It can be all too easy to stick to your culinary comfort zone in Shanghai, be it KFC or gōngbǎo jīdīng. As a challenge to break these habits and avoid the rut, every few weeks Shanghaiist will explore one of the more intriguing options out of China’s endless array of curious cookery. Although bizarre to most Western palates, these oft-avoided edibles usually boast unique medicinal properties, nutritional benefits, and intriguing culinary histories. We’ll explore for you where they came from and where you can sample these rare eats for yourselves.
YAK PENIS (牦牛鞭, máoniú biàn)
Regions of use: China (Tibet, Sichuan Province), Nepal
Tasted at: Ba Guo Bu Yi (巴国布衣) // 1018 Dingxi Lu, near Yan’an Xi Lu (定西路1018号, 近延安西路) // Closest Metro Stop: West Yan’an Road (延安西路) Line 3/4
It seems you can’t have an exotic foods series without eating the reproductive organs of one of God’s creatures, which is why today we’re eating yak penis.
Who eats animal reproductive organs?
Rocky mountain oysters
The sex organs of various animals are consumed around the globe. Many herding cultures, such as the gauchos of the South American Pampas and the cowboys of the Western US dine on bull’s testicles (called “Rocky Mountain Oysters” in the US), a custom that spawned from castrating calves to control breeding. Some herders like the Scandinavian subarctic’s Sami traditionally de-balled livestock with their teeth, which might explain how over the years they acquired a taste for herd-beast genitalia. But it was more likely rooted in their custom of using every part of the animal.
Penis consumption, on the other hand, had more to do with increasing virility than it did with flavor or subsistence, and as a result, the penises of exotic creatures have become sort’ve the relics of the aphrodisiac world. One of the strangest I’ve encountered was the dried penis of a pink river dolphin or boto in the Ver-o-peso market in Belem, Brazil.
China boasts a diaspora of exotic animal shlongs sold for consumption from tiger penis (not so much anymore) to snake and deer penis preserved in wine. China’s most famous penile institution is Guolizhuang Restaurant in Beijing, a venue offering more than 30 different animal penises including yak.
Yak penis at Guolizhuang Restaurant
Yak penis was reportedly first mentioned in the Ming Yi Bie Lu or Records of Renowned Doctors from 520 AD, where it was described as being rich in protein, vitamins, phosphorus, iron, and testosterone. It fell under the Chinese belief that you literally are what you eat and was prescribed to elderly males to restore their sexual vigor.
Contrary to popular belief, Yak penis consumption is not particularly widespread in Tibet, and is actually more common among the neighboring Sichuan people, who cook the penis in hot chili oil. We tucked into this rendition at Ba Guo Bu Yi, which is, as far as we know, the only venue serving yak penis in Shanghai.
The “longest” meal
Ba Guo Bu Yi’s yak penis comes sliced and swimming in a hollowed-out melon with chili oil and melon hunks (188RMB). You pluck out the segments, which are curled up into the shape of ninja stars due to their contact with the chili broth, and gobble.
And they’re actually a lot more appetizing than their title suggests. Sort’ve like tenser pieces of sea cucumber or ox tail, but with a beefy richness. There’s a shit-ton of shlong hovering beneath the broth’s surface (the yak puts Ron Jeremy to shame), so bring another person to split this beast with. Fortunately, the melon chunks serve as refreshing interludes between each piece of yak.
By the time we had drained the melon we were satisfied in the way you’re satisfied after eating a burly beef dish. We give an A+ to this magnum-sized meal.
Yak penis may sound like something you’d eat during a bad fraternity initiation, but when you put it in the context of Chinese medicinal beliefs, it’s no stranger than the next exotic eat. Overall, we rather enjoyed it. Was it good for you?
Last time on Off the Beaten Palate: Fermented fish
See a complete list of our Off the Beaten Palate series here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].