Soup Tulang: Nothing Was What It Seemed
This was definitely an experience that I won't forget. Although I had heard about this stuff before, I'm generally not a big fan of innards, so the thought of some strange red-looking bone with the benefit of eating the marrow didn't quite appeal to me right away. For some reason though, tonight we felt like trying it out, so we headed down to the Golden Mile Food Centre, where there were four hawkers right next to each other (#B1-13 to B1-16) selling this stuff past midnight.
Nothing was what it seemed. First off, this was sitting in a bright red sauce, which made it look very spicy. It wasn't at all (I heard that the red color was artificial). Secondly, the bright red sauce could also mean that it would be a rather sweet sauce too. It wasn't (which is a good thing). Next, this is called Soup Tulang, but where the heck was the soup?? It was just that red gravy stuff on top. Fourth, it looked like a very straightforwardly cooked bone that you just eat the meat off of. Whatever meat was on there was decently tender, but there wasn't much of it (it was mutton, BTW - and they do make a decent kambing soup too). Instead, the gist of this dish is to eat the marrow inside.
And that's where it got even trickier. How the heck was one supposed to get the marrow out of that thing? I tried sucking it out, but that didn't really work since the bone was a bit pourous and could not create a vacuum seal. Then I tried various objects like a straw or skewer to try to help it out, but to no avail. The marrow finally came out only after I inverted the bone and tapped on it to get the stuff to fall out. And when it came out, it looked like a slimy little slug (or a rather disgusting glob of yellowish-brown phlegm from a really bad case of the flu).
Then I tasted it. And it really was nothing like it seemed. Instead of a repulsive iron or liver taste like I was expecting, this was the exact opposite: it tasted like a blend of foie gras and butter. Whoa. And instead of the coarse or grainy consistency that I had figured it would have (with little annoying bits of broken bone in it), it was more like silky smooth tofu. Such a soft texture was a bit disturbing to me at first, but it was rich enough in taste that I was still rather impressed. Now I understand why Anthony Bourdain said in his London episode that bone marrow was like "Butter of the Gods." It really was quite extravagantly rich, and I could finally understand the attraction to this stuff. This was in fact so rich that I don't think I can eat this stuff too often (admittedly I even felt a bit nauseous afterwards), but the English way of eating it looked even better: spreading it on toasted bread. Wow! (And to continue the string of ironies, this extra rich stuff apparently helps reduce cholesterol rather than boost it, if I have my facts correct.)
Hmm...I never would have thought that this was how this stuff tasted. It just goes to show you that you can't judge food by its appearances, and as long as you set aside any preconceived notions about some things in order to give it a try, you might very well find something quite extraordinary. If you come try this, leave those preconceptions at home...and definitely bring a lot of napkins as this stuff gets messy with all that red stuff getting all over your hands. (Napkins are rarely provided by hawkers out here; thus, the ubiquitous little "tissue packs" that one carries and uses to hold his/her seat.)