The Sheep-Brain Curry

As a child, I was a notoriously fussy eater. My catchphrase as a four-year-old, “There’s a little bit of black in it,” was stubbornly repeated when rejecting any food that was well-cooked, new, mixed up with something else or prepared with herbs or seasoning – so just about everything interesting really… (Parents of fussy children, take heart – I grew out of it, developed a taste for strong and exciting flavours, and now pride myself on being an extraordinarily hearty and adventurous eater.)Sprouts

My infinitely patient parents persevered and eventually won through, though not every battle can have been an easy one: I remember the ‘escargots showdown’ when on holiday in France, that resulted in me having a disproportionately dramatic tantrum in a small restaurant. I did actually try a snail in the end and remember finding the taste quite inoffensive, but the chewy texture simply appalling. I think I sobbed and spat it out on the table… (belated apologies to my long-suffering Mum and Dad). Anyhow, our tastes change as we grow older and so, every once in a while, I would try something I had previously disliked only to find it was in fact utterly delicious. I love escargots now and will gladly gobble them down with a good glass of French wine, soaking up the garlic butter with soft, fluffy bread.

And so we go from snails to brains… For an average English girl raised on Sunday roasts, mashed potatoes, Heinz Baked Beans and garden vegetables, the sheer concept of eating something’s brain is a disconcerting one. Perhaps partly because when we use the word brain it’s almost always to do with intelligence or thinking, in a very human context (‘brain-storm’, ‘brain drain’, ‘all brawn and no brains’, ‘she’s very brainy’, ‘he’s got cricket on the brain’, ‘do you mind if I pick your brain?’, ‘I’ve been racking my brain all day’ etc…). But here I am, living in the Middle East, and there are plenty of people living in this part of the world who consider goat and sheep brain to be a delicacy. So, I plucked up the courage to try it. After all, what’s the point in living abroad if you’re going to stay in a safe little expat bubble?

Satwa at dusk

The Pakistani restaurant we went to is in bustling Satwa – one of the louder, livelier, more interesting bits of Dubai – bright with neon lights and beeping, double-parked cars. The streets are packed with people and the restaurant kitchens open onto the pavements so the wonderful cooking smells – grilled meat, hot bread and spices – drift enticingly in the cool evening air. We found our friends at the restaurant, already seated at a plastic picnic table. I was expecting to see goat-brain curry on the menu, and was mildly and inexplicably disappointed to discover it was actually sheep. I know goat meat isn’t likely to spring to mind when one fancies something really tasty – I would expect it to be a bit stringy and, well, goaty – with that ripe, farmy, animally smell that strong goat’s cheese has. Nevertheless, there was no goat available – it was sheep brain or nothing. I had set my heart on brain (that’s a weird arrangement of words / bodily organs, isn’t it) and I was determined to have it, be it caprine or ovine.

As far as I am aware, I have never previously eaten anything’s brain (although I have eaten a lot of cheap beef and onion pies in the past and if those weren’t at least 60% sheep-brain / horse-meat / road-kill, I’m a duchess) so I was a little apprehensive. I think I was afraid it would still be brain-shaped… (see my photograph from last week’s post. The idea of slicing into one of those frontal lobes would definitely have been a bit Sheep Brain Curry - it's offally good...much for me…) But I was pleasantly surprised: it looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Particularly if you tell yourself it’s actually a minced chicken or egg curry (it’s all in the mind, you know). When I picked up the first forkful I thought I was going to have to shout “Raaaaargh!!” in order to stop myself thinking about it and just put it in my mouth (like a warrior charging into battle or something), but I managed to control myself, and in it went. It was a bit like the escargot incident (although you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t spit it out on the plastic picnic table): the taste was fine, but the texture was quite upsetting. It tasted a little like chicken liver – smooth and mild with that subtle tang of iron. I mostly tasted the spices I suppose – ginger, turmeric and a lively amount of chilli; it was nice – offally good really (sorry). But the texture was unnervingly creamy and soft. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word negatively before, but I can’t think of a better one: it was silky. Eerily silky. Like a limp, moist handshake. Or a shaved cat. Or the soft voice of a psychopath. As I chewed it, there was simply nothing in the way of healthy, meaty resistance. I managed to eat a fair amount of it in the end, mixing it in mouthfuls with big chunks of chicken, buttery paratha and a delicious tarka daal (the lentils very successfully disguised the soft texture of the brain). And, strangely enough, I felt like I had achieved something.

