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Palestine's Family Jewel: Why in the World Would Someone Willingly Eat a Testicle?

One of the most highly publicized “new foods” for the 2012 MN State Fair are Holy Land’s lamb testicles otherwise known as lamb fries. Hearing about Holy Land’s latest contribution to the MN food culture piqued my interest. “How were fried testicles hailed as a delicacy and what in the world would the precious gems taste like?” I wondered. As with every meaningful interaction, I received my answers plus a greater respect and understanding of the impact one’s passion has on their work. Majdi Wadi, Holy Land CEO's intent is not simply to sell more food, but to share worldly experiences with his fellow Minnesotans, thereby bridging the gap between the us and them.

 

Experience with my Pakistani husband/in-laws has taught me that there are many culinary delights beyond the ever so popular American meat standards of chicken breasts, salmon and steak. Places like Pakistan and Palestine have many unique dishes which include every conceivable part of the animal simply because access to food (namely meat) is much more challenging and the overall cost factor so great. A recent Gates Foundation study revealed that American’s spend roughly 8% of their total income toward the purchase of food whereas Indians and Ugandans spend a total of 56% and 75% respectively. To place a priority on a chicken breast or a tenderloin piece of meat to then discard the remaining parts of the animal is not only grossly inefficient, but highly disrespectful to the animal that has given it’s life for human consumption. 

 

“In places like Palestine, where I’m from, all parts of the animal such as the stomach, hooves, and lungs are used,” explained Wadi. “Part of ‘halal’ is that the animal is respected in it’s life and death which means the culture does not like to waste any part of the animal.”

 

With all parts of the animal consumed, delicatessen dishes are born in order to let each part shine. Wadi described a popular dish where the stomach casing of lambs or goats are stuffed with rice, vegetables and spices. I couldn’t resist: “I understand the minimal waste factor leading to the the use of lamb testicles as food, but there HAS to be some folklore associated with that body part!” I lamented. With laughter and the seriousness of a secret joke, Wadi explained that the testicles, along with hearts and livers are served to newlyweds the day after their wedding in order to build up their libido, so to speak. “I said, ‘But ma, I’m 21 years old, and I don’t need help with that!”, joked Wadi.

 

Palestine’s Family Jewel is now Ours

 

Turns out that Minnesotans like the lamb testicles, or at least are willing to try something new. (They even made the Heavy Table's top 10 fair foods this year.) When Wadi conceived the new idea, he traveled to New Zealand, the world’s largest halal lamb producer, and procured 5,000 pounds of lamb testicles. By the 6th fair day, Wadi was running dangerously low. “We have an emergency shipment being sent from New Zealand and my trucks are now at the airport picking up that shipment,” exclaimed Wadi.

 

Testicles are not the only souvenir brought to us by Wadi and the Holy Land family. I listened with great interest as Wadi excitedly described how he has searched the world for good foods he thinks his Minnesotan brothers and sisters might enjoy. “I have been in MN for 25 years and there is no other state in the US I would rather be and I want to share the world’s best,” said Wadi. "Last year’s fair food favorite was an Egyptian street food favorite, Kushari. The rice and pasta dish mixed with tomatoes and spices has reached high demand because I created a gluten free version, using quinoa-based pasta, to support my customers with gluten allergies." Holy land is often credited with giving Americans hummus. Launched at a MN State Fair years ago, hummus became so wildly popular that Holy Land hummus is now found nationally at Target and SuperValu and regionally at Costco. 

 

The grilled versionThe grilled versionSo What did the Testicles Taste Like?

 

I’m not going to be very original when I say that they were a bit like chewy, gamy, dark-meat chicken. Due to my party’s overly-enthusiastic interest, Wadi served us the fried version as well as the more traditional non-fried version. Side by side, I have to say the fried was good, but the non-fried even better; it allowed for the juices from the gelatinous texture to better mesh with the middle-eastern spices. 

