Jellyfish, Squab, Bitter Melon, and Duck Feet in Chinatown

Illustration and photos by Andrew Abbott, unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

The Best Little Restaurant
13A Hudson St
Boston, MA 02111

A pretty good restaurant in Chinatown with an inexplicably cropped sign.

Andrew’s Take

Wow. So this week was interesting. For one the food itself overwhelmed the atmosphere. I actually think I went into this week’s meeting a little nervous. Our meal included duck feet with jellyfish (served cold), pigeon (with the head), and frog legs again but this time served with bitter melon! We also got whole fried shrimp, which were delicious, but for me they were more like eating a soft shelled crab. Which I’m totally cool with. Something about eating an animal in its entirety is really exciting to me. Going into this taste and texture adventure I was psyched. Then seeing that the feet/fish dish was going to be cold I got cold feet myself. Not that I didn’t dive right in anyways.

Usually eating something entirely new to me goes something like this: I try it and the more I eat of it the more I realize I’m liking it. This weeks meal tended to head in the other direction for me. The more I ate the less appealing it became. After the first bite of both the jellyfish and duck feet I was thinking: “Wow! How come I haven’t tried these before??”. They were seasoned with some red pepper and something else that gave them a nice subtle spicy taste. The jellyfish as best I can describe it has the consistency of jello that’s been left out over night. You know when it gets the skin on it and it’s a little tough to chew. Then on top of that imagine a uniquely fish flavored jello. It tastes like where it came from. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also didn’t occur to me until someone asked, but if you’re wondering if the jellyfish still stings you when you eat it the answer is no. Unless you believe in karma and you’ve recently been added to the naughty list then maybe you might get a slight tingle.

The duck feet on the other hand were like any poultry you’re used to. Most like duck especially if you’ve eaten it before. Like eating the skin off chicken except the crackling doesn’t come from the crispy skin, but from the connective tissues. It’s all good to eat but I could definitely see it not being up everyone’s alley. Again with this part of the meal after four or five feet the texture and the inner crunchiness was getting to me so I moved onto the next part of the meal. At first I was quick to jump to the conclusion that I didn’t like the jellyfish and duck feet, but now that I’ve had time to reflect I’d be willing to try them again prepared differently, possibly deep-fried.

Next up was the pigeon. A little scary to think about when you think it might have been trapped right outside the front door. I didn’t even notice they had included the head in the dish, a la the scene from “A Christmas Story“, until further inspection. The meat was surprisingly dark like a grayish color that might turn some people off, but I grabbed a tiny drumstick and dug in. The bird was fried so the meat was a bit greasy but no too much so. It was also a bit sweet and extremely tender with a nice crispy skin. I was much more into this than the previous options. Speaking of options when you order the bird they give you the option of having one or two brought to your table. What I learned from this experience is go for two. Theres not a lot of meat on a pigeon to begin with, but also theres like ten billion of em in the city so who’s gonna miss one more?

Lastly we ordered the frogs legs again. We were really only in it this time to also get the bitter melon. OOPS! I mean the first bite of this ugly vegetable was alright. It reminds you of a lot of different things until the unpleasant after taste kicks in. Like green pepper or asparagus but kind of mushy. Maybe it was how they cooked it but I have a feeling no matter how you cook bitter melon its going to have a consistency problem. Then upon the second and third attempt to place this odd similarity the bitterness hit me full on and left me with what reminded me a lot of the taste you have in your mouth post puking. I may or may not apologize for the bluntness but honestly instantly these tastes connected in my head. I gave this veggie the benefit of the doubt (because that’s the kinda guy I am) and tried it three or four times, but it just wasnt working out. Nobody else seemed to have the same problems with the bitter melon as I did, but maybe they were just better at holding it back. Luckily for me the flavor of it doesn’t cling to the frogs legs accompanying them in this dish so they were just as enjoyable as the last time we had them in Dorchester.

At the end of the meal they gave us complementary sweet red bean soup which was really good. Which sadly, for me, was probably the most solid part of the meal. I can honestly say I wouldn’t go out of my way to that restaurant to order any of these dishes again. Nothing really got me in any good way, and I kept finding myself seeing food being taken to other tables and wishing we had ordered differently throughout the meal. I don’t regret trying anything because I learned a thing or two and I’m always up for expanding my list gastronomical experiences. I also feel that it’s still pretty early on this journey we’re undertaking and I’m sure there’s going to be much more “interesting” food to find its way into my gut.

