DNA barcoding in Taipei, Part 2

I spent Monday listening to ichthyologists and fisheries biologists discuss their efforts to barcode the planet?

By | September 18, 2007

I spent Monday listening to ichthyologists and fisheries biologists discuss their efforts to barcode the planet?s fish species (an initiative called the Fish barcode of life, or linkurl:FishBOL);http://www.fishbol.org/ . During the FishBOL session, researchers discussed the issue of seafood consumer fraud, where linkurl:puffer fish;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/19997/ might be linkurl:mislabeled as monk fish;http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2007/NEW01639.html or some lesser fish as cod. After a long day of barcoding presentations, I braved the driving rains of linkurl:Typhoon Wipha;http://www.forbes.com/afxnewslimited/feeds/afx/2007/09/17/afx4127144.html and visited one of Taipei's usually bustling night markets. I had a filling dinner of Taiwanese seafood (fish talk always makes me hungry) and then browsed the curiosities of the linkurl:Huaxi night market.;http://www.tcma.gov.tw/eng/SmallMarket03.htm Though I was too late to see the snake stand, where I hear shoppers can pick a snake from a tank of living serpents and watch as it is killed and prepared for the plate, I did come upon a street vendor hawking delicious looking deep-fried wares. I had read about Taipei's excellent linkurl:street foods,;http://www.holyshitake.com/archives/2004/02/food_of_taiwan.html and decided to sample one of these crispy delicacies. Looking past the cornucopia of fish stick-shaped morsels, I chose what appeared to be a good sized pork chop and indicated my desire to the lady manning the fryer. She plopped my chop into the bubbling oil, and I waited for my dessert. After sprinkling it with a seasoning powder of some kind, she handed me the steaming chop. As a meandered down the market's lane, I took my first bite. Heaven! I mumbled, "This is the best pork chop I've ever had." The supple meat was moist and the mysterious powder was both sweet and salty - a perfect compliment. I barely noticed the drizzle as I walked past closing shops, rapt in the flavor of my deep-fried pork chop. As I chewed my way down the cut of meat, however, I hit bones. Unexpected, but not unpleasant. Nibbling further into the skeletal structure of my delicacy, though, I noticed that these were not pig bones, but chicken bones. This was no pork chop. It was a flattened, fried chick breast. Being more a fan of porcine food stuffs rather than chicken dishes, I felt somewhat deceived. The chicken was a fine treat, but when it was a pork chop, it was transcendent. What if I could have barcoded my dessert with one of the hand held barcoding devices that some scientists attending this conference envision? If I had determined the true provenance of that meat before I bought it by touching it with an iPod-shaped device, would I have still indulged? I'm not quite sure, but I'm almost glad that I was tricked. Had I not tried the apparent pork chop, I never would have experienced what was one of the most delightful fried chicken breasts I've ever had. Maybe barcoding will one day keep consumers informed as to the identity of their meals, but I saw my mystery chop as a pleasant surprise. Tomorrow, the conference starts in earnest, with keynote addresses and several status reports from barcode working groups on birds, mosquitoes, fruit flies, and other taxonomic and ecological groupings of organisms. I'll be listening to the presentations and chatting with more researchers, but in the back of my mind I'll be thinking about my brush with supposed pork-based ecstasy and wondering if I'll ever find the true chop.

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