Remember that one? And of course, this sparked all kinds of other "true sightings" of people inside the red-and-white-striped outlets, who were said to be shouting and raving at the pimply, minimum-wagers behind the counter, because their "chicken" had fur hanging off it, or a long, thin tail, or whiskers. And once I even saw, without a word of a lie, a woman reach into her sixteen-piece bucket, and hold up before her surprised face what looked like a chicken breast, but which was covered in grey fur and deep-fried batter, and which was still squirming in her fingers!
What? Don't look at me like that. It's true, I saw it ... I swear on the Gideon ... would Donkey lie to you?
Anyway, I dunno what all the fuss is about. As nearly as I can tell, on the streets of Lhasa, far from being something to recoil from in horror, anything fleshy to be bought or sold is seen as more marketable and attractive to the discerning consumer if the butcher has seen fit to leave a good, solid chunk of fur hanging off the end of it.
Take goats, for example. Many years ago, when I first travelled to the so-called third world, as a fresh, naive young thing, I landed in Old Kathmandu and was swept along through the streets of Thamel by the tide of humanity, confronted by the crowds, the smells and the sights. Most confronting of all, as I remember it, was the goat butcher who, each morning, would slaughter poor Billy, and cut him up into various bits – legs, bum, guts and head – and lay them out on a card table. During the course of the day, various Nepalis would come and buy a leg here, some intestines there, and if anything was left unsold at stumps, well then I guess the butcher and his family wouldn't go hungry that evening. But the most surprising thing about the hapless goat, as I remember it, was that it was completely white – the butcher had expertly bled, and then skinned the creature, ensuring that the legs, belly, head etc, were a shiny, pristine white – not a furry hock in sight.
Jump forward nine years and over the highest mountains in the world, and the good folk of Lhasa don't go for any of that pristine, white meat, carefully and attractively laid out on a sturdy card table. No Sireee! Down at the Moslem butchers on Lingkor Shar Rd, the pavements are littered with Stalin-esque pyramids of piled goats heads, all blood, flies and matted fur, with eye-balls staring invitingly, "Pick me, I'm nice and furry – c'mon, don't walk past, I'm soooooo tasty".
And it's the fur, I'm sure of it, which is the clincher for the Lhasa bargain shopper. From piles of goats heads to huge barrels full of lucky rabbit paws., it's really hard to resist a little fluffy hand for an auspicious memento – certainly much more fun and enjoyable than the dusty old yak horns, with their rough, gnarled and dry exterior – hardly an attractive thing to hang around your neck for a reverent caress every hour or so. No, for me it's the furry rabbit paw with the black, crusting base where it was severed from the little bunny, every time!
In fact, the shaggy lump of fur left on the end of a slaughtered limb is such a marketable phenomenon in this lofty city, that the copious yak butchers found on every corner have actually embraced it as an art form, using the yak's own juices as a kind of organic hair gel to mould the thick, black mass into all kinds of interesting shapes and styles. The more outlandish and "new wave" the design, the more attractive the grisly morsel is to the consumer.
It's certainly a far cry from procuring your generic lump of red or pink meat, sitting in a polystyrene tray, on top of an absorbent pad and wrapped in cling film, by reaching into the pink-fluorescent-lit refrigerator cabinet down at your local Safeway or Tesco, but let's face it, without the odd feather, snout, scales or fur in that there juice-tight package, who's to say what you're really buying? For all you know, that beef could just be dyed rabbit, or that pork simply chemical-fed sparrow. After all, do you really know what your butcher is doing way out the back of his shop, behind those thick, stainless steel doors?
I actually think that the residents of Lhasa might just have the right idea – that a good, healthy, lovingly-sculpted hunk of shag on the end of a bloody stump not only makes it clear what they're actually buying, and what condition the beast was in before it got the chop, but also reflects the level of care and attention the butcher lends to his trade ... no, his art! In the cut-and-thrust-world of the Lhasa slaughter houses (oh my Gawd, that was a bad pun), it's all about the hair.
... which brings me to my final observation this morning. If the people of Lhasa judge the quality of their meat by looking at, and caressing the fur left on a choice cut, what exactly is going through their minds when, at least five times a day, complete strangers approach me and rub their hands up and down Donkey's particularly hirsute arms, eyes wide with amazement and saliva dribbling from the corner of their mouths? One thing's for sure, there's no way I'm getting into that bubbling spa over there – y'know, the one with all the chopped vegetables floating around inside it!
And if the caressing of my hairy arms is cause for culinary interest, one can only speculate what was going on a couple of weeks ago when, while wandering around a temple with thousands of Buddhist pilgrims, a hunched, toothless old lady crept up behind Mrs Donkey and started smacking her on the bum, each time smiling and nodding with approval. Now, I'm not suggesting for a minute that Mrs Donkey has a hairy arse, but, well...