The Nasty Bits: Bung


The last time I ate intestines, I was dining with friends in Atlanta at a soul food joint where, between mouthfuls of ham hock and collard greens, I insisted to our waitress that I wanted to try their chitterlings (pronounced chitlins.) When the plate arrived, our waitress apologetically told me that the chitlins would have been better deep-fried, which left me wondering why the restaurant didn't pop their chitlins in their excellent cornmeal batter and fry the heck out those suckers. As it was, our chitlins were served boiled and barely salted; they remained unpalatable even after numerous applications of tabasco sauce and pepper. The problem with the chitlins was twofold: overly chewy in texture and too aggressively intestinal in taste.

Someone, I am sure, must be willing to defend chitlins, that classic Southern dish of the smaller intestines of the pig, boiled with onions and served unembellished. Chitlins come from the same cooking tradition that offers such delectable treats as fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, fried chicken gizzards, and hushpuppies, just to name a few gems. Maybe after all that fried food the palate wants something boiled, but chitlins, it seems to me, are an odd choice out of all the things that could be delicious if boiled.


For a while I refrained from intestinal dishes, not so much because of my singular bad experience with chitlins, but because there are so many other innards with which to be distracted. But now as the weather turns colder and soupy things become my default, I remember that one of my favorite toppings for noodle soup is, in fact, intestines. They are not the small intestines from which chitlins are made but part of the large intestines. At Asian markets you'll find this part of the large intestines labeled as bung. Its taste is meaty and porky and, because sometimes I am at a loss to describe that ineffably "gamey" or animalistic flavor of innards, let me just say that intestines taste "offal-y."

There's probably a fair bit of bunk about bung: namely, that it tastes like feces or foul digestive matter (only if it is not fresh) or that that its texture is unpleasant (only if it is boiled for too long, or not long enough). The texture of the larger intestines is actually one of its appealing characteristics. Bung is tender and fatty, with some chewy resistance owing to the mass of tissues unique to that region. There's a lot of fatty tissue inside, which is precisely why the large pork intestines taste better to me than the small intestines—in the large ones, there's plenty of the soft interior to enjoy.


How to prepare bung? It's pretty similar to how you might make stomach. After an initial soak in water and vinegar, parboil the intestines, then simmer them in whatever flavors you would like. You can take the pan-Asian route and add ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, and star anise to your pot, or stick to some version of aromatics and herbs.

As a topping for noodles or filling for tacos, intestines pair well with pickles because the sourness cuts through the fattiness of the organ. If you use the bung as a topping for noodles, simply cut the stewed pieces into thick slices and eat along with your choice of noodles, broth, and vegetables. If you prefer to eat the intestines in a dry preparation, they can be pan-fried briefly after simmering to achieve a subtly crisp char on the surface.