Ginkgo Trees- the Chitlins of Japan


This doesn’t smell as nice as it looks

If you’ve ever smelled a Ginkgo tree, or chitlins, my guess is you could all give me the same one word description without thinking too hard. Poo. Both have stenches so offensive you could also tell me where you were, who you were with, and how old you were even if it was before being able to speak in complete sentences. I really wish the iPhone 10 had a Scratch and Sniff feature so I could share with you. For some reason, our ancestors thought it was a good idea to eat stuff that smelled like poo, because both are eaten with gusto. By some anyway.

Chitlins, the intestines of the pig, are routinely eaten in my neck of the woods, Alabama. A whiff of raw Chitlins is bad enough. Cooking them releases an odor that’s an olfactory slap across the face every time you breathe. The bible says that Hell smells like burning sulfur (my translation for brimstone), but I suspect Satan’s minions are scorching a few pounds of chitlins for ambiance.

I’ve only seen chitlins cooked outside in the vats that witches use for stewing frogs. Chitlins are cooked in the back yard because doing so inside would render the house inhabitable for the next six months while the odor cleared. Cooking them outside  requires a warning to all the neighbors that chitlins are on the menu so they have time to close all vents, windows, and doors leading in to their houses. It’s like readying the house  for a hurricane. Served on top of grits and doused in Tabasco sauce, my family guzzles them down like raw oysters. I have eaten them once; my first and last time. The only time I’ve ever seen the TSA staff run is the time they asked my mother to open a plastic container of chitlins she was bringing on the airplane to my aunt. She opened the container, TSA security dogs started howling en masse, and everyone in line bolted for the nearest exit.


This Wikipedia image is the most appetizing picture I could find. Shudder. I could have called my Mom to cook some and take pics but that’d also get her the silent treatment from all the neighbors.


The first time I encountered a Ginkgo tree was at the University of Alabama’s Biology building. Situated right outside the door beside the big auditorium was a giant, old Ginkgo. During  the late fall, the tree would drop berries, which housed a nut. We’d all crush the yellow, fleshy stink bombs when we walked in to the building. We then dragged those bits and pieces in to the auditorium on our shoes. Every year, when the biology building smelled like a dairy farm, the tree would be threatened with removal. Inevitably, the Botany department would intervene and the tree would be safe until the following fall. I can guarantee that none of us, including professors, said,

“I think we should we roast these!”

What I didn’t know then is that the nut covered inside that noxious pulpy berry, is drop dead delicious. One of my most favorite dishes in Japan is Ginkgo nut tempura. Served on a toothpick like olives in a martini, they have the taste of a nut but a consistency somewhere between gum and a banana. Don’t interfere with the Japanese ladies when the nuts are falling. They’ll stampede you flat with a smile and a polite half bow.

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 10.20.02 AM

Tempura Matsui New York’s menu version

Tempura Matsui

I saw this, which made me nostalgic for Japan, and was the inspiration for this post.


The stuffed bear on the front of the truck is something I’m used to seeing in Japan. But I would never see these crushed Ginkgo nuts on a sidewalk. In Tokyo, they don’t have a chance to hit the ground. The tallest obasan (older woman, grandmother, auntie) under the tree catches them over the heads of the others.

My current street is lined with Ginkgo trees- which may have been one of the things that attracted me to this neighborhood when we moved last year from California. I told my neighbor I was going to get an old pair of shoes, rubber gloves, and plastic bags to collect the nuts, then I was going to roast them. He pulled a Sam I am and threatened not to eat them here or there, or anywhere.

Luckily for him, and the rest of the city, I won’t be cooking chitlins in the back.


All these nuts waiting to drop are the terror of the neighborhood, and I’ll be standing right underneath, waiting……


So, who among you has eaten something that out smells these two candidates? I can think of two others….


Tokyo Gingko Trees



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16 Responses to Ginkgo Trees- the Chitlins of Japan

  1. Joanne Taylor says:

    Hey Em, love your posts! Hugs to you and your sisters! Joanne

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t remember the gingko trees in Japan, but my hubby and I have two in our “foundation” garden here in the country. (Figure out why it’s called that?) The big Gingko tree has to be 20+ years old . It’s beautiful but no nuts. Must be a male/female thing. I’d go look up close but it’s still raining with snow imminent. Happy Halloween!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. shyshahg says:

    Tempura Matsui New York’s menu version !!!!! I like your blogs very much .


  4. thegannans says:

    G’day Emily, You write a great yarn. The worst thing I have ever smelt was a Durian. Apparently if you can ignore the smell the stuff inside is quite tasty, I have been told. Our Amah used to eat the stuff like it was going out of style. Paul

    Liked by 1 person

  5. thegannans says:

    G’day Emily. I did not know that the Durian was banned in Borneo Hotels. I know it got the sack from hotels in Thailand some yeas ago. The Gannans are going well, but number 1 Granddaughter told me, on her birthday, with a big smile on her dial, “Hey, Grandad, only 364 days before I get my learners permit!” It was bad enough when each of my children got theirs.
    Keep up the good work with your blogs. They are most enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s hilarious – sounds like Grandpop is going in for some adventure with that kid! My son has the honor of being the only kid I know to get a speeding ticket when driving with a learner’s permit. And yes I was in the car and yes I had told him to slow down. Good times. And I’m glad you’re still enjoying stopping in!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. nitinsingh says:

    Lovely picture n post


  7. Emily, as one Southerner to another (I was born and raised in KY.), bless your heart for writing a post about ginkgo trees. A year ago we moved to an apartment on a beautiful street lined with 75 year-old ginkgo trees, and while we had read about the smell, after a bumper-crop berry year all we can say is whoo-wee! The trees provide a wonderful leafy canopy, and we were home for the all-in-one-day leaf fall, which kind of offsets the smell issue. But we’re hoping for a less than stellar berry year this summer. It would be nice if we had some of those cute little Japanese ladies to take some of our berries away, but we aren’t so lucky. I guess it could be worse. Our neighbors could be cooking chitlins in their backyard. ~James


    • Where in KY? My sister is in Somerset! I’m so glad y’all have learned to coexist with the Ginkgo! I’ll have my rubber gloves and old shoes ready when ours come in! For some reason we didn’t have any berries this last year….. hmmm….. Or else some sneaky elderly Ninja came through and nabbed then all. Glad you’re doing ok!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Emily, after 40 years of roaming around we moved back to Lexington, KY where we both attended university. BTW, we have confirmed on our street that the berries/no berries issue is a female/male tree thing, which makes sense. However, and this is the kicker, our neighbors tell us that when you plant a new ginkgo tree, it takes 4-5 years to determine if it’s male or female. Which answers the question, why on earth would anyone plant one of these stinky trees right by the porch. Bring on the Ninja!!


      • I love how beautiful they are when they’re all yellow- Makes up for the smell! Hope to get to KY as soon as this stay at home is lifted!! Stay safe!

        Liked by 1 person

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