With our notorious reputations as holders of unadventurous palates, Midwesterners have many local opportunities to expand their culinary horizons. Here’s a smattering of Twin Cities establishments that offer peculiar fare to push our tastebuds’ comfort zones.
1. Pig Intestine with Sour Vegetables, $11.50, from Mandarin Kitchen (8766 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; 952.884.5356).
Any edible that must be cleaned of all fecal matter and then boiled to kill off poop-dwellers, such as E. coli and salmonella, won’t likely be found on many menus, especially in these parts. But we knew we’d find our number one food for the weird at heart by perusing one of the myriad Twin Cities’ Chinese restaurants, a culture known for proudly eating everything but the kitchen sink. If you didn’t already know, intestines are eaten pervasively throughout China and southeast Asia, and also are known as “chitlins,” a traditional Southern soul food.
At Mandarin Kitchen the innards are cross-cut into fat rings that resemble roast duck once cooked, then stir-fried in a black bean sauce and mixed with a stewy jumble of chopped lettuce that has been steeped for a couple days in a secret marinade. The meat’s flavor, much like squid, is fairly neutral — dominating the palate is the sauce: faintly cinnamon tones of what could be five-spice powder and the earthy vapors of fermented black beans. The meat-and-potatoes crowd might need a little coaxing to negotiate the texture, a cross between extra firm tofu and calamari. Tangy would better describe the vegetables, which, although soaked in sauce, are surprisingly refreshing, perhaps due to the burst of sugar and vinegar essences that pop forth with each chew.
Not surprisingly, the deep-fried version served over cold vegetables (Crispy Intestine with Special Sweet and Sour Sauce) is much more popular. Both dishes serve two.
2. Si Tenemos Cuy (Guinea Pig) Disponible, $40, at Chino Latino (2916 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.824.7878).
The inventive chefs an Chino Latino get their piggies, flown in from Peru, from one of two Latin markets in town. The guinea pig is prepared and served Ecuadoran-style: marinated in achiote seed, garlic, and oil, then oven-cooked. The dish arrives at the table crispy and served with first an Ecuadoran salad of lettuce, pepper, cucumber, and avocado tossed in lime juice and then with rice, mote (boiled corn), and boiled potatoes. Twenty-four-hour advance notice is required for this peculiar plate, and although it serves one to two, it is generally enjoyed as a shared appetizer.
3. Salted Pig’s Feet, $3.99/pound, from Ingebretsen’s (1601 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.729.9333).
These Scandinavian dandies come fully cooked in a salt brine and ready to eat. They also may be dipped in vinegar. The feet, sold in pairs in air-sealed plastic packaging, are a spongy mix of cartilage, fat, bone, and random pockets of meat encased in thick, gelatin-coated flesh.
A delicate saltiness permeates every fiber of these oddities, although they are unexpectedly unpuckersome, even a bit bland. More so than Mandarin Kitchen’s plate o’ entrails, their disarmingly Spam-like consistency may no doubt deter picky eaters (one taste tester compared the feet, minus the bone, to “hard Jell-O.”) On a more inviting note, the scent of these cold appendages conjure, strikingly, fond memories of cold, picked-over turkey the day after Thanksgiving.
4. Krautini, $7, at Black Forest Inn (1 E. 26th St., Minneapolis; 612.872.0812)
Like a word that is spelled exactly as it sounds, like “gross,” the krautini is the first thing that just popped into your bewildered mind. That’s right, a sauerkraut-inspired martini. Black Forest shakes up Steinhager gin (a mild German spirit) with sauerkraut juice to create this twisted, savory libation served with a pearl onion.
One taste tester, who fancied her krautini, called it “oddly refreshing … in a drinking from the pickle jar kind of way.”
5. Veal Tongue With Soba Noodles, $10, at 112 Eatery (112 N. 3rd St., Minneapolis; 612.343.7696)
Finicky appetites wanting to venture into wilder cuisine may want to start with Chef Isaac Becker’s imaginative dish — no eyes peering at you in this one, and the meat’s original anatomical function is skillfully masked in a robust crust of buttery bread crumbs.
The meat is stewed in chicken stock with carrots, celery, and onions for 12 hours, then left to cool in the stock. The skin of the tongue is then pulled off, the meat sliced into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangular puck, then rolled in beaten eggs and raw bread crumbs. After it is sauteed in butter and olive oil, it’s set alongside a mound of cold soba noodles and julienned cucumber that have been tossed in a tahini-ginger dressing. The result? Think of a well-done steak that you’d actually want to eat, as juicy, rich, and succulent as a filet mignon prepared rare.
Runners up: Durian ice cream, available by container only, at Edina Creamery (5055 France Ave. S., Edina; 612.920.2169); Sauerkraut pizza at Red’s Savoy (421 E. 7th St., St. Paul; 651.227.1437); Chicken’s feet at Jun Bo (7717 Nicollet Ave., Richfield; 612.866.6888).