Turtle dinners are very prized gourmet meals in China, However, I find turtle too rich for my palette.
Turtle on the Rocks
Last night at Dinner the menu was being perused with great attention. They had seen me look at the turtles in the Tank.
As I walked in I had commented on a tank full of turtles. Someone asked me if they were tortoises or turtles, and I said, “turtles”
Then it was pointed out that turtles were from the sea and salt water and tortoises live in fresh water.
Good to know, but whatever they are, I am very happy to keep one as a pet, but not happy to eat one for dinner.
I have a few turtle stories.
I first tasted turtle, or tortoise, in Wuhan in China. I was guest of honor at the table, and they had ordered turtle as a special delicacy. It is considered very valuable for its nutrients and much prized for its rich oil and succulence.
There right in front of me was a turtle on a bed of gleaming hot rocks, and he was as big as my dinner plate. I gazed at him in wonder, and made appropriate comments, then realised everyone was waiting for me to start the meal.
My translator said I should eat some first.
I have never seen a cooked turtle before, and had no idea how to even try it with chopsticks, so Iappealed for help. The Man sitting next to me, who was also my boss, bent over, and tapped the tortoise with a nut cracker, and broke off a chunk of its shell which he proudly placed on my plate.
I lifted it to my lips and it was actually delicious, very rich flavor, very spicy and very velvety. It was like sucking moss from a mossy rock, and I nodded approvingly and everyone started to eat.
Then suddenly I was racked with the most excruciating stomach pains I have ever had, and I knew I had to go find a toilet.
Alas! The restaurant either did not have one or they could not decipher my distress, and I was in a bad way. I ran out of the restaurant and ran back to my apartment, which was about 100 yards down the road, used the facilites in my apartment and returned to the restaurant. I still have no idea if I was even missed. The Chinese have excellent manners.
I refused to eat any more tortoise, and and as I had already had some, that was accepted , and the meal continued.
The next episode was a few weeks later at a function at the Wuhan Cultural centre. We were guests and sitting at the most prominent table in the front of the restaurant. Everyone was looking at our group and we were obviously very important people.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, when we were served individual small tortoises on beautiful white plates.
My turtle sat with his head turned back so his steamed eyes looked into mine.
I carefully fiddled with the turtle, had a small sip of the juices after making approving sounds, and the table started eating blissfully.
Again I got a stomach pain after just the first sip of the tortoise juices. Hastlily I apologised, stood up and and made my way to the restaurant facilities. When I came back, the waiter had carefully covered my tortoise with a cover, and he now took it off so I could resume my meal.
I looked wildly around but no-one could speak English, so what I did was what I have done many other times with food I do not want to eat. I carefully hid it behind the serviette, ignored it, and smiled bravely.
To my horror, the attentive waiter, who was there to serve me, and me only, came back and exposed the tortoise again. I again pushed it to the side, smiling weakly.
He seemed to understand. He took the tortoise and returned it to the kitchen and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Ten minutes later he was back. He had a covered ceremonial looking dish which he placed in front of me. Everyone looked and smiled. I looked at the my plate and nearly screamed. There was a bigger tortoise sitting on black rocks grinning evilly at me.
I said ‘Thank you’ and ignored him.
There was a discussion between my translator and the waiter, but thankfully another turtle was not brought for my approval.
A few months ago I was wandering the outback of Queensland and there hidden in the bushes by a dam was a complete turtle, dried up. I collect odd things and though I do not eat turtle, I do like the shell, so I took him back with me in the utility.
When I had a free day, I placed him in a huge pot and covered him with water and disinfectant and boiled and boiled and boiled.
The entire turtle transformed into what looked like, and smelt like, old dried turtle soup. It smelt like an old boot being boiled with sump oil and unidentified oils. The rich turtle smell was very predominant. I remebered it well.
I considered the fact that it was possibly OK to eat, if you like to eat this sort of thing, but I threw it out and cleaned the shell. I managed to get it perfectly clean after many hours of boiling and scraping, and he is still somewhere amongst my stored belongings wherever they are today.
Last night at dinner, I looked at the tank full of wandering tortoises, or were they turtles, and did not say anything, afraid that any comment I made would be misinterpreted as me saying I would like to eat turtle.
I was asked at the table if I would like to try the turtle, and there was a visible sigh of regret when the reply was ‘positively not..No thank you”
I felt the tiniest bit guilty when I saw their faces, but I just cannot handle another turtle episode, and it was far too cold to go rushing back to my apartment to solve another turtle crises.
Did you know:
Turtles are much prized for their oil. It has been used for face and body creams because of its richness.