To be honest, the worst of it came later. Oh it stayed down, don’t worry about that. But a brain burp is a dreadful thing: the ghost of silky, spicy cerebellum haunting you as you try to get on with your evening and enjoy a nice cocktail or two (I bet Hannibal Lecter never had that problem). Heavens but that brain repeated on me. Then I discovered that I had a bit of it stuck in my teeth. I panicked. “I’ve got a bit of brain stuck in my teeth!” I whispered urgently to my husband, noticing that I sounded like an oddly hygiene-conscious zombie. He bought me another drink and I managed to wash the brain completely away with a strawberry margarita. Tequila often has that effect on the brain, I’ve found.

So all’s well that ends well. I had met the brain challenge, head on, and I had not been found wanting. Are you tempted? Have a look at this Indian cooking blog for a curried goat-brain recipe: http://simplyspicy.blogspot.ae/2006/12/brain-fry.html And this BBC page features a buyer’s guide to sourcing good-quality brain in the UK (do let our top universities know if you find any – ho ho – http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/brain). Warning: the instructions for preparation are not for the faint-hearted; they utilise one of the most upsetting words in the English language: membrane (shudder). Eating brain is one thing, but preparing it myself? I don’t think so. In some ways I’m still a bit of a squeamish four-year-old…

[Apologies to my vegetarian readers for another horribly carnivorous post. I promise I’ll write about something more pleasant next week…]

Fancy trying brain curry? What’s the weirdest or most unnerving food you’ve ever eaten?

Advertisements

64 Comments

  1. I think ill pass on all things brain.

    • 🙂 Are you sure?…

      • Yeah as sure as I can be, makes me shudder just thinking about it to be honest.

  2. Nooooooo, you will be eating Findus ready meals next.

    Mrs Sensible tries to feed me strange foods like bunnies, tripe and black octopus. Give me steak and chips please.

    • 😀 I’m a fan of steak and chips myself. And I have a problem with tripe. I think it’s mainly to do with the word tripe. It is not an appetising word.

  3. Grimace. You’re a braver woman than I!

    • All expats are brave in one way or another 🙂 Thank you for reading 🙂

      • It’s my pleasure. Very enjoyable, well-written and eye-opening!

    • I concur! Well done for tucking into the culture!

  4. Well done you! I agree about the expat bubble – avoid it like the plague! Would you eat it again?

    • Good question… A friend just told me that when she ate a brain curry she found bits of skull in it!!! So, probably not! 😀

  5. Gosh, that was brave of you! I don’t think I could have tried such a dish. I had thought of having fried bugs in Thailand but ‘chickened’ out at the end ( literally and metaphorically)!

    • I have friends who say the fried bugs aren’t too bad – just crunchy… Love the chicken pun 😀

  6. Oh Lucy! I think i enjoyed that post?
    Will told me at Christmas I would love your blog-& I do.
    H

    • HELLO Heather! So lovely to see you on here and thank you so much for reading! I do hope you are well. Sorry about the rather gruesome nature of this post… 😀

  7. OMG your description of the texture had me bolting for the door as I’m eating my lunch at the PC…I laughed out loud at the brain burp and the fact you had some brain stuck in your teeth. You deserve an award!

  8. Mel

    Lucy, if you continue to open your mind to such extreme culinary experiences, your brains will fall out. Or perhaps off your plate. Less offal more margarita.

  9. Er, no ta. I feel queasy just reading your description.
    The weirdest thing I ever ate was a boar’s balls. It didn’t just repeat on me, it made a full exit. It’s is definitely all in the mind. I just kept imaging what had been produced in there. It almost felt like I was doing a swallowing job, if you see what I mean… Not an easy image to hold down!

    • OH GOD. That’s really rather upsetting. If someone had told you they were just meatballs they probably would have stayed down… I think you win. That is utterly revolting. I bet they were a bit gristly. Bleurgh.

  10. Rick

    Totally agree; it is too smooth and silky and if badly cooked can also seem rather slimy. Brave girl for giving it a try though….did hubby have some as well? Listed all my many and various foods tried last week, but brains not on the “must try again” list. Your reply to “Thewilltoholdon” is correct; fried bugs are crunchy, a bit like pork scratchings but they don’t taste of pork. The raw or poached ones are a different matter and some actually don’t taste too bad at all. Its just the psychology of knowing what you’re eating that has to be overcome.

    • Yes – the husband ate about half of it in the end! I’d eat it again if I had to, but not very enthusiastically 🙂 I could cope with bugs if they weren’t too chewy, I think… Loved your list of unusual foods last week and was particularly impressed by polar bear! Where did you eat that?!

