Has there ever been a more wonderful animal than the pig? We cure and smoke its hind quarters to adorn our holiday tables, eat its jowls for good luck come the new year, cut strips from its belly and back for breakfast and seasoning, barbecue its front quarters and ribs — and all of that is just the barest scratching of the culinary surface when it comes to the humble pig. Arkansas is a pig-loving state, even being home to the only sports team in America that has a porcine mascot. There isn’t a part of the pig that can’t be made into something delicious, and that goes for some parts that have fallen out of favor among modern eaters: the intestines. Long valued as a Southern delicacy, pork intestines (or chitterlings) trace their humble roots across every culture that has made the pig a food animal. This includes Chinese cuisine, and if you’ve ever needed a spicy way to embrace and consume pig guts, Mr. Chen’s Oriental Restaurant on South University is the place for you.
Mr. Chen’s has no less than three preparations for pork intestines, but with the cold wind blowing today there was only one thing that would satisfy: the Spicy Pork Intestine Hot Pot. All thoughts of the blustery day left me as the steaming cauldron hit my table, the thick broth still bubbling with the sliced intestines, cubes of silken tofu, and a generous helping of hot peppers. The smell is at once funky and delightful, with an earthy richness to it that can only be gotten from offal. The flavor of the intestines themselves is much milder than the initial aroma might leave one to believe, with a texture that is right in the sweet spot between tender and chewy. Each bite brings a load of spice to the tongue, and between the hot temperature of the dish, the pepper-heat, and the filling nature of the pork, a plateful of this stew becomes a fortifying tonic against the weather outside.
There’s something about these rustic stews of cast-off parts and waste bits that gets me every time. The simple, mineral flavor of the meat is mellowed by long-cooking and complemented by the hot peppers. Every filling bite is the perfect balance of texture, spice, and flavor that makes these sorts of slow-cooked dishes so special. Adventurous eaters should seek this one out for a delightful wintertime meal, because like my mother always said: you’ll never know you like it if you never try it.