Dim Sum: Beef Tendon
This dish, which I had at the curiously named ‘Beaver Sailor Diner’ in Halifax a while ago, was both interesting and cause for a little confusion on my part. The English wording on the menu described it as ‘Beef Tendons stewed in special sauce’ while the Chinese characters (红烧牛筋/羊筋羊肉), specified that the tendons are ‘red-cooked’, or stewed in a seasoned soy based sauce. The last fours characters, however, add a little more detail, and therein lay the source of confusion for me.
I mis-read the (羊) character (which appears twice) as being the word for sheep, and so, when I asked the waiter ‘Oh does this come with lamb as well?’ he was suitably confused. I pointed to the last two characters, saying ‘Yang Rou?’ and then he started to laugh before pointing out that the character in question is (bàn), meaning ‘half’. He did have the grace, however, to say that the two characters do indeed look very much alike and I was then able to make sense of the last four characters, which actually read ‘half-tendon, half-meat).
I have had beef tendon number of times in dim sum restaurants and, in each case, it has consisted simply of translucent, yellowish squares of stewed or steamed cow tendon/ I actually quite like them but a whole plate of just tendon can sometimes be a ‘much of a muchness’, and so, accordingly, this dish, with bits of tendon still attached to chunks of meat was quite welcome. There were actually a number of chunks of pure tendon as well, one of which may be visible in the above picture.
Anyway, if you haven’t had it, beef tendon is prized chiefly for its texture which is quite a bit like the skin on pork belly that has been stewed, or otherwise cooked so that it softens rather than becomes crispy. It is both unctuous and chewy at the same time, with a firmly gelatinous mouth-feel. The sauce here was not bad… it had a slightly harsh aftertaste and used Star Anise (which I always omit as I don’t care for it), but it was otherwise very pleasant and I have to say that this probably the nicest beef tendon dish I have had as yet…