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Cock & Bull

Eating bull penis at Pho Nguyen Hue

The first time I put a bull's cock in my mouth was about four years ago in Shanghai. It was just one of many strange meats in our exotic hot pot banquet that evening. They say you never forget your first, but my memory on this is foggy: I do remember it was a bit rubbery—not like a condom, but, you know, chewy.

Recently, I got the opportunity to taste penis again at Pho Nguyen Hue in Little Saigon thanks to a guy named Bobo.

I met Bobo through his daughter, the author Ann Le, whose book The Little Saigon Cookbook, more than a mere cookbook, lights up the brief history of Vietnamese cuisine in America. With Bobo—bo is "father" in Vietnamese—Ann, her friend and I found Pho Nguyen Hue amidst the steaming strip-mall jungle of Little Saigon. I directed my hosts to find the most adventurous dishes on the menu. Bobo settled on pho ga trung non them,a slowly stewed hen with her developing eggs still inside her. Ann's friend picked oc gia ba ba: escargot with tofu and green banana.

Mmm . . . premature yolks. Photo by Eddie Lin
Mmm . . . premature yolks. Photo by Eddie Lin

And then Bobo mentioned dick.

Much time has passed since I last supped upon a bull's member, and now I had the chance to revisit the dish as interpreted by the Vietnamese.

First, a steaming bowl of pho broth arrived, the more or less blank canvas on which the chef would work with chicken and bull. Then, a platter of chopped, steamed chicken showed up, along with a small soup bowl filled with broth and miniature orbs of golden-orange yolk. In taste and appearance, the meat was reminiscent of Hainan chicken, a delectable and intense boiled hen. That was accompanied by a motley mix of nasty bits—chicken gizzards and livers, and dice-sized cubes of coagulated pig's blood.

Presumably, my bowl of about 10 premature yolks came from the same hen; I picked one perfectly spherical yolk—smaller than a full-term chicken yolk—and popped it in my mouth like a malt ball. It felt like a racquet ball in my mouth, but that gave way after some chewing to the familiar chalkiness of your average hard-boiled egg yolk. There was virtually no flavor other than a wispy taste of something yolk-like: disappointing.

Next was the pho pin xe lua—bull cock pho. There is nothing like a bowl of bull penis to get the dick jokes going, so after the giggling subsided and the bad puns and euphemisms ended, I shoved the prick into my mouth. Just like the last time, bull penis became a chewy endeavor. In fact, I'd have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between bull penis and beef tendon if it weren't for Bobo repeatedly asking, "See the hole?" and pointing out the penis's urethra. The broth was not nearly as robust as a pho broth should be, resulting in weak-flavored—sure, okay, flaccid—dong.

The escargot with tofu and green banana had the appealing array of colors and textures essential to multi-dimensional and flavor-balanced dishes. The escargot looked plump and juicy. I anticipated a struggle chewing through them, but they were as tender as perfectly cooked calamari. Best of all, the snails soaked up all the personality of the rich broth, itself a wonderfully unique synthesis of flavors with the spicy-sweet from the cinnamon basil, the earthiness from the escargot, the pungency of the green banana and a combination of other spices and seasoning—very much like a racy cinnamon curry. The tofu was inexplicably dropped in favor of pork skin, a switch that added great flavor and uniqueness to the dish.

It used to make me nuts to hear the uninformed describe Chinese food as if it comprised only egg rolls, shrimp fried rice and a fortune cookie. But I was just as ignorant when it came to Vietnamese cuisine. Now I know better. I see delicious possibility. I can see the dick at the bottom of my pho.

A version of this story originally appeared on Lin's blog, deependdining.blogspot.com.

PHO NGUYEN HUE, 10487 BOLSA AVE., WESTMINSTER, (714) 839-8916. OPEN DAILY, 8 A.M.-9 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $10-$25, EXCLUDING DRINKS. BEER ONLY.

 
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