Husband and Wife Lung Slices at the Harmony Restaurant in Ottawa
I had always been rather curious about this dish as I have read about it many times. It is not a dish one comes across very often in the west, even in Chinese restaurants that serve traditional Chinese dishes, and it is probably not one that will immediately appeal to a lot of people. The name is not a fanciful Chinese name that does not reflect the actual content, by any means as lung, as well as tongue (in this case) are the primary components. It was a very interesting dish, to say the least, and I was very glad to have tried it.
When I was perusing the menu for the Harmony Restaurant in Ottawa, I saw an appetizer listed as ‘Couple’s Beef in Hot Oil’. I suspected that this may be the dish I had read about before and the Chinese characters, 夫妻肺片, included alongside the English name, do indeed translate to ‘husband wife lung slices’ (fūqī fèipiàn, in Mandarin). Wikipedia claims that the third character (fèi) translates as ‘offal’ but the dictionaries I use most frequently both clearly state that it means ‘lung’ and make no mention of anything else.
The story behind the dish is that a husband and wife team in Chengdu became famous for this specialty at their restaurant and most sources go onto tell you that, although lung was originally used, it is now typically replaced with other offal, most usually tripe, often brisket, and sometimes beef tendons. For this reason, when I finally went to try this dish at Harmony, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to get…
If you look closely at the picture above, you can see two sorts of animal product served in a chili-oil based sauce and garnished with sesame seeds and scallion. There are some thick, rather dense, light brown slices with an obvious capsule surrounding the inner flesh, and then some much thinner, tan tissue with an unusual villous surface. I have to confess, that after being presented with the dish at the restaurant, I was no further ahead in identifying the contents and I had to ask my waitress, whose English was not very fluent, for some help. She immediately identified the thicker slices as being tongue but she did not know how to say the name of the other kind in English, and after going to the kitchen she returned to say that the cook did not know the English name either.
After a moment, I had a brainwave and I pointed to the third character in the Chinese name on the menu and my waitress nodded vigorously. To confirm we were in agreement, I put my hand to my chest, mimed breathing deeply, and said ‘lung?’. Again, my waitress nodded, and the mention of the English word seemed to ring a bell with her and she also repeated ‘lung’ in confirmation.
Anyway, the actual taste of the dish was very pleasant. It was served cold, as is typical, and the red-oil sauce was spicily hot and slightly sweet, but did not, as far as I could tell, contain and Sichuan Pepper, as is traditional. The tongue had a definite meaty taste, no different than any other tongue I have ever eaten, but the lung slices, though having an interesting texture (somewhat like tripe), really tasted of nothing but the hot oil sauce. I can’t say that the dish is likely to become a favorite of mine but I am glad I tried it here and I think that I may also try the version offered at the Ju Xiang Yuan restaurant, next time I have the chance. Probably, I haven’t convinced many of my readers to rush out and seek out the dish for themselves, but it is something that is worthwhile trying at least once and I hope some of you, at least, will give it a go…