“I love the taste of ass,” my student said. She was short, mousy, and wearing glasses with wide lenses that seemed to cover a quarter of her face. “For me, ass is hard to find in Changzhou. So, I am always looking for ass because I want to eat ass all the time.” Her smile was wide, warm, and sincere. She was also wearing a modest blue fuzzy sweater. What she was saying and how she looked was a total non sequitur to me.
This was during a recent presentation in one of my university classes. The water I was drinking almost came out of my nose. It’s not the first time a student has said this, and it will not be the last time I desperately try to remain composed and not descend into fits of hysterical laughter.
“Um,” I said, “in the future, you may want to refer to that type of meat as donkey. Some native English speakers might misunderstand what exactly you are trying to say to them — especially if they are weird, perverted men.” My student was standing in front of the class, and her PowerPoint showcased a picture of rectangular sandwich stuffed with a very dark red chopped meat.
In Chinese cuisine, it’s called 驴肉火烧 or Lǘ ròu huǒshāo in Pinyin. I have heard Chinese people call it donkey burger, in English. Thank God I have not heard ass burger, yet. It is further evidence that the Chinese actually created the concept of a “sandwich” a very, very long time ago. Long before the British or the Germans. Recently, I spent a day looking all over Changzhou for donkey flesh. My reason for doing so was simple. If i am going to spend my EFL teaching career always telling Chinese students to say “donkey” and not “ass” in reference to eating something, I should at least try the actual sandwich.
Turns out, donkey sandwiches are not as easy to find in Changzhou as I originally thought. I entered 驴肉火烧 into Baidu Maps. I went to four of the red dots that popped up, and only one seemed to actually exist. It was in Xinbei on Jinling Road — just up the road from Kingsport and Hohai University’s east gate. It looked a little dumpy, and most of the menu consisted of soups, hot pot, and more where donkey meat was the central ingredient. There was even a picture of the beloved Shrek character Donkey on the wall. I am not kidding.
So, lets get down to the nitty gritty. How was the sandwich? Eating locally in China is sometimes embracing that you might, in fact, try things that sounds weird to you. I have a few lines I will not cross, but I am willing to try not to be a western snob. Meat is meat, and I don’t think people who eat cows, chickens, lamb, turkeys, pigs, and fish have to moral clarity scream at Chinese people who eat donkeys or Belgians who eat horse. Some Indian Hindus think Americans are barbaric for eating steak and ground beef that’s formed into hamburger patties. Cows are a sacred animal to them. Either way, if you are eating meat, something had to die before it was served to you. And this is coming from a former vegetarian. I know the arguments of both worlds.
Okay, enough about the politics of eating. What was the sandwich like? Honestly, it tasted a lot like corned beef. I had the same experience when I tried camel a few years ago. The texture of the meat itself is very lean, and it tastes like it has been through a curing process. That makes sense if you consider that a donkey is a very muscular animal, and lean, muscular meat tends to be tough and hard to eat when not prepared right. Something has to be chemically done to it just soften it up. And, but the way, corned beef is also cured — as is pastrami. All pastrami is a corned beef that’s been rolled in black pepper. And donkey can taste like pastrami that has not been rolled in black pepper.
Also, as any sandwich lover can tell you, meat is one thing and bread is another. You could have most delicious filling in the word, but if the bread is bad, the sandwich will still be a dismal failure. The donkey burger 驴肉火烧 uses a bread unlike other Chinese sandwiches. It’s very crispy and flaky. It has the crunch of non-sweetened pastry dough. So, would I eat this again?
Yes, and I already have. Please forgive the double entendres I am about to employ. As jokes go, these are easily picked, low-hanging fruit that are hard to pass by. I cannot stop myself. Do I like eating ass? Yes. Have I hit the streets looking for ass? Yes. Do I like getting my hands around more ass? Yes. Do I wish I had more ass in my life? Yes.