• The World Digested

Eating Taboo


Zarathustra was the first to see in the struggle of good and evil the true wheel in the working of things...Zarathustra created this most fateful of errors, morality: consequently he must also be the first to recognize it as such…His doctrine, and his alone, defines truthfulness as the highest virtue—that is to say, the opposite of the cowardice of the “idealist” who takes flight in the face of reality…The self-overcoming of morality through truthfulness, the self-overcoming of the moralist into his opposite —into me—that is precisely what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth.

— Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra; thus spoke Nietzsche.

Human beings are animals. Thus we get into cat fights and dog fights, and we sigh, blaming our misbehavior on our animal instincts. Nevertheless, we claim that we, the humans, are different and superior. Despite having stemmed from the same happenstance–or a single happy coincidence, just to make it a little more poetic—we differ from ants, bats, giraffes and whales by our unique ability of self-recognition. All animals can recognize what is food and what is not and the route back to their nests, owing to the most basic survival instinct programmed into the genes of any living organism. However, the ability to recognize the external objects does not automatically extend to the internal self. After all, survival in the wilderness does not call for the use of mirror very much, for what good will it do to know that there is a piece of mammoth meat stuck between the front teeth? Yet, we use the mirror test as a hallmark of higher intelligence since we, the humans, do differentiate between us and everything else.

Furthermore, we go a step or two farther than mere animals because we do not merely survive but we live beyond survival and because we even act against survival. Humans are different because we have departed from the path of animals when we, with our hind legs, stood up, and with our freed hands, learned to use tools, and with tools, to make fire. With tools and fire, we learned to kill. Then, with the same two hands that take life, we began to pray. By praying, we hope to alter the inevitable fate called nature. We pray for rain and we pray for food; but above all else, we pray for the eternal youth and for the happily-ever-after. No, we are not animals: animals do not pray to live forever.

Since human beings are destined for greater things from our anthropocentric point of view, we have departed from the mother nature and have embarked upon an epic journey to the bigger world–a world that is so vast as to contain the natural and the unnatural. In our long, lone travail, separated from the general herd, we became lonely. Our loneliness made us think, and thinking led us to discover–us. There is nothing to it, this exulted self-recognition, we were just bored and lonely so we started talking to ourselves.

With our enlarged brain, we thought and thought, and our thinking split the world into two: not only there were us, as separated from them, but within ourselves, there was the body and there was the mind. That was the starting point, and from there, our world fractured into a metaphysical schizophrenia. The universe was filled with forces, pulling it apart in a constant tag-of-war: humans and animals, animals and plants and predators and the victims. Birthing and breaking, breeding and bleeding, we chase after and are chased after, chained to the cycle of life. Or is it of fate? What we call learning is recognizing differences, and in our frenzy of discerning, delineating, distinguishing, dividing and demarcating, we began to hear voices—or Zarathustra did—which told us that there were the Good and The Evil.

The ceaseless battle between the Good and the Evil opened a new chapter in the human history: the saga of “morality.” Morality caught on like a virus, permeating every stratum of society and every corner of the Earth and cause the mutation of human beings into “moral animals.” Action-packed with handsome heroes and beautiful heroines, the epic story of human ego conquered the humanity. Before our enlightenment, there was no “bad” in the Garden of Eden because there was no “good.” We were blissfully ignorant and ignorantly blissful because we could not discern the difference. Blissful but bored, so we opened the Pandora’s Box, and life became so much more exciting because the world became flooded with evil.

Exciting as it was, we were told that it was bad: our instincts and emotions were labeled as immoral; and not only immoral, but deadly: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. The new chapter of humans as moral beings opened with a titillating peak of the final scene called “hell,” but it quickly became tiresome: life losing all colors—only one anticlimax after another. Therefore, we had to invent another potential ending—a typical trick of misdirection—that there was a paradise full maidens or peaches or winged beings just to keep us guessing. That took care of the afterlife, but in the present, the effect of morality was still catastrophically demoralizing that it put us into a dilemma, so murky and muddy that we reached out and grabbed at the only certainty we knew: the line. The demarcation line that separates the Good and the Evil became our lifeline. Holding onto the line, we hope to progress in our pursuit of the unachievable; chanting “Do not cross the line” like a mantra, we pray and wait for our salvation.

