Eye of Newt, Neck of Duck

by in View All Posts, December 14th, 2009

I don’t dine out much. But recently, upon the advice of Rupa B., I found myself in a wonderful Swiss restaurant, accompanied by mom, dad, and girlfriend. The momdad was in town on a brief visit. Parents and girlfriend were meeting for the first time. Ice was being broken, jokes were being cracked, good feelings were in the air. Menus were passed.

I immediately zeroed in on an appetizer that Rupa had been singing hymns to for months, the dish that in truth, though unbeknownst to anyone else at the table, had landed us there in the first place: braised, breaded, and fried duck necks. Not legs, not breasts, not even livers. Necks. Rupa had described it in its crispy, bony, messy glory as a sort of ennobling of the Buffalo wing, which was more than enough to sell me on it. My mother scanned the menu and honed in on the same. Somewhere a needle spun wildly.

My mother, you must know, is a woman of strong opinions, strenuously expressed. Her moral compass is nothing if not a sensitive instrument. I have known this for 38 years. I have also known that it can chart some very odd courses. And yet somehow one is prone to forgetting. Until something comes up. In a restaurant. Something like duck neck.

I was on the verge of ordering the vertebral morsels when my mom got wind of it and went…BALLISTIC. It was as if the chef had put the contents of his shower drain on the menu under the cynical supposition that someone would be idiot enough to pay for it-and that someone turned out to be her own flesh and blood.

“Ridiculous! $8.50 for DUCK NECK!? There’s no meat in it! This is Depression food! No, worse, shtetl cuisine!  Your great grandparents did not come to America for you to eat duck neck. Leave the duck necks in Kiev! Blechhh!!!”

The notion that a restaurant would show such little regard for its customers as to attempt to serve them the NECK of a DUCK; and worse, the idea that her son would show such little self-regard, would actually encourage the practice by ordering a DUCK’S NECK, produced paroxysms of maternal indignation that nearly derailed the entire evening and resurfaced in blood pressure-raising spasms throughout the weekend. I’ve long been fascinated by the ways different cultures value types and cuts of meat, the ways meaning gets inscribed in meat, such that animal anatomy can be read as a kind of map of a culture. But tonight was not the night to engage in a discussion of cultural relativity, sociology, or the ethics of offal-eating. The duck neck would have to wait.

Until last night, that is, when I returned with Rupa. This time around the menus were unnecessary. We sat at the bar, we drank good ale, and we gnawed our duck necks with extreme relish, in peace and without compunction. They turn out to be extremely, um, skeletal. And delicious.

Mom, you missed out.

Jonathan Milder, Research Librarian

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