Not quite like Tescos…

En route to Jingdong, we stop for a can of ginger and sugar cane juice. To the left, a man welds gates together using a homemade mask – some cheap sunglasses set in a rectangular piece of cardboard. Our eyes are drawn to the goings on at the butchers opposite, where a cow is being dismembered; trucks pass by, kicking up dust all around. Its severed head is still connected to its body, and lies in a thick pool of blood. As the butcher deftly slits open its belly, a balloon of intestines plops out onto the dirt floor. Hm. Maybe we’ll give meat a miss for a bit. It all seems a far cry from the neat styrofoam packets of beef in Tescos…

By the looks of things, not a lot is wasted in China. That evening, our dinner choice is laid out before us on skewers outside a restaurant. As well as vegetables and beef, the individual parts of a chicken are neatly set out on a shallow, silver dish, like an autopsy report; there’s claws, beaks, legs, wings, and some brains too. As Cara has a ‘No Eyeballs on the Plate’ rule, she quickly turns away…

The next day, in Zhenyuan, we have our usual bowl of noodles, and I have a grilled fish skewer too. Before long, we realise I’ve also accidentally ordered Water Buffalo Tail. We’d been pointing at it and chuckling, lying as it was next to the broccoli like a giant mouse tail. Now, we notice it’s joined the fish on the outdoor grill, and is being lacquered with oil and chili paste. Maybe someone else ordered it? Nope, the restaurant is empty. Like a misunderstood raised eyebrow at an auction, there’s no going back. Cara’s particularly squeamish about food and can barely even watch the poor tail being cooked. But I’ve been trained on sheep’s head in Kyrgyzstan, locusts in Thailand and parrot in Guyana, so when it arrives – first grilled, then chopped up like a sausage of ever decreasing size – I duly work my way through it. ‘Seems to be some kind of bone in the centre’, I note, munching my way round it like a sweetcorn. “That’s the cartiledge. Within the cartiledge are the nerves and the marrow. This is what allows the tail to flick and move freely,” says Cara informatively. We stop to consider the various water buffalo tails we’ve seen flicking and moving freely that day.

“I’m adding Tails to my No Eyeballs on the Plate rule,” concludes Cara when I’ve finished… And although the taste wasn’t that bad, I think I’ll have to agree.

Stats and Facts:

One pink water buffalo tail – lightly grilled with chili paste: 4Y (25p)

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