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Eating eyeballs

ipsedixit Aug 25, 2007 09:09 PM

Do you eat eyeballs?

Which eyeballs do you eat?

How do you eat them eyeballs?

The other night, while having dinner with my family, my uncle was the "lucky" one to clean out the fish head from the steamed fish we had ordered.

As I watched him work his magic with the fish head, sucking out all the juices and meat from the nooks and cranny, I took special note of the eyeballs.

He sucked them out right from the sockets with nary a thought.

Nothing unusual about that, happens all the time when you eat the fish head.

But it got me thinking, what other types of eyeballs do people eat?

  1. m
    mojoeater Mar 23, 2008 08:38 PM

    In 5th grade, we had a "weird foods" day. Each of us was supposed to bring something unusual for the rest of the class to eat (or not). This was a pretty conservative school, and most of the food was tame. I was raised by an Irish mother, and never had spices or anything other than boiled meats, etc. Yet I was the only person who would eat the octopus eyeballs brought by our classmate!

    1. h
      HLing Mar 23, 2008 08:33 PM

      Seeing this post has brought my 2001 chicago trip full circle for me, in a round about way. See Seth Zurer's post near the bottom (w/link to my original post to a most helpful and friendly Chicago chowound circle!)and G Wiv's replies. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/110756

      I don't think i have seen their posts of may 2002 until today, as ipsedixit's eyeballs thread had me reminiscing that one hot summer in Chicago when i was puzzling over the ojos, cesos, and consomme. Reading Zeth's vivid post about the consomme really have me seeing a Chinese lamb soup. Deliciousness is beyond national boundaries, it seems. I want some...

      OK, sorry for that bit. I have to say that the easiest eyeballs to eat are the fish eyeballs. Can't imagine diving right into the lamb eyeballs without first trying the fish eyes.

      Anyway, It's really not the balls themselves, which are just flavorless cartilage that you chew on when you have finished the good part - the soft and tender tissues around the eyeball. Eating a fish head means you get to have at least three places with such tender and silky texture: Lips, eyes, and the fish brain. Each is slightly different, but all bring you to a place where you contemplate the finer things in life. In fact, it is worth pondering that one has to work quite expertly as one starts on a humble part of the fish (in the West at least), the head, and pick through quite a lot of bones and inedibles, wading through, leaving piles on the plate...get a clean plate after whittling all down to lip,eye and brain...no knife and fork at this point, just the mouth...the yummy bits are tiny compared to the size of the fish head, and you savor them the best you can..and then you get this eyeball cartilage to chew on afterwards, as you think back to how extremely opposite this cartilage is to the exquisite textures you just had.

      1. jodymaryk Mar 23, 2008 07:32 PM

        I can't even watch people eat them on TV more over eat them myself!! Eeeeewwww!

        1. j
          Joebob Mar 21, 2008 07:18 PM

          Ate a lamb's head once in Athens. Made the mistake of leaving the eyeballs for last. They looked up at me imploringly. I managed to get my host to share with me and eat one. Yeah, sure, they had an interesting texture. Nevertheless, my bottom line is "Friends don't let friends eat eyeballs."

          1. linguafood Mar 21, 2008 01:56 PM

            Wow. This thread made me feel like a rather timid eater in the world.... I like my innards, but eyeballs are just too much for me. I thoroughly enjoyed cheeseboy and polecat's vivid descriptions of texture and flavor.... but somehow don't feel like I am missing out '-)

            I did have fish eyeballs -- when you eat some of those smaller fish whole, as in one bite, you'll obviously be eating those, too.

            2 Replies
            1. re: linguafood
              Polecat Mar 22, 2008 11:23 AM

              I first ate a fish head whole while sitting at a cheap street stall underneath an elevated train in Ueno, Tokyo. It was a tight, cramped little joint, the English name translating to Motsu Nabe King, specializing in a stinky intestinal stew that I've found to be an acquired taste. Anyhow, I was sitting to the left of an oldtimer, a taciturn, stoic regular, wearing a checkered porkpie hat, who, eyeing my grilled fish, motioned for me to finish it off by eating the head. Already buzzed on cheap sake, I did just that, in one bite. Found it to be the crunchiest and tastiest part of the fish. Since then, I've made it a practice, while sober, and find that the fish head still reaps its' culinary rewards. As for the Motsu Nabe, however, I've never been thrilled. So, if you dig eating innards, as you say, I wouldn't say you were "timid" at all.

