Tuesday, 21 April 2009

How I Ate a Sparrow and Other Stories

As it’s now warm in the evenings the barbeques have opened. There are two along our street, both with private terrace areas, or, perhaps it is more realistic to say that there are portable tables and stools set up in erratically paved courtyards. Most barbeques sell a selection of breads and meat skewers, and are also a very convivial place to have a few beers with your friends in the evenings.
These are manto skewers - steamed buns coated in oil, herbs and salt and then barbequed. The closest western food to it would be a bagel filled with garlic butter and then grilled. It's delicious, and I can easily eat three or four.

This is the small son of the people that own/run one of the barbeque places. He likes to impress me by showing me his pog/slammer collection (yup, they’ve just become the in thing in China) or racing up and down on his little scooter. Surely he is going to grow up to be a ladies' man!
Ok, so if you didn't clock the title of the post, and are a devout vegetarian and/or find the idea of eating a sparrow completly horrifying, this would be a good time to look away.
On Friday I went out to a slightly fancier barbeque restaurant, where we had quail and sparrow as well as the usual skewers. The quail was delicious – rich yet subtle. We got the sparrow on a whim, as a table next to us asked for it and apparently described it as ‘delicious, but only a mouthful’. Neither of us had ever had it, so we thought what the hell. I couldn’t believe how small it looked when it arrived, and I admit that I had to steal myself to eat it, especially as to do so I had to hold it by the skull, and just bite into the body, spitting out the larger pieces of bone. Because of the whole bone issue, it tasted mainly crunchy, and, well, birdy. A slightly darker chicken flavour. I don’t know if I could eat one again though, both of us felt like we should pick on something more our own size. The two little barbequed carcasses just looked so sad and forlorn sitting there all naked on the big plate.

We went to a Tibetan dance on Saturday night: it consisted of teenagers in baggy jeans and hoodies (apparently American rap and hip-hop is currently the vogue with Tibetan teens) shuffling around in a giant circle, doing what reminded me of a constipated version of Scottish dancing. Only with absolutely no physical contact whatsoever. They do this for two or three hours and it is the social highlight of the week. Frankly, if this is what Tibetan Buddhism does to people, perhaps we’re all better off with it remaining a closed and mysterious land. The students did seem very sweet though, if nervous.

The combination of warm temperatures, wind and no internet finally compelled me to go and try to fly the kite I bought a while ago. There's a big patch of wasteland right by the school that people often go to fly kites, so I trotted off their diligently. I was a bit suprised as to why there were quite a few people and their cars there, either driving around aimlessly or lounging against pick up trucks. I had a few minutes of feeling rather uncomfortable and wondering if they were drug dealers before I realised that what I had taken for random accumulations of dirt were in fact marked out driving routes and it is some sort of driving practice area.
At about the point I took this photo I realised that trying to fly a kite and take photos at the same time was going to be more difficult than I thought! I was only out ther for twenty minutes or so before I got bored, I think I actually prefer taking photos of other people flying kites than doing it myself. Really, either the kite is in the air or it's not, and I found that I didn't particularly care which one it was. But here is my butterfly kite in flight...

Take a day trip somewhere else.


  1. Fascinating post. I would have to had to try the sparrow also. Just once.

  2. Looking at your post, makes me earger to be in Beijing as soon as possible. Just hope nothing can stop me now. I am just about 2 months away.
    Are all these places and food you mentioned also available in Beijing ???

  3. "Turn thine eyes from his tears. Watch his hands."

    Why so many Tibetans all gathered together? Is there a big Tibetan population in your town?

    Great kite!

  4. Interesting post,thanks for sharing.

  5. OMG!!!!

    Jayne, I could have never munched a sparrow! You've stronger guts than I! The manto skewers and beer though... oh, yes.

    Very interesting, and slightly nauseating, post! ;-)

  6. OMG! Poor sparrows!
    Kite flying is fun, but definitely difficult if you wish to photograph at the same time.

  7. my mum and aunt are now in Beijing following a tour group. wish I could join them. I don't think I could stomach those sparrows!!

  8. I've had roasted mini pigeons and they were wonderful to eat. That said though, I'm not sure I would have the stamina to eat those little bodies. You had me on picking something our own size... Have never minded tasting either elephant or whale (both delicious) but the oddest thing I've ever eaten (in my book) was kangaroo at a luxurious restaurant in Copenhagen. How's the fish in China, btw?

  9. great post and photos...i wouldn't have minded the sparrow if the heads were not attached. something about the heads of any thing on a plate...NOT appealing. i have had the pleasure (NOT) of being served snake in china though i did not partake.

    as always enjoy your posts and commentary too.

  10. What an interesting post. I like your writing style and sense of humor. And although eating a sparrow does horrify me a bit, it was an interesting read. (I steeled myself for the pictures.)

  11. interesting style of writing..Im a vegetarian ..but I liked the way your posts

  12. I know there are probably more sparrows than people, even so, it is like eating candied ants...also crunchy but not quite in the rump stak catagory.
    A two handed kite can be fun to fly in a strongish breeze, that leaves the teeth to work the camera.

  13. I doubt that I could bring myself to eat a sparrow, they would be boney and tough I imagine. Now thanks to your brave gesture I know for sure I won't be trying them.
    Tibetan dancing is not much fun, I saw some while in Nepal and was not particularly impressed either. To each their own I guess.