Cooking Offal in Southeast Asia

Offal is grilled, added to soups, cooked as stews or served as cold meat.

Offal is the collective term for the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. Internal organs include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, tongue, spleen, and brain; entrails refer to the various parts of the gastrointestinal system, which includes the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestine. The third category of offal which falls under neither internal organs nor entrails includes the animals' extremities like the feet, ears, snout, eyes, tail, and skin. 

In Southeast Asia, all these are cooked as food; not as gourmet fare but as everyday food. Below is an illustrated list which is by no means comprehensive but which gives a good idea of just how vast the world of offal cooking is.

  • 01 of 09

    Pig's Head

    Pig's Head
    Image Source / Getty Images

    Would you be too surprised to learn that the delicacy known as head cheese is not cheese at all but a cold meat dish made with the various parts of an animal's head? Head cheese originated in Europe, found its way to Asia and, in Vietnam, sliced head cheese made with pig's head parts is one of the most beloved filling for banh mi sandwiches.

    And just which parts of a pig's head is eaten in Southeast Asia? Everything except the bones. The cheeks, snout, brain, ears, and tongue are all delicious. The eyes are also eaten.

    In the Philippines, a whole pig's head boiled, cooled, and deep-fried is called crispy ulo. A whole pig's head slowly roasted is lechon ulo.

  • 02 of 09

    Tongue

    Beef tongue
    Roger Dixon / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    Beef and pork tongue are both eaten in Southeast Asia. The butcher trims the tongue and discards the small bones and cartilages. The rest is done in the kitchen.

    To clean the tongue, it is rubbed with a mixture of vinegar and rock salt then the surface is scraped with a knife. The process is repeated several times until all the sliminess has been removed.

    Once clean, the tongue is boiled until tender. The tough outer skin of the beef tongue is then easily peeled off. The skin of the pork tongue is scraped with a knife.

  • 03 of 09

    Brain

    Lamb's brain
    Roger Phillips / Collection:Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    To appreciate animal brain, carefully peel off the membrane that covers it and remove as much of the veins as possible without breaking the creamy mass. Slice the cleaned brain, dip it in seasoned beaten eggs and fry the slices. You'll love it.

    For chicken, crack open a cooked chicken's head, locate the brain and scoop it out in one piece. Pop the whole thing in your mouth and savor the rich creaminess.

  • 04 of 09

    Intestines

    Pork intestines
    Isabelle Rozenbaum / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

    The intestines of the cow, pig, goat, and chicken are all part of Southeast Asian cooking. If you're unsure, think of the sausages you eat for breakfast and know that natural sausage casing is the skin of the animal intestine.

    To clean large intestines, water is forced through the cavity to flush out everything that is not meant to be eaten. Smaller intestines that are difficult to clean that way are pushed inside out to invert and expose the interior and scraped. It's quite something watching it done. With a long skewer, one end is pushed through the length of the intestine until it goes all the way to the opposite end. It is then pulled so that the inside layer is exposed. And all that is done without tearing the intestines.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Beef Tripe

    Kinds of beef trips
    John Carey / Photolibrary / Getty Images

    Tripe consists of three chambers of the stomach of a cow. Which chamber the tripe comes from determines its texture and market name. In the photo, the honeycomb tripe (left, front) comes from the reticulum; the smooth or blanket tripe (left and right, back) is from the rumen; and the book or leaf tripe (right, front) is from the omasum.

    All three kinds of tripe are cooked in Southeast Asia. The dish determines which tripe is to be used. Both the honeycomb and blanket tripes are grilled, added to soups or cooked as stews. The popular ginger-scallion tripe dim sum in Chinese restaurants is made with leaf tripe.

  • 06 of 09

    Liver

    Beef liver
    Jerry Young / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    Beef, pork, chicken, and duck livers may all be liver but they don't hit the taste buds and the palate in quite the same way. Beef liver is very rich, pork liver is more textured, chicken liver is creamy, and duck liver is considered the "funkiest."

    There are Southeast Asian dishes where the liver is the main ingredient. In other cases, cooked livers are mashed to thicken and flavor the sauce of stews. The liver can also be cut into small pieces and grilled.

  • 07 of 09

    Oxtail

    Oxtail
    Foodcollection / Getty Images

    Many say that the best kare-kare (a Filipino beef and vegetable stew in peanut sauce) is cooked with oxtail. Oxtail kare-kare is the best but only when the oxtail is cooked with the skin. Simmered for long hours, the oxtail skin turns gelatinous and creates a broth that is both rich and dense. The tendons interspersed with the dark meat gives the meat a slightly sticky texture that one has to experience to understand.

    In the West, oxtail is often sold without the skin.

  • 08 of 09

    A Fowl's Gizzard, Neck, Heart, and Liver

    Fowl's neck. gizzard, liver, and heart

    Creative Studio Heinemann / Getty Images

    Leaving behind the large animals, let's go to the offal of birds. When buying a whole chicken, duck, goose or turkey, we sometimes find tucked in the cavity a small packet that contains the bird's offal. Often, the packet includes the neck, liver, gizzard, and heart. Collectively, they are called giblet

    The liver is, of course, deliciously edible; so is the gizzard. The gizzard takes much longer to cook than the delicate liver. The heart cooks just a little longer than the liver.

    In the West, the fowl's giblet is often cooked as the base of a gravy.

    In Southeast Asia, the liver and gizzard are cooked as the main ingredients (rather than as mere accessories) of many dishes. They are popular as satay, and they are also often found in stir-fries. 

    Chicken necks (sometimes, with the heads) are sold by the kilo, and they are many cooks' choice for making chicken broth.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Blood

    Beef blood

    The Spruce / Connie Veneracion

    It's impossible to talk about offal without mentioning blood. In Southeast Asia, freshly collected blood from a newly slaughtered animal is used both in liquid and coagulated form. 

    In the photo (partly hidden by the skewered chicken intestines) taken in a suburb in the Philippines, coagulated cow's blood is boiled, cut into pieces, and threaded with bamboo skewers before they go on the grill.

    In the Philippines, the most famous blood dish is a stew dinuguan. A similar Indonesian stew is called saksang (or sa-ang)

    In Vietnam, there's tiet canh, a raw blood dish; bun bo hue, a noodle soup served with cubes of coagulated blood; and don huyet, a blood sausage.

    In Thailand, a pork soup called tom lued moo comes with cubes of coagulated pork blood. A sticky rice congee with coagulated chicken blood is khao man gai.