This article first appeared on MUNCHIES in January 2015.
When I enter my local soup shop in Hangzhou, an 18-inch stick with a wee patch of red hairs at the tip lies on a plastic table. The bit of red yarn to one end suggests it had been hung up to dry, and the shop owner had taken it down to show me.
When I order "Double Whip King God Soup," I'm not asking for whipped cream.
No, "whip" is a Chinese euphemism—for penis. Yes, bull penises are long enough to be compared to whips.
I'm in China testing out one of its most ancient aphrodisiacs: bull penis soup. But China isn't the only country eating it. Civilizations throughout the world have cooked and consumed the penises of various animals—sheep, rams, even tigers—for centuries. Chinese bull penis soup's roster of medicinal applications, however, as well as its niche market of followers, make it stand out.
Sure enough, Hu You Xue, the owner and cook, talks penis preparation while I inspect the drying dong.
Double Whip King God Soup, he explains, makes use of two kinds of bull penis, hence the Double Whip. The first kind is a dried penis that's been soaked in traditional Chinese medicines, and Hu You Xue buys it from a pharmacy. The second is fresh penis, which he gets from a butcher. (Sorry, but there's no penis-specific shop. I asked.)
Why are penises sold at pharmacies? Despite the encroachment of Western medical practices, traditional medicine remains a vital part of local culture. Chinese philosophy emphasizes the yin and the yang—yang being the energetic, masculine counterpart to yin's nurturing femininity. Men who have trouble in, well, the boner department, are thought to need more yang. I challenge you to think of something more yang than an 18-inch dick.
After chopping the penis into centimeter-long bits, Hu You Xue stews it alongside hunks of testicle, wolfberries, and a medley of herbs chosen for their aphrodisiac qualities. Then, he places the filled bowls in a large urn above a fire and waits for his customers to arrive.
Hu You Xue's neighborhood shop is crowded at 10 PM on a Monday when I arrive to taste. He sells an array of different soups, but the penis variety definitely contributes to his shop's success. Half of his penis soup customers are returning, and almost all of them are dudes aged between 50 and 60—about the age you'd expect for Chinese Viagra.
The guy I'm with, meanwhile, is 21. Thebes, a friend from Hong Kong who didn't really want his last name printed in a story about genitalia, is a regular at Hu You Xue's soup joint.
"I've eaten dick before. It's big in Hong Kong," he says, pun not intended. "It has a nice flavor to it, but knowing it was a dick made me go a little slower. If no one had told me, I would have pounded that soup."
Penis stew is a central China specialty and is perhaps best known in Chongqing, where cooks simmer penis alongside tongue-numbing Sichuan peppers. The version I eat, on the other hand, is milder; the simple beef stock reminded me more of classic English stew than anything foreign.
The penis itself is a bit bland. Its most striking characteristic is its texture: rubbery and soft, more like stewed tofu than beef. The testicle bits were meatier, albeit chewy at times.
Hu You Xue sells one or two penis soups per day, impressive given that customers have to order in advance. Each penis yields 10 servings of soup. And while penis soup has traveled from its Central Chinese origins to shops across the country, don't expect to find it everywhere. Hu You Xue runs one of less than 10 shops selling it in Hangzhou, a drop in the bucket for its population of eight million.
It's later now, and under the fluorescent nighttime lights of his shop, he's begun goofing around with the dried dick. The shop's other six plastic tables are deserted. Hu You Xue pours himself a beer.
"So does the aphrodisiac part really work?" I ask, notebook and pen in hand.
Hu You Xue's face crinkles as he rocks back with laughter and points to Thebes. "You ask him tomorrow!" he says.