Sichuan can­not get enough spicy mar­i­nated rab­bit heads

‘The rab­bit heads do look quite ter­ri­fy­ing’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

CHENGDU, China: Chi­nese din­ers greed­ily crack open del­i­cate rab­bit skulls and slurp down their contents, tuck­ing into a del­i­cacy so pop­u­lar in one prov­ince that it has to im­port sup­plies from France. Sichuan is renowned for its spicy, pep­pery lo­cal dishes: one of its fa­vorites are bunny brains, of­ten eaten as a late night treat on the streets of its cap­i­tal, Chengdu. At the “Shuan­gliu Laoma Tutou”, a well-known restau­rant in the heart of the city, dozens of cus­tomers use their gloved hands to open the skulls cov­ered in sauce, suck out the brain and nib­ble on the cheeks amid cries of sat­is­fac­tion.

“If Sichuanese peo­ple don’t eat spicy dishes ev­ery day, they’re un­happy,” said one 20some­thing woman sur­named Ma, as she dined with friends. “I eat them at least once a week,” she added. Western­ers of­ten avoid an­i­mal parts-duck beaks, chicken feet, heads and tripe-that Chi­nese gourmets treat as del­i­ca­cies. But even in China there is lit­tle ap­petite for rab­bits’ meat, much less their heads, which are over­whelm­ingly eaten in Sichuan, a re­mote prov­ince long iso­lated by moun­tain ranges.

The dish is a spe­cial­ity of the re­gion-rarely found out­side of a few pop­u­lar restau­rants in Bei­jing and other ma­jor cities. “Two out of three rab­bit heads con­sumed in China, are eaten in Sichuan,” said Wang Min, the man­ager of the Chengdu restau­rant, adding that lo­cals were proud of the snack. “My par­ents and grand­par­ents ate them. I’ve been en­joy­ing them since my child­hood”, she said, adding the tra­di­tion goes back sev­eral cen­turies. “My friends in Guangxi (a south­ern prov­ince) and else­where don’t un­der­stand why we eat them,” she said, adding “they can’t stand the heat”.

In Wang’s restau­rant, head chef Yin Dingjun said the rab­bit head recipe seemed sim­ple but re­quired a well-es­tab­lished tech­nique. “You have to drain the rab­bits of their blood, then re­move the guts” be­fore “mar­i­nat­ing the head in a broth for sev­eral hours”, he said. “Din­ers then use their teeth to gnaw at the flesh.” Rab­bits fea­ture in Chi­nese mythol­ogy (a “jade rab­bit” lives on the moon) and are re­garded as cute by many young peo­ple rather than thought of as a del­i­cacy, al­though in Sichuanese di­alect eat­ing rab­bit head is slang for French kiss­ing.

Al­though suck­ing on a rab­bit head might seem odd to some din­ers even in China, it is par for the course in Sichuanese cui­sine, Fuch­sia Dun­lop, a Lon­don-based ex­pert in Chi­nese gas­tron­omy said. “There are lots of spicy dishes, such as spicy duck heads, cov­ered in chili and pep­per,” she said.For peo­ple in Sichuan, play­ing with your food is part of the fun, she said, adding they like “the grap­ple fac­tor.”“Us­ing your fingers and teeth to get a lit­tle bit of meat, it’s part of the pleasure.”

‘Quite ter­ri­fy­ing’

Ac­cord­ing to China’s rab­bit in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion, the coun­try con­sumes around half a bil­lion rab­bit heads a year. As night falls in Chengdu, in­nu­mer­able stalls sell rab­bit heads to lo­cals who wash the treat down with beer. “Night mar­kets are part of our cul­ture in Sichuan,” said Rong Lipeng, as­sis­tant to the chair­man of Hage, China’s lead­ing sup­plier of rab­bit meat and prod­ucts. He sells more than eight mil­lion rab­bit heads each year. But faced with a colos­sal lo­cal de­mand Chi­nese farms are strug­gling to sup­ply enough. As a re­sult, nearly 20 per cent of rab­bit heads mar­keted by the com­pany are sourced from Europe, mainly from Italy and France-in the same way that US chicken pro­duc­ers ex­port the birds’ feet, un­ap­pre­ci­ated in their home mar­ket, to China.

France ex­ported 166 tons of meat and ed­i­ble of­fal from rab­bits to China in 2014, ac­cord­ing to French gov­ern­ment fig­ures. Rong, who says the heads are healthy since they con­tain lit­tle flesh, hopes that the taste for the treat will one day ex­pand be­yond Sichuan, but, he ad­mits, the bar­rier is high. “A lot of peo­ple out­side our prov­ince do not dare taste them, be­cause the rab­bit heads do look quite ter­ri­fy­ing.”

— AFP pho­tos

CHINA: This pic­ture shows a wait­ress pre­par­ing a plate of rab­bit’s head for cus­tomers at a restau­rant in Chengdu, in south­west­ern China’s Sichuan prov­ince.

CHINA: This pic­ture shows pre­pared rab­bit heads at a restau­rant in Chengdu, in south­west­ern China’s Sichuan prov­ince.

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