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The Valley does have some other peddlers of exotic eats. Down Under Wines in Chandler regularly does wine tastings pairing Aussie vino with roo meat. And since 1982, Rick Worrilow of Gourmet Imports in Phoenix has provided the local hospitality industry with everything from camel to caribou, all quite legal and aboveboard, by the way. The Stockyards serves calf fries, which are veal testicles, and VooDoo Daddy's Magic Kitchen serves alligator. At Lee Lee Oriental Market in Chandler, you can purchase frozen Thai cockroaches, canned crickets, thousand-year eggs, and duck embryos, among other Asian delicacies. And such items as elk and venison are not too difficult to find on menus around town.
As discussed previously, the interest in extreme cuisine is on the rise nationwide, as the American palate becomes more experienced and curious. Food Network and Travel Channel programs showing the hosts eating roasted guinea pigs in Machu Picchu, deer penis soup in Singapore or the still-beating hearts of cobras in Vietnam are now run-of-the-mill. This is still mostly voyeurism on our part; Americans tend to be fairly squeamish about anything unusual. Older cultures are not so particular about their provender.
Yamamoto hails from a country surrounded by water, and nothing in the sea is off limits to the Japanese, including sea urchin, whale meat, and dolphin. I myself ordered whale meat in Tokyo once, and though I didn't think it terribly appetizing, I was intrigued by how easy it was to find in the bustling Japanese capital. As mentioned, Yamamoto is half-Korean, and Koreans continue to delight in the taste of canines, often served in a hearty soup. Dog meat is also popular in China, but then the Chinese really do eat just about everything under the sun, from bird's nest and snake bile to monkey brains and the bronchial tubes of cows.
But Yamamoto is going beyond the pale, traversing boundaries at which even his fellow Asians would surely balk. Everyone's heard about Tom Cruise joking (supposedly) about noshing his newborn baby's placenta and umbilical cord. But placentophagy is nothing new, nor is it illegal to chow down on some umbilical carne asada, as long as it's postpartum, of course. Placenta pâté has long been a part of Yamamoto's repertoire, but it's not the only human flesh he's willing to prepare for customers eager to experiment with cannibalism.
"There many Mexcan immigrant need money," confides Yamamoto during my inspection of his Anthem residence. "Sometime they sell me kidney, arm or leg, or just slice of liver. Very, very expenseeve. These Mexcan never have to work for year, I tell you. And Mexcan liver with onion? Is sooo deleeshus. You must try."
How could I resist? Actually, at another of his clandestine spreads, Yamamoto presented me with three plates, one with a slice of human liver sautéed with onions, another with a hunk of muscle torn from a human leg that had been deep fried, and a third of a side of poached hufu, a faux human flesh product that bills itself as the "Healthy Human Flesh Alternative" (available online at www.eathufu.com).
"I give the hufu to people who don't wanna eat Mexcan," claims Yamamoto. "Hufu not bad, but nothing like real Mexcan."
I sample a bit of each, and I must admit that Yamamoto is correct. Mexican liver is exquisite, a thousand times tastier than its bovine counterpart. The leg muscle was a little chewy, sort of like gnawing on a fried chicken gizzard, but not bad. ("Marlon Brando and Phil Gordon only person who really love leg muscle; they like on bone and then rip off with teeth. Moan in pleasure, then spit out gristle. I serve Brando many time at Hollywood home. Mayor Phil very good customer here. Say Mexcan better than osso buco.") As for the hufu, it was awfully gelatinous in places, and blubbery. I don't think broiling was the best way to go, but Yamamoto says hufu is too fatty to fry, though sometimes he does this, and ends up with bits of meat similar to lardons, which he will then add to a salad.
The whole thing seems so Sweeney Todd-ish to me. Like something out of that 1973 sci-fi cannibal flick Soylent Green. But apparently, there have been precedents in real life as well. Why, New Times' own Paul Rubin, recent winner of the Arizona Press Club's Virg Hill Journalist of the Year Award, wrote a series of articles beginning in April 2003 ("Rent a Patient," April 24, 2003) exposing a health-insurance scam involving Mexican immigrants receiving unnecessary surgeries for cold, hard cash. The only difference here is that the desired organs are refrigerated for later consumption.
As if these revelations were not bizarre enough, I'm a bit grossed out by Yamamoto's admission that he has an unsavory agreement with some local mortuaries to harvest kidneys and other internal organs for him from children and teenagers who have died in car accidents. But Yamamoto's ultimate desire to prepare the most unthinkable of dinners is what really sends shivers down my spine.
"One day I hope I can cook whole Mexcan," sighs Yamamoto. "Maybe baby Mexcan that mother sell to me. Then I make for my good friend Jon Kyl. I know Senator will like to eat Mexcan. He only like Mexcan when on his dinner plate."