as well as a few places that will be more than happy to prepare something ‘off the menu’ if you request it.
Some of the easiest items to find you may already be familiar with. You don’t have to look far to find liver, pâtés, cheek meat, or even tongue in many Bangkok eateries. Most English, Irish and German restaurants have blood sausages, kidney pies, chicken livers and even trotter on the menu. Gagganin Chitlom; which is a high end Indian restaurant known for their use of molecular gastronomy techniques, has been known to serve Mutton Brain with Coriander Leaves, Sour Cream & Cumin. Other Indian restaurants in Bangkok are happy to make a brain masala or brain curry upon request. Most French restaurants in the city have pâtés and goose liver (foie gras), while French venues such as 4 Garconsin Thong Lor has several gourmet dishes that incorporate tripe (stomach), ox tongue and ox tail on the menu and Café Siamin Sathorn occasionally has sweetbreads on the menu.
The Chinese have a long history of eating offal and often credit its consumption with having certain medicinal benefits and/or having the ability to enhance virility. It is not uncommon to findChicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce on most Bangkok Dim Sum menus, or Deep Fried Duck Tongue, Stir Fried Duck Webs and other main courses containing items such as pig feet, fish stomach, pork innards and fish heads on local Chinese menus. Middle Eastern restaurants regularly serve offal and Nasir Al-Masri, located in Nana; has liver, kidney, hearts and lamb testicles all predominantly featured on their menu for adventurous diners. La Monita, which is a popular Mexican taqueriain Ploenchit, regularly serves Tongue Tacos and Menudo (tripe soup), but you should call ahead or check their Facebook page as it is served as a special and is not available every day. Another spot to get some gourmet offal in Bangkok is the upscale steakhouse Arthurin Ploenchit, which has a luxurious Bone Marrow on Toastappetizer. Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar, on the roof of the Banyan Tree Hotel, serves Beef Strip Loin with Bone Marrow, Grilled Sweet Cherry Tomato & Sautéed Mushroomsas a main course.
While gourmet versions of offal are not yet main stream in Bangkok; they are available for those with a discerning palate and a sense of adventure, and for those who know where to look. It is possible to try some wonderful offal dishes from all over the globe in Bangkok without ever leaving the city limits. So what are you waiting for? There is no better time than the present to shed your inhibitions and dive head first into the “wonderful world of offal” the next time you dine out in the city.