Wandering amid Uwajimaya's piles of frozen smelt, unrecognizable vegetables, and colorful foil packages, it's hard not to wonder how such exotic delicacies are meant to be enjoyed, or even if they can be enjoyed by our untrained honky palates. Determined to find out, the Mercury's most intrepid culinary adventurers, Marjorie Skinner and Justin Wescoat Sanders, enlisted three of their favorite local chefs to participate in a contest called simply the "Asian Market Challenge."

All three chefs were provided with the same four, carefully selected, EXTREME Asian market ingredients: seaweed paste, pickled daikon (radish), sashimi octopus cutlets, and... (drumroll please) PIG INTESTINE. The chefs' task was simple: Make something edible from this dubious spread, in an hour, using anything that was available to them in their own kitchens, be it additional ingredients or a deep-fat fryer. They did not receive any prior knowledge about what Asian market ingredients they would be using.

All the chefs were excited to participate, but there was one small catch: Judges Skinner and Sanders would have to eat what was made (as well as critique the ensuing creations on the merits of flavor, innovation, and presentation). Perhaps due to the skill of each chef, or perhaps due to the copious amounts of alcohol consumed, we're happy to report that neither judge vomited—though Sanders developed some serious gas later that night.


Colleen French, creator of Colleen's Bistro, 738 E Burnside, 546-8796

Colleen's darling Burnside eatery is a hotspot for dinner entrees featuring unusual ingredients like wild boar and fowl. But, as it would turn out, no amount of unusual ingredients could prepare her for the pig poop chute.

Appearing entirely un-flabbergasted by our Asian market delights, Colleen immediately assessed that the pig intestine would go best in a braised greens dish with a small dollop of the seaweed paste, and set about "cooking the shit out of it." She deep-fried the intestine and dropped it in a well-oiled pan of simmering roughage. Meanwhile, the octopus and rather phallic rod of daikon were chopped together with persimmons and a vinaigrette to create a topping for buttery toasted crostinis.

In merely a half hour, a plate of lovely looking food was in front of us, and we took our first bites with relative confidence.

Then Sanders almost passed out. Despite being fried, the deep, musky flavor of the pig intestine was utterly overwhelming. Skinner was not fond of the dish either, but expressed a greater issue with the octo-daikon mixture, especially its unfortunate pairing with excessively buttery toast. Colleen's rapid-fire delivery might have been to her detriment, as her ultimate approach was neither nuanced nor careful.

Flavor: 3 (out of 10)

Innovation: 6 (she chopped things up and threw them in pans)

Presentation: 8


Bob McGee, head chef at Slow Bar, 533 SE Grand, 230-7767

Slow Bar is a stellar spot for hamburgers and salads that far outdo typical bar food. Bob's past experience as a line cook at Higgins Restaurant shaped him into a gourmet culinary whiz, and with his assistant Sergio at his side, he turned our rather difficult ingredients into dishes we not only didn't mind eating, but gobbled down like sows at a trough.

On a lazy Monday evening, Bob had the luxury of using the entirety of his allotted hour and maxed out the Slow Bar kitchen's resources. The most difficult item, the pig intestine, was cleverly masked with a deep-fried, tempura-like frito misto beer batter made from PBR and sided with a dash of lemon aioli. The appetizer still tasted like pig intestine, but it didn't taste very much like pig intestine—a remarkable achievement. The daikon was paired with juicy chunks of oven-roasted tuna topped off with the seaweed paste. The octopus was smoked in a wok full of hot woodchips, then chopped with roasted corn into a gulf-prawn ceviche and served with delicately twirled corn chips. Still more octopus was tossed into a dashi broth along with a carrot/daikon slaw, a hunk of delicious skate fish, some of that seaweed paste, and just a touch of pig intestine juice to top things off. The disparate ingredients miraculously complemented each other perfectly, resulting in a delectable and nutritious soup.

Bob brought in a great deal of outside ingredients to combat what we gave him, and also utilized an assistant, which didn't seem entirely fair. But so delicious were his concoctions, and so grateful were we for the (brief) reprieve to our digestive tracts, we proclaimed him a hero anyway and departed for our next destination feeling better about life.

Flavor: 9

Innovation: 6 (outside ingredients + Sergio = pushing it)

Presentation: 10 (he served us ceviche in a martini glass with cloves and curled corn chips!)


Leah Hyman, Staff Planner for a land use planning firm and hobby chef

Curious to see whether professional training and experience was truly an advantage when faced with the Asian Market Challenge, we enlisted a layperson, Leah, who used her ordinary home kitchen supplies to face the competition.

Our first indication of the difference between amateurs and professionals was Leah's reaction to the ingredients (which were admittedly increasing in stench despite near-constant refrigeration). Where the other two chefs sized them up with almost reckless aplomb, Leah screeched: "Ew, ew, ew, EW!!" and "I don't think my cats would even eat that!" Having already lost points for nervousness, she quickly set about regaining her confidence, authoritatively clanging pots and pans and briskly deciding her game plan.

The octopus, which turned out to be her strongest dish, was seared with olive oil and soy sauce—simple, but rather tasty. The daikon was heated with basil and some of the seaweed paste, which was palatable, but not delicious. Meanwhile, the pig intestine was boiled, then fried and made into a "pig intestine curry," which was a touch horrible, and Skinner had to spit hers out. Sanders was rather charmed by the accompanying rice, either because over the course of the day he had become accustomed to pig anus, or possibly because he was quite drunk. But overall Leah did very well, considering her inferior resources and lack of culinary degree.

Flavor: 5 (boiled pig intestine = not good)

Innovation: 5 (never heard the phrase "pig intestine curry" until this night)

Presentation: 4 (lacking restaurant supplies is no excuse for lacking effort)