Dear Mr. Gold:
Is there a food equivalent to a snuff film? I mean this quite literally. Is there some kind of food that is underground, illegal to the max, and which is only rumored to exist, even among the foodiest of foodies? I suppose eating human flesh would be the most extreme, but I am hoping for an answer that is more creative. I've heard of endangered species being prepared at secret restaurants; cheeses and raw smoked meats being smuggled in from Europe; tales of snakes being beaten within an inch of their lives so that they'll produce adrenaline, their heads hacked off and their blood consumed for a crazy rush. Finally, is there any place I can go to get "snuff" food in L.A.?
—Sarah W., Highland Park
Dear Ms. W:
Zhou dynasty gourmands enjoyed rat, which they called "household deer.'' I have heard of a bean, grown in Indonesia, that is so delicious its fanciers are willing to endure the inevitable three days of excruciating liver pain that follows the feast. My friend Ruth was telling me the other day about the strips of jellied water-buffalo skin she enjoyed in Laos, available with or without fur. None of those is available here, although as it turns out I did once try a version of that water-buffalo skin in a long-deceased Little Saigon café. There is a place in the Wilshire District that looks a little like the back office of a disorganized accountant — really, no tables or cooking smells — where you sit for a while on worn vinyl chairs and are eventually, or possibly, or rumored to be able to be, brought the bosintang you have come there for. Takeout only. Allegedly. And I have heard that lately, it is strictly BYOD. Either way, I have never managed, or even been tempted, to try the goods. Goat stew is an acceptable equivalent.
In Little Tokyo, you once could get braised bear paw, at an absolutely bowel-clenching price, until the Chinese restaurant that served it was shut down. Hamhung in Koreatown once featured a dinner of barbecued tiger, lion, elephant and antelope, all legal oddly enough, until the '92 riots and the Japanese recession stanched the flow of rich Tokyoites to that part of town. (Hamhung still does have very good buckwheat noodles with seafood, which you should keep in mind when the weather gets warmer.) Meat smuggling from Europe has been substantially more difficult lately — thank you, underwear bomber! — but if you ask around at better cheese stores, you should be able to find the raw-milk cheeses you desire. As for endangered species — practically all sea fish seems endangered at the moment, at least in the long run. In season, Urasawa will sell you fugu, the kind that can kill you if it's indifferently prepared, and charge you as much for it as you paid for your first car. But even in Los Angeles, as far as I know, you will find neither primates, nor human flesh, nor coelacanth. And we're all better off for it, I think.