      • Rick

        In Bodo in northern Norway. They had just done a cull on Svalbard and rather than waste it they sell (sold, maybe not these days. It was over 40 years ago) the meat to the local hotels. Also had seal in the same area. Rat by the way was eaten on the Thai / Laos border, I thought I was eating chicken and said to my driver/guide that the bones were rather small. He said,that’s because they are rat bones! Didn’t taste too bad though. (I was in Laos illegally at the time). Congrats to both of you on the brain, its not the most pleasant food stuff, but I’m sure its very nourishing.

      • Amazing about the polar bear meat. You’ve had some amazing adventures! I thought you might have bought a rat-on-a-stick from Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler 🙂

  11. This entry was amazing! You had me physically recoiling from my computer with a look of sheer horror half the time. I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater and probably would give brain a shot if given the opportunity, but after reading your entry, I already know the texture would bother me!

    I tried tripe (or tripa) in Italy a few summers ago. Again, the taste was fine, but the texture…! Also, the smell. The smell had a particular… fecundity to it. A depth. I couldn’t take more than a bite or two. Mmmm… side-salad!

    • Thanks for this lovely comment! Eurgh – fecund tripe!! Don’t think I could handle that… You’re right, the more I think about this sort of thing, the more a side salad seems hugely appealing 😀

  12. Bina

    My weirdest was penne with udders. You couldn’t tell, till you were chewing, which tube was going to be pasta and which teat. Will look out next for shaved cat.

    • Oh heavens! I would struggle with udders. Oh my goodness, no. Thank you, lovely Bina, for this horrible contribution. I expect shaved cat is on the menu at the Fat Duck 😀

  13. I would definitely try brain if I lived in a place where it’s a normal meal, just for the experience. But I’d have the same emotions. I imagine it to have the consistency of soft tofu. The weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten? Hmm, nothing compares to brain…

    • Hi Barbara, Yes – silky tofu is an excellent comparison. A friend just commented that she’s eaten udders… I think that might beat brain. And for its smell, tripe trumps it too!

      • I think I’ve eaten udders and I’ve definitely eaten tripe. Oh, and to keep it current: I’ve eaten horse. Very tasty.

      • Maybe we should start an Adventurous Eating blog! 😉

  14. I have tried brains before but they looked like brain. It wasn’t so bad, kind of like tofu? But less suitable for veggo’s! I don’t know if I could do a brain curry though, I like to see my food a bit better and since you mentioned your friend finding bits of skull, I am now put off for life! Eeek!

    • The skull is very upsetting isn’t it. Reminds me of that scene in Hannibal when he’s cooking that man’s brain… EURGH!!! It helps me if food doesn’t look like what it actually is, although your approach is a lot more honest!

  15. I once tried a pinch of ground chapulines (Mexican grasshopper.) I do not think I would be brave enough to do what you did! This post was hilarious and disgusting at the same time- just like a brain burp!

    • 😀 Cheers Happy Zinny, I think I could cope with grasshopper if it was just crunchy protein and didn’t taste of much. And didn’t stay in my mouth for too long. Mind you, I suppose we’d all eat sheep brain if we were hungry enough! Glad you enjoyed the post. Looking forward to reading your latest…

  16. Brave, brave woman. Growing up in Italy, eating brain, liver, cow’s nerves, tripe is all par for the course and they all appeared at our dinner table now and then. I just couldn’t. Still can’t but, then again, after 15 years of vegetarianism and the last 10 years of very little meat (of the “I have to know where it was raised and how” variety), I am pondering giving it up again. Really, what is the difference between a cow and a horse? and I am referencing your earlier post here. From an environmental point of view, we consume way too much meat, especially beef, which makes our carbon footprint skyrocket. But back to the brains – happy to read about it. Will consider it for my next life.

    • Thanks, CampariGirl – and sorry about the disgusting descriptions… I’m trying to eat more fish than anything else these days and discovering lots of exciting new ones. Had Nile Perch the other day – it was surprisingly delicious 🙂

  17. Our butcher in the U.K. sold brains…calf. Very nice with black butter.
    Your description of the texture was spot on.

    • Was this recently? I wondered if they still did after the BSE thingummy… You make it sound rather tempting actually… 🙂

  18. I’m pretty sure my mother would have fed my sisters and me brains when we were young, as they were considered good food for small children when I was growing up after the war. But I don’t remember the experience and haven’t tried it as an adult because of the irrational squeamishness you describe so well.