On a lighter note after dinner we headed back towards the T to find our respective ways home and wound up wandering into one of the many Chinese bakeries in Chinatown. I can’t recall the name of the one we stopped in particular but there are plenty of them in the area with tasty and affordable pastries both savory and sweet. What may sound like a strange combination may quite possibly be one of the best things you’ve ever eaten. You’ll never know until you try it. I myself tried a sweet melon cake upon the recommendation of a fellow gastronaut and was pleasantly surprised to encounter a new unique flavor hidden between the sweet flaky crust. The filling was both smoky and sweet with a ricy/ pasty texture. I enjoyed it a lot and would consider that the highlight of the night (possibly only second when one of the waiters inexplicably burst out into a rendition of some Lady Ga Ga song in the kitchen). I definitely urge anyone in the Boston area to check out Chinatown if you’ve never had the chance. You never know what you’ll find there and there’s always interesting people, places, and especially food!

Ché’s Take

The pigeon and che child is a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Licensed product. Please find the license here. The original can be found here.

We’re not supposed to eat pigeons. We are supposed to eat chickens. This is something we all know. If we had to point out why, we couldn’t really say. The main difference seems to be that pigeons live in cities, and chickens live in poultry factories.

For centuries, people have eaten and revered pigeons. Dovecoats, which housed free range pigeons in the Middle Ages, allowed people to eat fresh pigeon throughout the year, and can still be seen dotting the European countryside. One of the positive aspects of the New World for settlers was how easily a person could hunt pigeons, as attested by the frequent mention of pigeons in the lists of edible game found in A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America by James Williams. This became a sad fact for the native passenger pigeon, a species that became extinct both because of over hunting and a loss of habitat.

Unlike the passenger pigeon, the normal rock dove flourished with the sprouting of cities. In the wild, these birds make their nests on cliff faces, and a handy roof ledge works just as well. Hundreds of roof ledges and a ready supply of leftover hot dog buns are all you really need for a healthy population.

A healthy population that just might be good enough to eat. However, the social stigma attached to pigeons does not allow this. Livestock keeping in urban areas. A review of traditional technologies based on literature and field experiences, a manual on urban livestock written by Hans Schiere and Rein Van Der Hoek, marvels, “Surprisingly, in spite of being easy to raise and cheap to produce, this species is very rarely considered in urban food security programs.” True, true, but as soon as people start calling an animal a “rat with wings,” they begin to lose their reputation as a food source.

They do also s#*$ in their nests, but then again, as Eric Schlosser reminds us in Fast Food Nation, there is “far more fecal bacteria in the average American sink than on the average American toilet seat,” because of unsanitary meat production. Pigeons do not carry avian flu or West Nile Virus, and have been kept as pets and eaten for centuries despite some unsanitary habits. In fact, their lack of parasites makes them one of the few birds that can be safely cooked rare. Given the actual state of their salmonella laden brethren, pigeons deserve a makeover.

Free range chicken has already received such a makeover, and weekend-green activists keep them in their backyard both for their eggs and later their meat. The eggs part makes perfect sense. The meat part, maybe not so much. For years, as related Andrew D. Blechman’s book Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird, pigeon production competed with chicken production in the United States, with individuals trying to get rich quick using their own personal dovecoats. It wasn’t until the advent of industrialized farming that chickens, birds once thought to be “difficult to raise, prone to predators, and utilized mainly for their eggs,” (Blechman) became America’s primary poultry. When people raise chickens, they have internalized the marketing of industrial farming, trying only to recreate its conditions on a small scale. Eating pigeons, a bird that feeds itself and finds its way home, would make more sense. It would mean that people, especially working people, could raise their own food with little investment. That is the point at which the green revolution moves from an middle-class diversion to an actual revolution.

P.S. Pigeons also taste much better than lame, flavorless chicken.



Filed under Chinatown, Poultry, Seafood, Uncategorized, Vegetable

2 responses to “Jellyfish, Squab, Bitter Melon, and Duck Feet in Chinatown

  1. My ex chinese girlfriend some how persuaded me to try out bird feet, not certain what type. I was pheasently suprised.

    HAHA :p

  2. Pingback: Goat, Cow Feet, and Ox Tail in Mattapan « Boston Gastronauts

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