Humans are human because we self-reflect. Perhaps so. But obviously we did not like what we saw—except for Narcissus, but look what happened to him—so we prayed even harder. In answer to our fervent prayers, the lines became clearer and deeper, and eventually the lines coalesced and became institutionalized in—religions. The growth of religions further split the world into a kaleidoscopic labyrinth with lines intersecting at inhuman angles. Trapped that we are, bumping into each other, heading into walls of mirrors which throw us back at us; we run and stumble, caught by the lines that we have forgotten that we drew. Thus we fall—falling onto the other side of the lines, from the right side to the sinister side.

We define and we determine because without a clear definition, we are lost, lost and lonely in a bottomless pit, feeling infinitesimally small and insignificant. We doodle the lines to while away the unbearable present and to weave the lines so that morality can shroud us against the cold, invisible eyes of infinity. Differentiate and delineate the finite and the definite—that has become the game, a game called “taboo.”

Taboo is clear. No, means “No.” No explanation provided and no excuses permitted. There is no question of mens rea; all that matters is actus reus. It is the red light versus the green light. It is learning not to play with fire, taught early and drilled into the bones. Once burned, it becomes an instinct; once engraved, it is indelible. It marks you and it binds you and it forces you to choose sides—which side do you stand on, the right side or the wrong side?

Taboo, in religion, is called a “Sin.”

Taboo, in society, is called a “Crime.”

If you have sinned, you do penance. If you have committed a crime, you will be punished. In this game of taboos, we are all judges and we are all being judged. We judge others as much as we judge ourselves. Taboos are not benevolent. Taboos are not natural, and taboos are not reasonable. Taboos are self-fulfilling prophesies. Stand on the right side, you are pure; stand on the wrong side you are impure. However, no matter what you do to cleanse yourself, the stain on your soul will follow you closer than your shadow.

It is hindsight that gives taboos the social context, cultural conventions and historical customs, with which the modern rationalism hopes to exonerate the inflexible, inhuman rules, forgetting too conveniently that while we condemn the old taboos, we are creating new. It is nothing but conceit that the humanity is progressing toward a liberal and ethical utopia. We are blinded by customs in the name of tradition, and we are bound by biases in the name of culture. Most of all, we are cloaked in a mantle of self-delusion, colored with morality and dotted with taboos.

For, what is wrong with the pig?

There are numerous foods we do not eat for various reasons: one person’s gourmet is another’s disgust. Food preference, although invisible, is one of the strongest dividers of human beings. It is cultural and societal, it is psychological and physiological. Food choices go to the core of our beings and are intertwined with our lives: for food is life.

Food is life itself and it give us the lifeforce to live. Every membrane of meat, every fiber of vegetable goes to make up our skin, our nails and our bones and our blood. But food nourishes not only our bodies but also our souls (ah, the ubiquitous dualism!). There are good foods that are good because of their nutritional values, and there are good foods that are good purely for their flavors. Similarly, there are bad foods that are detrimental to our health due to their chemical properties and the associated physiological reactions: generally, foods that are too oily, too fatty, too salty and too sweet, and individually, foods that contain substances causing allergy and intolerances. But, there are also bad foods which are bad because of subjective reasons due to the particular olfactory, gustatory, tactile and visual properties, which make them particularly unpalatable. For example, many fermented foods are called “rotten” by the naysayers.

While good food is capable of doing us a world of good, bad food is more potent as it is not only capable of hurting our health and spoils our mood, but it is also capable of being evil. There exists a special kind of bad food that is so bad that it is capable of tarnishing us in the present life and even hurting us in the afterlife.

The food taboos.

There are many food taboos in the world. Almost all religions have prohibitions against certain food at certain times, if not at all times. Buddhism proscribes consumption of any animal because taking life is prohibited. Certain Orthodox/Coptic Christian Churches fast from animal products—dairy included—to transcend the carnality of human life. Judaism and Islam prohibit the consumption of pigs and shellfish because they are considered unclean. To the Hindus, cows are so holy that you cannot even mistreat them, let alone eating them. Different religions, cultures, persons all have their rules and taboos, and many try to find scientific and altruistic explanations to excuse their otherwise esoteric classification.

