It’s 8.30am and I’m eyeing up a penis. It belongs to a water buffalo, as does the liver, brain, spinal cord, heart, tongue, stomach, liver, small intestine, eyeball and testicles my host, Purna Maharjan, has proudly spread out on the table before me. It feels like I’ve stepped into a biology class rather than breakfast.
Purna and his wife, Dil, offer this culinary Kathmandu Fear Factor Challenge at their second-floor apartment in the Sorakhutte neighbourhood. We’ve been matched by day-tour operator Backstreet Academy, which introduces tourists to locals who don’t speak much English but have a particular skill to share. It offers people who’d otherwise be excluded from the tourism industry a much-needed extra income and offers travellers pushed for time an immersive authentic experience. The four-hour activities range from making your own kukri knife to thangka painting. Half of the fee goes to the host, 20% cent to the translator — in my case, student Kanti Thapa — and the remainder to Backstreet Academy, which also runs projects in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.
“It’s a Newari Nepalese speciality that the men prepare during festivals,” Purna explains as he starts peeling the skin off the testicles — leaving them as smooth as poached eggs — and slicing them in half. “I used to watch my father and uncles cooking,” he continues, sawing through the layers of the stomach. I’m transfixed. “The tongue is my favourite,” chimes in Kanti, pointing to the gnarled knot of muscle studded with tastebuds.
Dil puts me to work grinding the garlic and ginger in the cilauta – a giant pestle and mortar that’s been passed down through generations of her family, but I can’t help staring at Purna as he reaches for the eye — as large as a tennis ball— rolling around on a plate next to me. He scores it into quarters and plops it into the pressure cooker along with the stomach and a sprinkle of turmeric.
Next, the small intestines are fried on a chapati skillet; the brains dipped in a batter of gram flour and spices and boiled; the bag of blood seasoned with chilli, salt and mustard oil, poured onto a plate and steamed until it clots to form a gelatinous brown mould. “Like chocolate cake,” laughs Kanti.
Just then the penis pops over the edge of the pot, as if trying to escape. “It gets very hard when you boil it!” says Kanti with a minxish giggle. “Can you believe that before I started this job I thought my culture was bland!”
It’s time for the taste test. “I’m scared of trying the testicles,” blushes Kanti. “That’s the best bit!” winks Purna. We clink our glasses of raksi — fermented rice wine — together and, on the count of three, both gingerly take a bite. It’s tough as chewing gum and after five minutes I cease my pointless mastication. I opt for the spinal cord. Yellowed from the turmeric, it looks like a banana and is just as soft, as is the brain — light, creamy and delicious. I guess brains do win over brawn.