Just around the corner from my house in Beijing there’s a restaurant called Donkey BBQ. It has several stars on China’s Yelp equivalent and I’ve heard good things from Western friends who’ve eaten there.
People who know me might call me adventurous, or perhaps indiscriminate, when it comes to food but the simple truth is that I enjoy few things in life more than experiencing new flavors, even if I don’t like them. I’ve had lots of mystery meat, but as far as I know, never any donkey, so I decided a trip to Donkey BBQ was in order.
I mentioned the notion in passing to my Chinese teacher and he said I shouldn’t bother. Not only was donkey meat much more expensive than horse, beef, pork, mutton, etc., but in fact, most of what places passed off as donkey meat was fake. “There just aren’t enough donkeys left to eat anymore.” He assured me that real donkey meat was, in fact, delicious, but didn’t think it likely I would ever be sure I was getting the real thing, and on top of it, I would pay a premium for the pleasure of getting cheated.
I love these moments of realization and incongruity in life. (I don’t like the disappointment of not getting to try a new food). Never would it have occurred to me that donkey meat was expensive. Even less would I have thought that it was so popular that it was more common to find fake than genuine donkey meat. It’s such a strange, funny feeling when these cultural (and many other kinds of) assumptions we make shatter against reality. My favorite part is how matter-of-fact my interlocutor always explains the situation. How could I NOT have know donkey meat is exquisite, expensive, and impossible to come by? How, indeed.
It reminded me of the moment I read that real wasabi is particularly difficult to cultivate, so almost every instance of wasabi one encounters at restaurants is just green-dyed horseradish (I think this was the one: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/fake-wasabi-horseradish_n_561bd666e4b0082030a33959). It was actually a big relief, since I from the first time I tried wasabi I couldn’t tell a difference from horseradish, and I wondered what all the fuss was about, and why didn’t people just use horseradish. It turns out that’s exactly what they do! So, vindication? The downside, of course, is that this means wasabi is just one more new flavor I likely won’t be able to try.
Now my mission is to figure out how to track down some authentic donkey meat. Hearing how delicious it is only makes me want it more. Maybe if I find some, I could also track down some real wasabi sauce to dip it in. Got any leads?