              For me, it's not so much the adventurous aspect, although I realize that a great many people view it as such. I tried the eyeballs because I'd read a review that they were actually pretty tasty, which is my reason for trying anything.

              Happy dining,
              P.

              1. re: Polecat
                linguafood Mar 22, 2008 02:05 PM

                Well, see -- even from your rather enthusiastic description, I *still* don't think eyballs sound tasty....

                I am also a bit iffy about texture, and I think that would really throw me for a loop.

            2. Sam Fujisaka Mar 21, 2008 12:57 PM

              Eyeballs: standard fare when eating a roasted cow's or lamb's head, and for fish!

              1. e
                Erika L Mar 21, 2008 12:27 PM

                Grandma *loved* fish eyeballs (we are Chinese) and always got them from the whole steamed fish. Golly grandma, we want YOU to have the eyeballs because we want to honor you...not that any of the cousins in my generation has yet developed a taste for them!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Erika L
                  ipsedixit Mar 21, 2008 01:45 PM

                  When the elders aren't around, we would always have a pretty heated game of "rock, paper and scissors" to determine who got the fish head, and of course the fish balls.

                2. r
                  rodeosweetheart Mar 21, 2008 12:15 PM

                  Is there anywhere to get an eyeball taco in NYC? (I used to live in Chicago, where they're sold at Maxwell St. Market but haven't heard of any places that serve them here.)

                  1. NYJewboy Aug 31, 2007 06:40 AM

                    There is an old Ukranian dish, not very good in my opinion, which is a sauteed eyeball stew with beets. I forget what it is called, but there are no other ingredients and it is usually slightle burnt.

                    1. pikawicca Aug 30, 2007 05:02 PM

                      Oooh! Back in the mid-70's I was the guest of honor at a "goat grab" in Saudi Arabia. This was a traditional Bedouin feast out in the desert. A special catering company did the whole thing: Oriental carpets for the guests to sit on, huge silver platters bearing a spiced rice bed for the roasted goat. Every third male or so would be given a knife to cut off hunks of meat to serve to guests. We'd all dig in and make a little ball of rice to pop into the mouth with a bit of goat. And the lucky one would get the eyeball. I just closed my eyes and thought of England. Great memories! I would like to add that I am a female. Such hospitality would not be extended to a non-Muslim Western woman today, alas.

                      1. j
                        jbw Aug 30, 2007 04:43 PM

                        Tacos de ojos are available Sundays at Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. Some discussion here:
                        http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jbw
                          m
                          MysticYoYo Aug 30, 2007 04:54 PM

                          I remember once watching Lonely Planet and Ian was in some country that ends with "stan" where he discovered that eating the eyes of a sheep was a treat. The tribal leader deferred to Ian, as he was a guest of honor, and if I remember correctly, Ian chewed and chewed and said the eyeball was VERY hard to swallow.

                          I miss those Lonely Planet shows with Ian and Justine. And that haunting LP theme song.

                        2. l
                          Louise Aug 30, 2007 04:29 PM

                          They actually mention eating them in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'. Something like:

                          "then my Mom will chase me around and try to make me eat the eyeballs because it makes you smart"

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Louise
                            f
                            fudisgud Aug 30, 2007 04:36 PM

                            Growing up, my mom would ask us who would want to eat the fish eyeballs because they would give us better vision. I'm pretty sure i ate some but i have the worst vision out of all of my siblings. After i told that story to my four year old, she's taken to eating all the eyeballs when we have fish and doesn't mind when we eat shrimp with the heads on, etc... in fact, if a head is attached to something the first thing she'll ask is, "can i eat the eyeball?"

                          2. Infomaniac Aug 30, 2007 06:31 AM

                            I've never had them but my father and grandfather used to eat lamb eyeballs.

                            1. m
                              ML8000 Aug 30, 2007 12:10 AM

                              I think any place that subscribes to the tail to snout theory of no waste, eats eyeball...or they stick them in "variety meats" (cold cuts, hot dogs) and everyone eats them, they just don't know.

                              1. Polecat Aug 29, 2007 08:21 PM

                                This past Chinese New Year, I tried the Lambs' Eye Balls at a restaurant in Flushing, Queens (NYC) called A Fan Ti. They serve them up there in a dark brown sauce. I don't know why this surprised me, but they are immediately recognizable as eyeballs, pupils and all, lying there in the sauce. The innards, looking like sinewy tentacles, were attached at the stems. The eyeballs themselves tasted quite fatty, not bad at all actually, and had a chewy consistency somewhere between pure fat and squid, with the innards feeling more like, well, octopus. One thing I discovered about Lambs' Eyeballs that doesn't hold true for most of the Chinese cuisine I've tried: it doesn't survive the take-home test. Within an hour of my ordering it, I brought some home for my wife to try. By that time, the eyeballs had hardened considerably, and tasted a few days old.