    If she did give them to us we would have eaten them as we were VERY well-trained to eat whatever we were given while rationing was still in force. 🙂

    • Hello Perpetua, absolutely! – Waste not, want not! Being fussy about food is indeed a luxury 🙂

  19. Congratulations! I don’t think I could have done as well as you did, even with other things to disguise the taste/texture.

  20. Well done! Definitely couldn’t have eaten brain, although I have eaten German Knodel.

    • Are they like dumplings? YUM.

      • Yes they are. Very big ones – Bavarians don’t do small portions. Sadly they are one of the few German specialities I have let loose on my tastebuds, so I salute you!

  21. Thanks for the uncontrollable lauging fit in my kitchen – my kids just popped their heads round the door to ask me what I was up to. I love your description of the silky taste: I’m going to shave the cat this afternoon to see (incidentally, when did you shave your cat, and why?).
    The wierdest thing I have ever tasted is fafaru” at a traditional family meal in Tahiti. I was inches from barfing- it’s fish left to ferment in a bucket of sea water and squashed prawn heads in direct sunlight for three days. It stinks to high heaven: On our arrival, I told them that their bin had been forgotten, and they told me that it was the starter I could smell…..Bon appetit….

    • YUCK!!! I don’t think I could have eaten that – my tummy is a little intolerant of seafood at the best of times – this would be an alimentary disaster on an epic scale… Revolting!! There is a Filipino dish that involves eating fertilized duck or chicken eggs that have been buried in the ground for a week to rot and are then soft boiled. You eat the embryo straight out of the shell with a spoon. Every non-Filipino I have asked says they are disgusting but in the Philippines they are considered an aphrodisiac!!!

    • p.s. I have never shaved my cat. Well, not all of her anyway… After her first visit to the vets she lost a bit of fur where she had had injections and her bald bit of skin was unnervingly silky 🙂

  22. Too late, I’ve already shaved the cat, and am currently transforming into Dr Evil in Austin Powers 🙂 “Aphrodisiac”, huh? That’s what they always say to make drunken tourists eat disgusting things, right? Like sheep and bull testicles…. Pass the bucket…..

    • 😀 I bet shaved cat is a delicacy somewhere in the world… Try slathering it in garlic butter.

      • OK. But I’ll have to put it in the microwave because BBQ’s out with this dismal weather 🙂 (Note to animal rights activists: this is British humour and should be taken as such).

      • 😀

  23. I’ll think I’ll pass on trying brain, thank you very much…. I’ve only just started liking vegetable samosas 😛

    • Vegetable samosas are an excellent addition to anyone’s food repertoire. The trouble is, you never know what’s in a samosa over here… 🙂

  24. In the same field, I had Brain Salsa in San Salvador in 2010… 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. A Question of Taste – (Part 2) – aka Questionable Tastes | Monika Stedul

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Lucy Strange

Children's Author

Words We Women Write

we do what we like and we like what we do

AUTHOR ALLSORTS

A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Haven on the Page

Book reviews

Mango Bubbles Books

Where kids read, write and draw book reviews

The HG Wells SHORT STORY COMPETITION

Founded by the world-renowned BBC Aeronautics Correspondent Reg Turnill and his wife, Margaret, to celebrate the life and works of HG Wells and encourage creative writing, especially among the young, the prestigious HG Wells Short Story Competition offers generous Senior and Junior prizes and free publication of all shortlisted entries in a quality, professionally published paperback anthology.

The Short Review

shining the spotlight on short story collections

My Little Book Blog

Book reviews and all things books by Lizzy Baldwin

Eric Schlehlein, Author

(re)Living History, with occasional attempts at humor and the rare pot-luck subject. Sorry, it's BYOB. All I have is Hamm's.

Echostains Blog

ART, LIFE AND MUSINGS THROUGH VISUAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION

Book Snob

FOR DISCERNING READERS

Crackin' The WIP

Because blogs by established writers with years of experience & mountains of good advice are so cliché.

Penguin Blog

Thoughts and ideas from the world of Penguin

Elizabeth Willse: Surrounded by Books

Writer, Book Blogger, Librarian

bibliobrit

Children's and teen literature from the perspective of a Brit living in America.

Always in the Middle...

MG BOOK REVIEWS, GIVEAWAYS, & WRITING TIPS

Eleventh Stack

A books, movies, and more blog from the staff at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Main.

The Book Wars

💕📚💕

%d bloggers like this: