The taste of rat only whetted our appetite for the new, the different, the other. We'd heard that some of the restaurants in the Tibetan quarter of Wuhouci had yak penis on their menu. After a day of walking around in the cold with no luck finding it, we settled for raw yak meat and tongue.
Dan first tried the raw yak meat, which arrived almost as soon we had ordered it, right from the fridge. The cold, red flesh starkly contrasted with the warm, inviting atmosphere of the restaurant. "This is something I'm really not so sure about eating," mumbled Dan. He dipped a chunk in dried chili pepper powder and took a bite. And chewed. And chewed. "The chili pepper overshadows any flavor the meat might normally have. Actually not bad. Not bad at all. The quality of the meat is really good. Comparable to good beef," he proclaimed, although the color reminded him of sashimi, which he loathes.
After munching a good amount of the yak, Dan said he got "tired of the texture." So he asked the staff to fry it. ("It'll make a great dish," he predicted.) It came back fried and garnished with bits of leek—"but still very chewy." On the plus side you can eat much more of the fried than the raw version. "Frying the yak was a great idea," Dan congratulates himself. Later in the evening, he pats himself on the back again: "It makes a great double dish. First get it raw and when you're done, fry it."
Next stop: yak tongue. To Dan's utter surprise upon first bite, it is cold as well. And although it looks "livery," according to Dan, he declares it juicy and very edible in actuality. Yakked out, Dan quickly attacks the dumplings with his chopsticks. They immediately win his praise: "Absolutely amazingly well done. Juicy meat." He devours the entire plate—a whole dinner for most other diners at the restaurant (it's not called Megabites for nothin'). As he eats, the accolades become more passionate until he's using foul language to describe the awesomeness of the meat-filled dumplings.
Dan is almost stuffed, but there is one more dish, a pot full of thickly sliced yak meat and potatoes over a layer of bread and decorated with a Swastika-shaped chunk of radish. And again the dish gains Dandoval's approval as it "tastes quite good" with a "solid texture, not too chewy."
One of the most frequently mentioned restaurants in the Wuhouci area, Elephant seems to be a favorite among foreign residents and tourists as well as local and visiting Tibetans. The cozy interior is welcoming, and, says Dan, "somewhere to bring your friend and highly recommend. It's a unique experience. Where else can you easily obtain raw yak meat?" Of course, if that doesn't convince you, here is Dan's ultimate argument: "Why not?"
The menu is focused on meaty dishes, particularly yak, but even vegetarians can choose from a selection of Sichuanese and Nepali/Indian-adapted dishes. At first the place maybe a bit hard to find, so try to locate Holly's Hostel, which is in the same yard and keep looking for their billboard which will lead you up the stairs on the third floor. If you want a more private environment ask for one of the two private rooms. The restaurant stays open until midnight.
The generous portions of high-quality yak meat at RMB40 to 60 per plate can hardly be called expensive. The dumplings are incredible yummy and at RMB13 makes you wonder what's in there other than juicy and meaty goodness. A rational order should set you back RMB50 a person while a more experimental showoff might run up to RMB100, including, of course a bottle of one of the Lhasa beers.
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 60 ("old school").
Photos by Dan Sandoval.