Since taboos are artificial, arbitrary lines drawn by the capricious humans, the rules change with the times and tides of shifting human conscience. These days, our conscience is charitably tuned toward saving select species from the slaughter house (while still salvaging for our own salvation, of course, just not as blatantly) because our caprice—on occasion also known as culture—has transmorgrified these animals overnight into “persons.” We have become so lonely in our glory as the supreme beings on Earth that we had to recruit other innocent beings into our lonely hearts club. We capture cats and we castrate dogs. We trim their nails and we train them for toilets. We call them friends. We call them family. We cage them and we chain them, but we love them with all our anthropocentric and schizophrenic hearts.

Consequently, eating dogs, dolphins and monkeys is considered uncomfortably close to cannibalism, thus unacceptable to our modern and moral sensibility. In the same vein, eating anything cute and cuddly is frowned upon, thanks to iconic Peter Rabbit and Hello Kitty (caveat: Piglet seems to have done precious little for the pigs). Furthermore, since the humans are economic animals, we refrain from eating animals whose utility surpasses their food potential: dogs are valued for their loyalty as “man’s best friend” and horses for their noble carriage, literal and figurative. But where is the line exactly? What makes one more “pet-able” than the others? Or more lovable? The only guideline we can discern from all those intersecting lines, thrown about and around haphazardly and hazardously over the centuries, boils down to this: it is all about the “image.”

But, that is nothing new, is it, this single-minded, one-dimensional fixation on image? While we are physically three-dimensional and even attempting on the fourth (theoretically, anyhow), our minds are still stuck stubbornly on the single line of thought: image. As a matter of fact, our obsession with image has led to the creation of an entirely new world–the virtual reality. Virtually, we can do anything: not only shopping, we can play tennis, race cars, shoot monsters and save the world, all without leaving the comfort of the couch. Notwithstanding its convenience, this virtual reality has nothing to do with either virtue or reality. Technological advancement does not necessitate or facilitate spiritual improvement.

We say “beauty is only skin deep,” and yet we spend minutes and millions for this 1.0 millimeters—that is the average thickness of the skin on human face—shallow surface tissue. We worry about how we look, to the others and to ourselves. Image—we are all slaves to images. Image is more important than the actuality. Images are direct, instantaneous and instinctive. Visual stimulation elicits immediate reactions because it circumvents the thinking process. Words—whereas words need explanations, words are, well, too wordy. Who has time for words? No wonder Instagram is rapidly gaining on Facebook—which has more “older” users.

Human beings are endowed with imagination; yet our imagination is ironically constricted by fixed images, or idée fixe. Image has become a merciless dictator: it washes our brains and it pulls the strings; and we dance like marionettes to the whimsical tune of taboo.

The taboo tattooed on our forehead for the last two thousand years is the image of the lowly, dirty and greedy swine. This epidemic pig pollution is prevalent not only in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic West, but also in the supposedly pork-loving Asia. Pigs, despite being widely domesticated since 10,000 years ago, were never considered fit to be man’s best friend as in the case of the lucky canines (who did have a head start for about 20,000). Although having been offering their meaty, fatty flesh to the hungry humans for centuries, pigs have been derided and despised throughout the world and have been called many names—and none too nicely, either.

What have the pigs ever done to us except being man’s best dinner? What have humans got against these poor pigs after we slaughter them, shed their blood, smoke their bellies, stuff their intestines and string them to dry? Is it necessary to pile insult on these hapless hogs, after chewing their meat and spitting out their bones? Why do people not only physically abuse these sorry swine but also verbally? Paradoxically, however, the very same people often relish on bacon and sausages for breakfast, chow down meat loafs for lunch and bite into juicy pork chops for dinner. Prejudiced and illogical, why do we not confer such ignominy to chickens or cows as well? Convenient compartmentalization in the form of social schizophrenia seems to be a particularly virulent disease.

