Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Exotic food: Pig's head

Unless you are prepared to eyeball your meal, this dish is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The Chinese believe you won't starve if you eat everything, and indeed, the Chinese eat every bit of a pig: intestines and stomach, brains and feet.

But nothing looks quite as gruesome as a pig's head.

Chinese student Millie Zhang, who came from Guangzhou in 2009, says roasted pig head is her "favourite part" of a porker.

"You get different textures and flavours, and most definitely the tastiest part of the pig," she said.

"The cheeks are my favourite, but some of my flatmates love the eyes and nose, and we just zero in on the parts we like."

Miss Zhang said some Chinese also believe that eating pig brains will make them smarter.

Pigs' heads retail for about $6 at Asian butcher shops but cost an additional $2 if the ears (usually sold separately) are left on.

In China and other parts of Asia such as Vietnam and Cambodia, pig heads are displayed at Chinese restaurants hanging from hooks.

They're not usually on the menu at eateries here, but most Chinese restaurants would serve them if an advance order was made.

Lonely Planet Guide's advice on how to eat "pig face" is: "Snap off the ear and eat it like a thick, crispy, chewy, greasy potato chip. Offer the eyeball to your elder or your lover. Be cheeky and eat the most tender bit of the cheek. Look for the brain scraps and eat your way to a higher IQ."

- Lincoln Tan


Pork cheek, podded peas, goats cheese and pappardelle.

Chef: Paul Jobin, executive chef at SkyCity. Paul has featured in several food programmes, and contributes to several publications including the Weekend Herald.

A chef at Kauri Cliffs when it first opened, he has since established his own business, Pure Tastes, in Kerikeri.


The pig's head lay there staring at me - well, it would have done if its eye had not been gouged out.

Its mouth was baked into a wry half-smile and whiskers protruded from its upper lip.

Childhood memories of loveable swine such as Babe and Charlotte flooded back to me and I suddenly felt guilt and disgust at the same time.

However, the delicious smell of roast pork and crackling was motivating enough for me to attack its face with my knife.

For future reference, it is not a good idea to go straight for the apple of the cheek.

As I slid my knife through the thin skin, it popped like a boil and a stream of clear liquid fat poured out.

After I had learned that lesson, I attacked it from the side.

The skin was easy enough to peel back off, but I could not get over the feeling that I was skinning Babe.

Under the skin was a thick layer of fat which needed to be scraped away to get to the tender cheek meat.

At this point, the smell of fresh crackling was overwhelming and I would be lying if I said I was not looking forward to trying it.

I cut off a bite-sized portion of dark pink meat from right beside the pig's cheek bone.

It was so tasty. It was just like eating crackling without the crisp skin, and I love crackling so I really was not complaining. I even had seconds. And thirds.

As with tastes tests on some other exotic foods, the pig's cheek was very easy to eat after being professionally prepared.

The dark pink meat was cut into circles about the size of an old 50 cent coin and the smell of cinnamon from the pasta overpowered the crackling scent.

It was very, very easy to eat - the flesh had a strong pork flavour and was very tender. However, the cinnamon was the main flavour I could taste, with the occasional pea thrown in for good measure.

I actually ate quite a bit of this dish. It was much easier to eat when you did not have to attack Babe's face with a knife.

I would definitely recommend both versions to anyone.

It was very tasty tender meat, but skinning a cooked swine's face should perhaps be left to those with a strong stomach.

- Amelia Wade
By Lincoln Tan and Amelia Wade | Email Lincoln 5:30 AM Friday Jan 14, 2011

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