 

Located at the International Bazaar, Holy Land’s State Fair foods are uniquely worldly and Minnesotan. So go, man-up, boost that libido and respect all parts of the animal.

 

Special thanks to Majdi Wadi and Holy Land for taking the time to speak with me.

 

 

 

Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book-club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur. Her last article for SGT was: Ishtar Time: The Thanksgiving and Mindfulness of Ramadan.

 

 

Comments

You're more of a man than I am Leigh Ann. My stomach curled up inside with more and more intensity as I read your article and tried not to think about sinking my teeth into another animal's testicle. You know, I totally agree with the philosophy that you should use the whole animal that has been slaughtered for human consumption, BUT my respect for the testicle goes beyond my gullet! I respect the lamb testicle by NOT eating it, which a lamb may or may not appreciate. Maybe if you sneak it into a lamb sausage, okay, but it's against my better judgement.

It is funny how culturally we decide what sort of animal sounds delicious and which others repulsive from a consumption standpoint. Why chickens but not bluejays? Why pork but not horse? Indeed, why lamb's thigh but not lamb's testicle? Meat not withstanding, there's parts of the world that think peanut butter is disgusting. It's a crazy world out there, and I'm not quite ready to eat it all quite yet.

 

I must admit that I have long been a devotee of... uhh... hmm...

Crikey, is there any way to say, "I've willingly eaten testicles for years," without it sounding pornographic?  I don't think so.  Anyway, I have my own story regarding that venerable institution Holy Land and the procuring of "lamb balls."

About five years ago I had a discussion with Chuck Boigenzahn (of Simple, Good and Tasty) and his wife Emily about these little delicacies and how remarkably inexpensive they were at Holy Land.  Chuck offered to cook some up -- in the French style -- with a combination of butter and garlic.  Yum.  

Since I lived near a Holy Land, I offered to stop by and pick them up.  When I went to the refrigerated meat case, though, I couldn't find any lamb testicles.  I was surprised, since I had never failed to see little plastic wrapped "pairs" of the hairless and glistening buggers spot-lit under the florescent lighting of the case.  So I went to the butcher and asked him if he had any fresh "lamb testicles."   The butcher looked at me with a mixture of hilarity and what appeared to be confusion.  He spoke with a strong foreign accent.  He was in the early stages of learning English as a second language.  And I don't speak Arabic.  So I assumed that "his" confusion was the result of language barriers.  He smiled and said, "Ahh, you want lamb fries!?" 

"No, no," said I, completely unaware of what exactly lamb fries were.  I tried to find an appropriate pantomime suitable for a public place.  "Testicles... balls... you know... like... Rocky Mountain Oysters?" 

"Lamb fries," he said again, this time with confidence and authority.

"Lamb fries?" I asked in utter confusion.

"Lamb fries."

The butcher placed a couple of wrapped styrofoam packages on the counter.  There, on the white sticker I read, "Lamb Fries."  I think they were about $3.50 for a large set, which seems (when you think of it) kind of a cruel joke. 

So finally I got it.  They referred to lamb testicles as lamb fries.  I'd never heard the term used before.  So, naturally I asked, "Why do you call them lamb fries?"

The butcher grinned broadly at me and said, "So people don't have to ask for lamb testicles."

 

Denise- that's an awesome story- it's always fun to try and crossover to new culture-based food establishments. I buy halal goat meat at a local Somali-owned gas-station market. Every time I request the goat meat, I'm met with curious stares and the question, "where are you from?" I always reply, "Cleveland." Though I know the real question is "Why are you buying goat meat?" :-)

Do tell-- how were those oysters French-style?- I bet yummy!

Boy, I'm torn on this one. I definitely would have to be persuaded to eat that most delicate organ. Its taken me a long time to start working my way through eating all of an animal if I'm going to eat meat responsibly. Organ meat is definitely a weak point for me and testicles seem like a big challenge and its surely all in my head. I bet if I eased into them (this whole conversation is so awkward...eased into testicles???) by putting them into stuffing or something, I might then be able to dive into a whole nut. Now that I think of it, perhaps this is a guy thing. I hope more folks weigh in, because it is women eating testicles (2), men (0)...and the more I think of it...hmmmm...