The disease of image is not confined to the type of animal, but also to parts of the animal. While we collect the hands and feet of saintly humans and trade organs with each other, when it comes to animals, we sneer at their feet and their entrails—that is, after we have stunned them and slit their throats. Not just pigs, but for any animals, the acceptance level goes down significantly as we move away from the central region of respectability. We cut the carcass according to the social lines: shanks and tails are generally acceptable; tongues occasionally; stomachs sporadically and selectively (a cow has got four stomachs—or compartments—but commonly only the honeycomb tripe (reticulum) is eaten). As for the eyes, the noses, the ears, the brains, the hearts, the kidneys, the esophagus, the intestines, the reproductive organs…well, well, well! Not only are these body parts barely regarded as edible—except by the French or Chinese–they do not even make suitable dinner conversation. Talk about the slippery eyeballs will get your guests’ eyeballs rolling…

So, what is the worst, the lowest, the basest that human beings can eat? Juggling and judging the myriad lines and rules, modern and ancient, the animal protein with the most taboos goes to—well, it is a tie—the pig’s trotters and pig’s intestines. Of course, it has to be the pig and its feet with the deceptive cloven hoofs and its infernal intestines. Either throw them away to the dogs or throw them to the lower class. Taboos—they do not just apply to food, they apply to people, too.

In fact, offal in Japanese is called horumon. One story says the word stems from horu—to throw away in the Osaka dialect—and mono—things. However, if there are those who throw them away, there are those who pick them up. Instead of “cast the pearls to the swine,” it is “cast the horumon to rich” because once properly cleaned and cooked, contrary to its soiled image, horumon was nothing but a delicacy—crunchy, chewy, creamy, fatty with an earthy undertone. It is a real feast of textures and tastes for the true gourmets. No wonder the French and the Chinese do not leave them alone.

Neither do the Japanese these days, apparently. Horumon has come a long way since the aftermath of World War II when the poor, the hungry and the outcasts grilled these barely edible castaways on open fires by the black market. It can even be said that horumon has attained a cult status with avid followers and eager initiates. Moreover, just as in a cult, there are different schools of horumon: the Tokyo school of pork vs. Osaka school of beef.

Hailing from the Tokyo school of pork horumon, Toraya Tenma opened fire in 2015 by the Tenma Market in Osaka—an old market place of ancient chaos. Toraya quickly converted quite a few of the locals, judging by the constant line forming outside the small stand-cum-bar. Standing room only, a dozen customers rub elbows voluntarily and involuntarily at the narrow counter and narrower planks; and self-service only, patrons are expected to wipe the table and make room for the new arrivals.

The chitterlings stew is the way to start the dégustation of the porcine digestive system. Sweet and savory, the flavor sinks deep into our own innards as we chew on the wrinkly tissue. The scientists tell us that our intestines are the second brain, hence keeping them happy and regular is a key to our own mental and physical well-being. In addition, the Chinese medicine expounds that eating the particular part of an animal strengthens our own. Combining the two schools of thoughts, stewed pig’s intestines would be doubly beneficial: pleasurable in mind and fortifying our organs at the same time (especially given that our genetic profiles are a 95% match).

Now to the skewers—after all, grilling is what Toraya is known for. Working down from the top—if you happen to go on a Sunday—order the pork tongue. You can customize your order in terms of saltiness and doneness. Recommended is the “light” salt so that the sweetness of the pork tongue will develop on your tongue.

The throat is a popular part, with a nice, crunchy esophagus and sinewy meat. It can be had grilled—salt or sauce—or even better, stewed (only available on Sunday). Throat stew is seasoned much more sweetly than that of the intestines, and this sweetness tames the stringy meat into a soft, velvety addiction. Taste it and order the second round fast because it runs out fast.

Pig’s heart is best ordered as sashi to enjoy the uniquely crunchy texture. Sashi as in “sashimi” usually means raw, but in the world of horumon it has come to mean “lightly boiled” (after too many incidents of food poisoning). Simple vinegar and soy sauce dress the heart to let the freshness to speak for itself.

If still teething, then ask for the “ring,” which is a skewer of arterial tubes near the heart. Thick and lightly fatty, the “ring” is another popular, albeit secret item, only known to the dedicated patrons.

Refresh your palate with a dish of boiled stomach, tossed with sesame oil and black peppers. Crunch through the scallions and the stomach linings while you abide your time for the grand finale—the smoked tongue bottom—which is the coveted item among the loyal fans because there are so few and only available on Sunday (Toraya, being a cult, does have many esoteric and exotic items, unbeknownst to the lay).