                                There's a lesson in there somewhere, not quite sure what.
                                P.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Polecat
                                  ipsedixit Aug 29, 2007 09:29 PM

                                  "There's a lesson in there somewhere, not quite sure what."

                                  Maybe the lesson is ... "You can take the eyeballs out of the lamb, but you can't take the eyeballs out of the restaurant"?

                                  Thanks for the report. Good to know next time I'm confronted with the tricky question of whether to doggy-bag my leftover lamb eyeballs ...

                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                    Polecat Aug 30, 2007 06:27 AM

                                    Yes, a conundrum indeed. They are very filling. Unless you have a gargantuan appetite, a plate of 8 of them - assuming you've ordered other dishes - might be more than one person can handle. Robert Sietsema, the food critic for the Village Voice, brought Dr. John - the legendary, and hefty, New Orleans Gris Gris guru - with him when he went; they shared a plate.

                                    So, maybe there's another lesson there: never eat eyeballs alone.
                                    P.

                                  2. re: Polecat
                                    Caroline1 Mar 22, 2008 07:16 PM

                                    In the late 40's, my uncle worked in Saudi Arabia, where he became friends with several sheiks, and was a frequent guest. Back then (post World War II), many sheiks still lived in elaborate tents with dozens of incredible carpets for a floor. Anyway, as guest of honor, he was frequently served a small dish filled with raw sheep's eyeballs at the beginning of a feast. He said the trick was to try to swallow them whole, but if you did chew them, they were sort of like a huge caviar egg with gooey stuff inside. I don't think I could have handled it.

                                  3. Cheese Boy Aug 26, 2007 12:15 PM

                                    I've done my own little Fear Factor episode at home where I ate an entire lambs head. Tongue, cheeks, brains, eyeballs -- the whole deal. Consuming the eyeballs was tough. The brain was the toughest though IMO. The cheeks and tongue are absolutely delicious. I've watched family members thoroughly enjoy eating lamb heads and finally decided to give it a try several years ago. Like I said, the cheeks and tongue are the best part. The eyeballs? - Definitely not for the squeamish. (There's a lot attached to the *back* of the eyeball - nerves, muscles, etc).

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Cheese Boy
                                      ipsedixit Aug 26, 2007 02:13 PM

                                      Can I ask how you ate the eyeballs?

                                      Boiled? Braised? Fried? Baked?

                                      I'm thinking deep-fried might be the best way to go. Tempura eyeballs or maybe eyeball fritters ...

                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                        Cheese Boy Aug 26, 2007 07:52 PM

                                        Actually, it starts out being baked. There's some liquid in the roasting pan, but not enough to qualify for a braise. During the last few minutes in the oven - it's allowed to roast. The meat is well browned and very tender. The eyeballs wind up taking on a very unique consistency, one I'm having a bit of difficulty trying to describe. I wanted to say marshmallow fluff - but that's somewhat inaccurate and incomplete. They are chewy yet soft at the same time. Try to envision marshmallow fluff and shoestring licorice perhaps (without the sugary taste, of course). That type of consistency.

                                    2. b
                                      bulavinaka Aug 26, 2007 08:27 AM

                                      Ipse, in case you haven't seen it, check out Eddie Lin's blog, "Deepend Dining." He recently did a writeup, "iTaco." He also was a guest on KCRW's, "Good Food," talking about the same subject. That Eddie-guy has big cahones - and I'm sure he's eaten those too...

                                      http://www.deependdining.com/

                                      http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/g...

                                      1. coll Aug 26, 2007 04:43 AM

                                        A Hungarian man I used to work with told us how they'd bring a lamb's head into the brewery where he worked (in NYC in the olden days) and they'd all fight over the eyeballs since there were only two. Apparently the eyeballs went well with the beer that was on tap at all times in the lunch room. They had horses then so I guess drunk driving wasn't a problem!
                                        Can't say I've had the pleasure however.

                                        1. SauceSupreme Aug 26, 2007 04:25 AM

                                          Bourdain ate the raw eyeball of a seal in the Quebec episode of "No Reservations". (Though my favorite is still the beating heart of a cobra in moonshine.)

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