Wild Side: Cow Trotters and Lamb Brains at Shan Restaurant

Editor's Note:While we're all familiar with the usual dishes around Chicago like pizza and Italian beef, there's a whole world of adventurous food in Chicago from bugs to offal. Dennis is ready to explore the wild side of the dining scene.


[Photographs: Dennis Lee]

When I was a kid, my mother used to make us cow foot soup. It's a pretty common Korean dish with a milky-looking broth that's both thin and gelatinous at the same time. If you were wondering, no, there's not a whole lot of meat on a cow's foot. I mean, look at your own feet. Is there a lot of meat on your teeny tiny toes? I realize that's a really weird question. Halloween does that to people. Also, the rumors are true, I'm a really weird person.

Shan Restaurant is a mix between a little grocery store and a restaurant. The two are attached in the same space, with tables on one side and a small convenience store area on the other. Lots of people come in and out for groceries, a sit-down meal, friendly conversation, or a combination of all three. It's an interesting place to watch people, but it's also an interesting place to grab a bite to eat, too.


So speaking of cow's foot soup (that's a phrase I don't say nearly enough), Shan Restaurant makes a cow's foot soup called siri paya ($7.99). It's cooked with onions, thin slivers of ginger, and a relatively mild blend of curry spice. And the interesting thing about cow's feet (another phrase I don't get to say very often) is that they're full of gelatin. And when I say full, I mean full. The broth of the soup is thick and extraordinarily velvety, leaving behind the telltale signs of gelatin—your extremely sticky lips after each spoonful.


Like I said before, cow's feet don't have a lot of meat on them. You're mostly stuck with bones, but what is attached to the bones is the fun stuff, which are the milky-colored, chewy, yet soft tendons. The texture might be off-putting to those who are new to them, but I love their gelatinous texture and mildly beefy flavor. There is a little bit of meat too, and it's beautifully tender from stewing for a long time. If you've ever munched on oxtails, the meat has a very similar flavor and texture.

While the Korean version isn't seasoned with much other than salt, pepper, and green onions, this siri paya is red with spice, and it's very easy on the salt. And a secret from a pro: If you want the full flavor experience, suck on the porous bone slices. You'll not only get some of the broth that's seeped into them, but you'll also get the added flavor of marrow. Cow feet, dudes. Do it.


Shan Restaurant also serves mughuz masala ($8.99), a staple of all sheep zombies—that's right, you're looking at lamb brains. These lamb brains are stewed in a strong spice blend packed with coriander, garlic, chili, and ginger. If you've never had brains, which I'm guessing some of you haven't, they have the texture of a soft custard with a very mild and rich flavor, almost like bone marrow, but with a slightly metallic aftertaste. The aftertaste isn't off-putting, but it's a hallmark flavor of cranial delight. Personally, I think they're awesome, and if you're on the fence, don't think about it too much (get it?) and give them a shot.

Now for those of you health-conscious folks, it's best that you know that lamb brains (as well as cow, goat, pig, basically all four legged mammals) are packed with cholesterol. I'm telling you this out of my sweet sweet love for you, guys.


Of course, on the not-so-wild side of things, I always like to wash my Indian and Pakistani food down with a mango lassi ($2.99). It helps my sorry ass deal with any heat from the spice of my meal. Shan's lassi is the brightest shade of orange I've ever seen, but it's flavored with real mango pulp.

If you're up for it and want to try something more along the wild side of things, go hang out at Shan Restaurant and give brains and feet a crack. Don't worry. You won't become a lamb zombie. And you can leave with some flatbread while you're at it—two-thirds of the people I saw shopping there left with a hefty pile of them. They're a perfect accompaniment for gray matter.