Fat-encrusted and dripping grease, nevertheless, the actual flavor falls short of its mighty visual appeal. An anticlimax without smokiness or charred fragrance, it was just a blob of relentless fat. The god hand for grilling and stewing innards obviously did not extend to that of smoking.

It is time to move on, or down, to the feet.

One cannot claim to be a foot fetish until having tasted Kadoya’s pig’s trotters. Kept boiling since 1951, the waft of steamy fragrance is the first thing that welcomes the customers. Kadoya’s menu has never had what would have been normally conveyed by the word, “beef.” Whatever left behind after cutting away the meaty loins and steaks is sent to this den of bovine horrors. Yes, Kadoya belongs to the truly old-school Osaka, so horumon here is from the cow, not the pig; and yet, the only piggy item on the menu is what defines Kadoya.

Décor, Kadoya has not got much except for the plastic curtains and beer cartons, but decorum it has got enough, judging by the original song of horumon written in a highly original calligraphy on the wall, along with the multiplication table (9s only) and a cardboard sign of “no smoking while working.” Another self-service joint, you are expected to bring your own rice and non-alcoholic beverage since Kadoya only serves feet and skewers and cheap alcohol.

As soon as you sit down at their red counter, a dish of scallion-topped miso sauce is shoved your way automatically, followed by one-eighth cut of raw cabbage—the only vegetable recognized by Kadoya. While the skewered beef entrails are enticing, one must absolutely order the pig’s feet. Remember, it is the only pork allowed among the cow debris.

Voilà. Have pig’s trotters ever look this gorgeous? Abandon your reservation along with the chopsticks, and well, pig out! Shiny, slimy and succulent—freshly pulled out from the hot milky bath of concentrated pork collagen: you can feel your lips and cheeks plump up as you ingest the natural skin enhancer. Wobbling through the gelatinous skin and pulling apart the bones, find the elastic and chewy tendons. You can, for a bit of change, drop a few pungent miso scallions or dab some of the potent garlic paste—which the carousing old-timers find so stimulating that they have to order another round of sake.

There is not much secret or even a proper recipe to the Kadoya’s famous trotters, except for boiling for two hours in the salted water. The owner himself mans the pot of boiling and bubbling feet right at the front; and upon order, he scoops up a steaming foot and chops it into four for easy handling. No secret at all: what you see is what you get. Then what makes the foot so tasty?

Pigs.

When the politicians embezzle millions of dollars, we call them pigs. When husbands cheat on their wives, we call them pigs. When your boss stuffs another double-cheese burger, when your neighbor litters the lawn, we call them pigs. Pigs are everywhere. Fat, dirty, shameless and gluttonous. When we see pigs, we see ourselves—small eyes myopically seeking the nearest dough, big snouts sniffing for the next meal.

We hate pigs because pigs are sinners. We hate them even more because they sin without fear, without repentance and without punishment. Pigs do not care what their friends think of them; they do not worry about whether there would be a tomorrow. We hate them and we envy them, we hate them and we lust after them. We feed them and fatten them with our desires, and we take our revenge by butchering them and bleeding them, then we bury their carcass in contempt and disdain. We hate pigs, don’t we just hate them! Because we are them and they are us. Proximity only produces hatred for the unlucky swine. A mirror of self-reflection has come a full circle: pigs are sinners, and so are we. And we damn ourselves further by feasting on their sinfully lardy flesh. That is why pigs is so bad and must be condemned as a taboo.

Sin is sweet. Sin is selfish and sin is delicious because it is the taste of taboo; and because—taboo is the taste of life.

Morality be condemned. Ecrasez l’infâme!

Toraya Tenma

Address: 3-12 Nishikicho, Kita, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0034

Phone: Not available.

Hours: 3PM onward until sold out. Sunday from 12PM.

Closed on Mondays.

Kadoya

Address: 1-4-15 Namba Naka, Naniwa-ku, Minamishochiku Mansion 1F, Osaka 556-0011, Osaka Prefecture

Phone: +81 6-6631-7956

Hours: Around 11AM to 10PM.

Closed on Tuesdays.

#Japanese #Osaka