Leigh Ann -- that is really funny.  You have to tell me... where is this gas station?  I have to go there.  And... yes... the lamb fries, cooked in the French style, were extraordinary.  As I recall, Chuck and Emily's daughters gobbled them right up, taking several helpings.  But Chuck is a kind of master chef in my book.

I think it probably is a guy thing, Lawrence.  But, in terms of getting introduced to testical eating, I don't think there's any better way than with lots of butter and garlic.  As a vehicle for butter and garlic, they're kind of a cross between chicken livers and escargot.  Really, a very effective and tasty vehicle with (as I recall) a nice bit of chewy toothiness.  Serve it up with a simple salad, some crusty bread and some wine.  

Really? Ben and Lawrence, I'm surprised at your reluctance as I would chalk you two up as "try anything once" kinda guys! Maybe it is a guy thing. Other guys and gals reading this, would you take issue to this particular animal part?

 

Denise, your experience a la French style sounds delish! 

 

How much spam is this piece generating?! Ha!

I think obviously this is more of a psychological obstacle as Lawrence pointed out.  I also agree that organ meat has never been extremely enticing to my own tastes, but I guess I'd still be a lot more likely to eat liver than testicles.  That said, last year I made traditional cajun bodin sausages, which is generally rich in pork liver, and I was not entirely impressed. 

Okay Leigh Ann, is it really that hard to understand?  I'm wondering if you'd change your tune if Holy Land offered deep fried sheep labia with garlic sauce next year at the fair?  Just saying.

Funny, isn't it, that sheep labia aren't eaten.  What's up with that, anyway?  Is it that the males comprise the majority of slaughter animals?  (Or am I wrong about that?)   Is this some vestige of misogyny transposed onto our animal kin?  (Oh, sure... we'll all eat testicles, yeah.  But labia?  Ewwwwww.  No way.)

Just wonderin'.  Now I'm wondering if there are cultures in which animal labia are eaten.

 

I cannot believe I am saying this, but I am totally speechless. Lauging awkwardly...yes. Words...nope.

Ditto!

And do not, I repeat, do not search Denise's above question!

So I've done a little soul searching over the last couple of days ... believe it or not, when you enter into a discussion regarding edible genitals it doesn't quickly leave your mind ... and I don't think I'd eat sheep labia either.  There's just something sacred about that, uh, part of an animal.  Male or female, I don't think it changes my opinion.  I'm wondering if anyone would eat one but not the other.

In fact I did run a search on the topic, Leigh Ann, and I'm sorry to say that no close matches came up.  A google search revealed... among other things...preparing for the lambing season, sheep and goat pox, and (finally) the CIA fact book on Libya... which is interesting, but short on really good recipes.  

So, I'm guessing that they're neither a staple, nor a delicacy of any particular diet.

For the record, I did not start us down this path.  I merely brought the topic to its logical conclusion.  

Laugh.  It's good for you.  Or ewe.  As the case may be.

Yes the search return can be scary for the weak or naive! It has been fun and thoughtful for sure! 

So is a labia an organ? My husband and his cousin were with me and they very willingly at the testes as they are used to (and like) organ meat from their days in Pakistan and other parts of the world. I'm not sure labia is actually an organ? Also, don't those parts get ground up in whatever ground sausages and hot-dog type things are made up of, anyway? So we may have all had our share of every conceivable part of the animal.

It's been fun. The lamb fries were good and that's the story I'm sticking to. See ewe at the dinner table!

Rocky mountain oysters are starting to appear on bar menus here on the east coast and it always makes me wince when I see the term. So I've done a bunch of searches on labia, vulva, and vagina in a culinary context and come up pretty much emptyhanded. Guess there's a reason why they call it the Holy of Holies. 

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