Entrails, feet, brains, gulp. Beyond the foie gras, frog legs and snails of the city, there are much scarier things to try in Houston. It isn’t that hard to find an array of culinary oddities being served throughout the most diverse city in the United States. No bull penis, though, sorry.
This Halloween season, The Houston Press dares you to eat outside the box by trying one of these ten scary dishes.
10. The Duck Heart Bolognese at One Fifth: Romance Languages
Halfway through eating this dish, you’ll fantasize about returning to eat this dish. Toothy casarecce pasta and great acid from the tomatoes accompany that iron-like heart flavor in each bite. It’s buttery to begin with and after you stir in the lemon zest ricotta, its richness will have you planning your next visit. On top of that, the pasta is littered with chives. Compared to the rest of the items on this list, this dish is the least scary. $14.
9. Tongue tacos, barbacoa and chicharrones at Gerardo's
Gerardo's, long known for having the best barbacoa in Houston, does not disappoint. Fresh toasted tortillas are stuffed to order with beef tongue and barbacoa alike. Gerardo’s barbacoa is genuinely made from the tender head meat of a cow. The musty chunks are so moist with face fat that they melt in your mouth. The tongue texture is similar to that of brisket and it has a more iron-like flavor than the barbacoa.
A few nuggets of the pork skin chicharrones are last-meal worthy. In just one bite, the chicharrón texture varies from crunchy to crispy to soft to chewy, and the best moment is the gush of warm pork grease when you bite it just right. This is a thrifty delicacy, to say the least. All the above pair great with the housemade salsa and any fun soda from the coolers. $5 total for one tongue taco, one barbacoa taco and three nuggets of chicharrón.
8. Beef Stomach Menudo at Chapultepec
Tripe, the stomach lining of an animal, is the star of this dish with its savory beef flavor and fun-to-eat texture. The tripe itself looks like honeycomb, and all those tender, spongy cells help cradle the savory broth. The flavor of the broth has a hint of spicy heat that’s made rich by the fat rendered from the slow cooking of the tripe. Garnishing with yellow onions, cilantro, jalapenos and a squeeze of lime is encouraged. After a rowdy night on the town, this dish will bring you back to life. A bowl of menudo pairs exceptionally well with Coca-Cola and your couch. $8.50.
7. Live Shrimp (Amaebi Sashimi) at Fung’s Kitchen
I trust anything coming out of Fung’s Kitchen. For 27 years, the Fung family has been devoted to serving Hong Kong-style cuisine, shipping in the freshest live seafood and holding it in tanks for all to see. The amaebi is butchered to order and appears at your table minutes later on a bed of ice. The kicker: The legs attached to the shrimp heads are still moving and you can feel the flesh twitch as you bite into the raw tail. The texture is initially firm, but gives way to silky sweet shrimp flavor. Fung’s Kitchen is committed to finding the largest sweet shrimp around. At the moment they are being sourced from the cold waters of Vancouver. $32.50 (for a half pound) will get you four.
6. Goat Brains at Indika
These goat brains cooked in an amchur-spiced tikka masala are a must-try. Don’t worry, you won’t find big chunks of brain, though I was hoping for some. The brain is ground and tossed in the sauce with plump raisins and potatoes. The stew rests on a naan pillow and is garnished with velvety sunflower sprouts. This bheja masala offers a creamy offal flavor held by the safety net of classic Indian cuisine. It’s hard to be scared of this delicious dish after just a few bites. $13.
5. Blood gravy at Filipino Cuisine
Dinuguan is a dish of sautéed beef tips served in a rich, tart beef blood gravy. The blood isn’t overwhelming or congealed, but the mineral flavor is definitely present. The vinegar helps take your mind off the cooked-blood color. $8.99 for weekday buffet, $10.99 for weekend buffet.
4. Pork Intestine at Phat Ky
These ruot heo chien don, or pork intestines, have the gamiest flavor on the list and frying them definitely helps their appeal. The texture is chewy and lightly crisp. The entrails are garnished with hoisin dipping sauce and pickled vegetables, and it's recommended that they be enjoyed with beer. All the accompaniments help mask the fact that you are casually snacking on the intestines of an animal. $6.50.
3. Chicken Feet at Fung’s Kitchen
The color of the chicken feet served at Fung’s is a tell-tale sign that they were skillfully slow-cooked. They have an orange hue and the gelatinous meat slides easily off the bone. The chicken flavor is quite versatile, and several versions are present on the menu. During dim sum, they’re $3.50 for an order of four.
2. Insects at Xochi
Ants, crickets and worms are used to garnish the queso de rancho, a housemade Mexican cheese. The insects are a crunch-lover’s dish, and are also accompanied by large chicharrón puffs. The housemade cheese and crispy pork skin are nice, but all the big flavor comes from the insects. The worms are hollow crisp shafts, while the crickets are tart and spicy. Surprisingly, I kept going back for the bugs most of all. $13.
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SHOW ME HOW
1. Duck Embryo at Hong Kong Food Market
Balut or hot vin lon at Lucky No. 9 in the Hong Kong Food Market's food court is by far the scariest dish in Houston. Balut is almost like a soft poached egg, but with the embryo of a baby duck inside. The egg is served whole in a styrofoam cup with the herb rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), a ramekin of salt and pepper and a plastic spoon. To begin, you crack open the larger side of the egg and peel open a good-size hole. Inside you’ll see a firm yellow yolk with purple veins and a brown furry object. The yolk is quite firm, while the bird itself is lightly feathery and juicy and has a small crunch from the undeveloped bones. The cooking liquid inside has a nice, young poultry broth flavor. It was delicious. If you’re looking for the ultimate food scare this Halloween, balut is the one to try. My advice is to open your mouth, think about a nice country field somewhere and go for it. $2.