Eating Bunghole Can Be Delicious, But It Isn't Pretty
Just ask the Great Cornholio.
All photos by the author.
It’s never not funny to me when Chinese menus translate their dishes a little too literally, or just completely wrong. From “Private Beef” to “Fish Balls Which Explodes in the Mouth,” I’ve seen some wonderful trainwrecks over the years. There is one dish, however, that still haunts me to this day, nearly 15 years after I first stumbled upon its two-word name, a name that displayed such an utter and unabashed boldness that it shook me to the core, a name that still makes me gasp with renewed shock each time I’m reminded of it: crispy bungholes.
Crispy bungholes. There it was, written out in someone’s handwriting, photocopied, and laminated for our new “authentic menu” at Hunan Kitchen, a local Chinese restaurant where I worked part-time during college. I had never heard or seen this word used by anyone other than Beavis, whose alter ego, Cornholio, desperately sought TP for his bunghole. I used to terrorize my very traditional Chinese parents with my impersonation of the Great Cornholio, so naturally, when I first saw this dish on the menu, I said the name out loud in my best Beavis voice. Then I asked someone what the hell it was.
It turned out to be pig rectum, whose official name is pork bung. (Personally, I prefer “crispy bungholes.”) Bung is part of a pig’s large intestine, specifically the part through which feces gets pushed out. When you buy it at the meat market, it comes in tubes about two to three feet long. I know what you’re thinking: fuck no. May I take a few minutes out of your day to make a case for why you should maybe consider saying fuck yes to pork bung?
Before I attempt to convince you with my own experience, I’d like to point out that there is already resounding evidence in favor of pork bung. In 2013, “This American Life” investigated “imitation calamari” for one of its segments, suggesting that restaurants may have been passing off pork bung as fried calamari. Understandably, unsure of whether or not they had been dipping pig anuses into marinara sauce, throngs of restaurant-goers took to the Internet to fume over this atrocious culinary deceit. Ultimately, “This American Life” was unable to confirm if the bung rumors were true.
But what if they were? That means countless Americans have been enjoying pig rectum this entire time! A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?
I remember eating pork bung as a kid during one of my grandma’s weekly Sunday dinners, when my entire extended family would gather around a table and take turns telling each other to eat more, like a conga line of force-feeding. My grandma made pork bung by cutting the tubular intestines into rings (like calamari!), deep-frying them, and pairing them with a dipping sauce nearly identical to the kind you dip dumplings in. At 4 years old, before developing the wherewithal to consent to or veto foods like pork bung, I happily popped those suckers into my mouth, one after another.
When prepared right, bung can be quite palatable, bordering on addictive: salty and crispy on the outside with a soft, chewy texture on the inside. But—fair warning—no amount of deep-frying will completely eradicate that ever-pervasive offal taste, so having a dipping sauce or condiment on hand is quite crucial.
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Deep-frying seems to be the most popular preparation for pork bung, but you can also boil, simmer, or stir-fry those anuses as well. Some bung-serving establishments will stick chunks of it on a skewer, kebab-style while others serve fried bung in rings accompanied by something pickled to cut through the fattiness of that pig ass.
I am a strong, independent woman, but I will let others cook my pig rectums for me.
These days, pork bung is but a distant acquaintance from my past, but one of the perks of living in New York City is that, with the exception of affordable housing, you can find literally anything here. So I popped down to Chinatown and not only picked up two pounds of raw pig rectum from the meat market, but I also found a Malaysian restaurant that proudly serves bung.
Just like my grandmother’s version, Nyonya serves it deep-fried and cut into rings, paired with a hoisin-based dipping sauce. And just as I remembered, they were crispy on the outside and soft, chewy, creamy on the inside. The skin was so crispy it reminded me of Chinese roast duck, and the sauce was a perfect accompaniment. The dish was so delightful, I think I clasped my hands together and smiled at the plate like it was proposing to me.
But then I engaged the raw rectum.
When I got home, I rolled up my sleeves, slipped on some latex gloves, and opened the butcher’s bag. The rectums seemed so innocuous as they sat sealed away, but as soon as I opened the bag, the smell almost knocked me onto my own rectum. To say that it was like riding the J train at 3 AM in the dead of August with no air conditioning would be doing it a great service. Raw pork bung smells intensely of urine and ambiguous waste (eau de J train). They look like pale, flesh-colored eels with wrinkled, ballsack-like heads. They are disgusting. However, so is most raw offal, which underscores the importance and transformative power of deft preparation. As for my own preparation, I am not ashamed to admit that I threw those rectums back in their bag and exiled them to the freezer. I am a strong, independent woman, but I will let others cook my pig rectums for me.
The big lesson here is that while cooking your own pork bung may not be worth handling the raw materials, making a trip to your local Chinatown or seeking it out on a trip to Asia will be quite rewarding. When left to the experts to prepare correctly, pork bung can be as enjoyable as a big plate of fries. But like any good snack, pairing it with a condiment will take it from good to great. Should you ever try the dish for yourself, be sure to ask for copious amounts of it to mitigate your first bung experience. Because you are the Great Cornholio and you need dipping sauce for your bunghole.