It is a common Chinese culinary belief that what you eat is what you will become. It drives a persistent off-mainstream market for certain animal parts. Ye Jun tells us more.
One man's food is another man's poison but at Guo Li Zhuang Chinese Restaurant, one man's taboo is another man's tonic.
Guo Li Zhuang literally means "strong inside the pan", a purposeful pun that triggers titters and mocking glances among those who know the restaurant is famous for something that borders on being taboo in common culture: animal penises.
You will never see the word "animal penis" appear on the menu. Instead, it appears under the euphemism bian, which means "whip", or "lash". Even in China where people are enormously tolerant about what they eat, this is not a common item in restaurants.
It certainly makes Guo Li Zhuang stand out, since almost 80 percent of its menu consists of some version of this traditional aphrodisiac for men.
The consumption of animal penises goes back a long way in the history of China, based largely on the belief that eating a certain animal part nourishes the corresponding parts in the human body.
It is widely believed that lamb kidney, available at most Xinjiang kebab stands in Beijing, replenishes male energy, while the walnut kernel with its convoluted curves will benefit the brain.
At Guo Li Zhuang, the shapes may be disguised so much that diners may not know what's on their plates.
"Five color whip slices" is a cold appetizer that looks no different from the beef or tripe aspic we are so familiar with. But here, the gelatin encases strips of red and green bell pepper and onion together with slices of buffalo 'whip'.
A soup simply called "Man should be strong" is brewed with cattle and lamb penises and juiced up with pig trotters, ham, pigeon and duck.
"Whip flower with dragon well tea" is soft, tender but chewy yak penis sliced with fancy knife-work and infused with longjing tea. "Treasure in the desert" is chunks of donkey 'whip' deep-fried.
A dish that has diners whipping out their cameras is an "erection" made out of agar-agar that comes with the fried donkey "whip" with black pepper.
Besides the exotic offerings, the restaurant also serves an alcoholic drink with essence of venison antler and penis, which it says will enhance virility.
General manager Guo Jing says the restaurant serves more than 60 different animal penises in nine main categories including bull, goat, donkey, horse, venison, dog and snake. In the ox category alone, they serve penises from several different species including Tibetan yak, yellow oxen from Hebei province and Zhejiang province buffalo.
Seven different processes are used to thoroughly rid the animal parts of any unpleasant smell.
"The parts don't have any particular taste of their own, so they need to be prepared with seasoning to give them flavor," Guo says.
Animal penises are said to be rich in collagen, which plumps up the skin for both men and women. In addition, most have residual traces of testosterone, which can be a boost for men and an antidepressant for women.
Guo's business card says Guo Li Zhuang is "the only restricted nourishing restaurant in China". Diner must be at least 16 to eat at the restaurant both because of physical concerns and for fear of embarrassing patrons in front of children.
Guo admits his restaurant mainly caters to male guests. Most women still decline to eat animal penis, and are served other dishes such as venison with wild mushroom or more 'ordinary' foods such as snail and donkey.
What is it like to dine on the 'whips'? Most people say there is heat first in the lower abdomen, which later warms up the whole body. The restaurant once gave away free condoms to every male diner, but Guo says it was just a publicity stunt although "you can still get one if you ask for it."
"In the past, there were woman guests who turned away when they saw the menu. Now they stay to chat and ask about the food. More people are now willing to try," says Guo.
The restaurant has only private rooms, with five small ones on ground floor and three larger ones on the next level. There are a la carte and hot pot options with the average cost ranging from as low as 100 yuan per person to as high as 5,000 yuan per diner.