"Here, try it," says Zhaoran, a business student, as she places a beige-colored ox urethra onto her friend's plate. He's in the middle of wolfing down a piece of chewy dog penis.
A visit to the Guolizhuang Restaurant in Beijing is not for the faint-hearted. Here the menu consists almost entirely of penis and testicle dishes -- made from the private parts of deer, snakes, yaks, horses, seals and ducks, among others.
The platters have names like "The Essence of the Golden Buddha," "Phoenix Rising," "Jasmine Flowers with 1,000 Layers" and "Look for the Treasure in the Desert Sand." Are such flowery names meant to prevent guests from prematurely running off? After all, the "jasmine flowers" are made of layers of thinly sliced donkey penis, and the "treasure in the desert" is actually sheep gonads on a bed of curry.
"Chinese eat anything with four legs, except tables. And everything that flies, except airplanes," says Zhaoran, quoting a well-known Chinese saying. This may be true, but even in China a penis restaurant is unusual. The Guolizhuang restaurant opened two years ago on the aptly-named Dongsishitiao Street. Word quickly spread among well-heeled Chinese, and today there are five franchises. The chain is even expanding outside of China -- into the Chinatown in Atlanta, Georgia.
Deer Blood as Viagra
Lucy, a 20-year-old waitress, wears a traditionally embroidered silk shawl with images of courtly scenes and plants -- and a smiley sticker. Part of her job is thoroughly explaining the menu, as many guests are entering an entirely new culinary landscape when they visit the restaurant. "For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has used animal penises to cure kidney and erection problems," she says. But for their medicinal effect to work, the dishes have to be consumed regularly.
"But if you want something that works faster, we have a wine that contains extracts of heart, penis, and blood from a deer," she explains. "That has an effect within 30 minutes." This potency cocktail has been said to be better than Viagra, and it has no side effects.
Raw or roasted, whole or sliced, tip or base: the penis binge is not meant for Chinese guests as a superficial test of courage, but rather as a serious treatment for the libido. "The sexual act of this Russian dog lasts 48 hours and its mating season is seven months out of the year," is how the colorful, photo-filled menu praises a €16 ($25) penis dish.
A certain degree of care appears to be required when choosing a dish, depending partly on what one has planned for later in the evening. The sex and age of the customer also play a role. "Women should not eat testicles," Lucy says. "The hormones could give them a deeper voice and a beard." Penises, on the other hand, are completely harmless, and in fact are even "good for the skin," she says.
Children under 15 are not allowed in the penis restaurant; the hormones are said to interfere with natural growth. All the guests sit in booths, and most of them are older couples or all-male groups. "A lot of the customers are business people meeting with clients," Lucy says. "They order the most expensive meals -- their companies are paying."
Dog Penis Bone with A Cherry on Top
A waitress in pinstripe pants and a black jacket puts a pot of broth on an electric hotplate. Then Lucy carries out a glass plate with raw sexual parts from oxen and dogs, tastefully arranged on a bed of lettuce. A finger-long pointy bone protrudes out of a glass in the middle of the plate. There's a decorative cherry stuck on top. "Dogs are the only animals that have a penis bone," Lucy explains to the guests, pointing out the little groove on the side for the urethra.
Ox penises are sliced along the side and bent into little stars. Lucy uses chopsticks to dip one into the hotpot of chicken broth, dates, and lychees. Then the meat is doused in soy- or hot sauce. The consistency and taste are a little like a bitter piece of calamari.
The second course, called "Henry's whip," is much more delicate and sweet. It's sheep's penis on a stick, covered in a sheath of mayonnaise and sweet cheese. It's called "Henry" because it's prepared in a Western style, Lucy says.
Some of the specialties are expensive: A yak penis costs €179, while a hotpot with 10 different penis-and-testicle selections served on an attractive, four-sided plate tower with little statues of animals will set you back €89. For particularly discerning palates, the menu also offers deer and sheep fetuses (€36 and €9, respectively).
But this is only a small sampling of what restaurant manager Chen Jianguo says he has to offer. "For special guests there's a special menu," he says. Some connoisseurs say there are even penises from endangered species, like tigers. But to have a bite of that, you'll have to fill out a special application form for a silver, gold, or platinum membership card and pay up to €905.
At the end of the meal, Lucy hands over a little red box with ribbons on it. The dog penis bone is inside. It's a souvenir, she says, and is supposed to bring luck and protect the holder against "harmful influences."
But what about the risks and side effects from the food itself? Is your pulse really going faster when you leave the restaurant, or is it just your imagination? And were those spots on your arm there before?
"I think my voice is slowly getting deeper," Zhaoran says.