A Malaysian’s Guide to Eating Organ Meat

Nutritional, affordable and delicious.

In the past few years, nose-to-tail-eating, which encourages the consumption of the entire animal instead of just choice parts, has become a trendy culinary movement in the US. Of course, in Malaysia, as with many parts of the world, we just call that eating. Organ meats (or offal) have a long history of being consumed in all sorts of ways

Sure, not everyone’s a fan. Perhaps the texture of liver makes you gag, or the thought of eating brain sounds off-putting. And to novice home cooks, preparing a slab of liver can be more intimidating than grilling a piece of, say, chicken breast. But there’s a lot to like about organ meats: they’re nutritious, delicious and usually economical. Plus, you’re reducing food waste and ensuring that an animal doesn’t get slaughtered for a few select parts.

So in this piece, we’re exploring organ meats, and linking to recipes or restaurants you can try. And hopefully, if you feel iffy about offal, we can get you to change your mind.

Brain

Even among offal enthusiasts, brains occupy a niche space. For some people, there’s probably something particularly unsettling about eating brains. Perhaps because we associate the brain with the mind – consuming it, therefore, becomes not only the act of consuming a dead hunk of flesh, but of an animal’s consciousness. 

Philosophical ponderings aside, brains are apparently quite mild and creamy, a bit like biting into a cloud of umami. Compared to more popular organ meats like liver or lung, you probably won’t find it often in restaurants or in supermarkets. But if you’re keen, here are a few places you can try them:

Bone marrow

Bone marrow is a type of spongy tissue that’s found in most bones. There are two types – the red bone marrow generates red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets, while the yellow bone marrow stores fat. In Malaysian cooking, bone marrow is usually used to thicken soups and curries. It’s rich, creamy and melts in your mouth. 

Gizzard

A gizzard is basically a stomach. You’ll find it in the digestive tracts of certain animals, like fish, birds and worms. It’s a tough, muscular organ that grinds up food, aided by bits of grit and gravel. The common type of gizzard you’ll come across will probably be chicken gizzards. They’re quite chewy, but when properly stir fried (usually with liver), they can be almost crunchy. Some chicken rice hawker stalls also offer boiled gizzard and liver upon request. 

Heart

You know what a heart does. It’s a muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body. It’s a good entry point to the world of organ meats, as it feels and tastes like common cuts of animal flesh, albeit a bit more intense. You’ll usually find chicken heart stir fried with other organ meats like liver and gizzard. If you’re feeling adventurous, beef heart (which you can get on Shopee) is apparently quite a versatile ingredient – you could stir fry it, cook it in a stew or slice and sear it like you would a steak.

Tripe, stomach and intestine

Pig stomach, blood jelly and beef tripe
Pig stomach, blood jelly and beef tripe. Credit: Alpha @ Flickr

Tripe is the edible stomach lining of some animals, like cows and pigs. Tripe can be a bit of a hassle to prepare, as there’s a lot of cleaning involved. When well-cleaned, it should taste quite mild, faintly like liver. It’s chewy and spongy, which makes it great at absorbing flavours. You’ll find beef tripe in Chinese-style beef noodle soup, as well as in curries. 

On the other hand, pig stomach (or pig maw) is the exterior wall of a pig’s stomach. In Chinese cooking, it’s commonly boiled in soups. It has a firm outer lining and a softer, chewy middle. 

Pig intestines taste stronger than the stomach, which can taste a bit mild. Intestines refer to the long tube that connects the stomach to the anus, and so have to be cleaned very carefully. The Teochew noodle dish kway chap contains pork intestines (and other bits like pig’s heart and ears), suspended in soy sauces. 

Kidney

The kidney filters out waste from your blood and produces urine as a byproduct. It’s a bean-shaped organ that typically comes in a pair. Cleaning pork kidney can be time consuming – but you’ll want to do a good job here, or it can taste like the byproduct it produces. When properly prepared, pork kidney is chewy and pleasantly gamey, though not as strong-tasting as liver.

Liver 

Chicken liver and hearts with rice
Chicken liver and heart. Credit: Marco Verch @ Flickr

Like the kidney, the liver filters out toxins and produces chemicals that the body needs (it’s also the reason why you don’t need a detox diet – the liver, alongside other organs, are your body’s natural detox system). Culinarily, liver is the workhorse of the organ world. It’s economical, easily available and happens to be a nutritional powerhouse. But liver is divisive – some dislike its intense flavour, while others love its rich, creamy texture. You’ll often find it stir fried in Malay eateries or deep fried in Mamak restaurants. 

Lung

Beef lung, serunding and rice
Beef lung, serunding and rice. Credit: Alpha @ Flickr

The lung takes in oxygen and passes out carbon dioxide. It’s made up of millions of tiny air sacs, which gives it a nice spongy texture. In Malaysia, it’s often sliced and fried on its own or with sambal.

Other bits

  • Blood – Coagulated pig blood has a consistency like jelly. Some Chinese restaurants or hawker stalls offer pork blood cubes in Penang curry mee or in porridge.
  • Fallopian tubes – These are the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus. Some Chinese restaurants, like Pin Wei Seafood, serve stir fried pig fallopian tubes (or sang cheong). They’ve got a faint umami taste, but what really draws me in is the texture – it’s smooth, chewy and almost snappy. It’s a bit like eating thick pieces of rubber gloves, if rubber gloves were delicious.
  • Penis – While we’re still talking about reproductive organs, did you know that bull penises and testicles are used in soup? If you’re (gastronomically) curious about penis, look up sup torpedo in your area or check out how it’s made here.
Jen

Jen

Better at eating food than making it.

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