Thursday, April 02, 2009

There are plenty of bizarre dishes to be eaten

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial Page

I was out to supper with friends the other day when one of them motioned to a container of sour cream on the table and asked, "What's that?" Apparently, in his 40 years on the planet, this is one item of food that has so far eluded his culinary experience. He had no idea what it was.

How can someone live for 40 years in western civilization and not know what sour cream is? I'm no gourmet food connoisseur myself, however I do attempt to try new things. If a plateful of edible worms was put in front of me, I'd certainly try one just for the experience of saying I tried it.

I can understand if someone hasn't tried various specialty dishes from different cultures, but sour cream is a pretty basic condiment around these parts, isn't it?

I do have to confess that I never tasted lasagna before going to university, where it was a staple of the residence cafeteria. It just wasn't something we ate at home. There are many ethnic foods I've never tried either, such as matzah ball soup, latkes and stuffed grape leaves.

To find some of the weirdest foods out there, I went looking online. Some of what I found was not very appealing, while other things seemed a bit more palatable.

There's a Malaysian restaurant in Boston that sells spicy chicken feet. Sounds intriguing, but I don't think I'd be able to get around feeling sorry about all those chickens flapping around with no feet to walk around on. (I did see a large bag of raw chicken feet at the farmers' market the other day, though!) I've tried pickled pigs' feet, which I quite enjoyed.

In Northern Uganda, beware if someone offers you something called "anyeri". It may look like smoked and dried beef jerky, but it's actually the meat of a large local rat. Hmmm... Is that your tummy grumbling already? I know it sounds delicious, huh?

In Sweetwater, Texas, the local chapter of the Jaycees holds an annual rattlesnake roundup. If you're not already creeped out at the thought of going out and gathering up poisonous snakes for fun, why not get your daughter all gussied up for entering the festival's Miss Snake Charmer Scholarship Pageant? And if you're feeling peckish, you can always drop by the fried rattlesnake stand and chow down while waiting for your little girl to hit the stage.

I probably shouldn't be mocking other cultures' traditions. After all, there are some foods that are quite popular around these parts that can certainly get your gag reflex going if you really let it! Although I love poutine râpée, I've seen the incredulous reactions of people who are laying eyes on them for the first time. In my experience, these reactions have ranged from, "What the heck is that?" to "That is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen" to "What is that big round mushy thing?"

And then there's blood pudding, which is pretty much the most disgusting thing I can think of. I looked up an old recipe online for "boudin" -- the Acadian term for blood pudding -- and it contains this unappetizing line: "When slaughtering a pig, collect the fresh blood, immediately add salt and stir to prevent coagulation." Yeah, have to remember that salt! Do I add it before or after I throw up?

Then there's haggis -- a sheep's stomach stuffed with oatmeal and various other meats and steamed. Thinking of haggis always leads me to wonder how in the world anyone ever came up with the idea for this concoction? How in the name of all that is holy do you even make that up? I bet there was some serious drinking going on, is all I can say.

Haggis sounds like the grand prize winner from the 1854 Scottish Practical Joke Contest... a contest that went horribly wrong when the recipe was actually published and people started to make it. It's like a mad scientist who bred a hybrid between an elephant and an ostrich who accidentally let the results of his experiments escape into the wild and reproduce -- and then they caught on as pets.

I don't know how these foods ever became popular. All I know is that our ancestors must have been some pretty serious alcoholics or ate mushrooms they found in the forests that probably should have stayed right where they were. Either that or they only decided what to make for supper after being hit in the head with a baseball bat.

"Margaret, what should we have for supper tonight?"

"I'm not sure, Harold. Here, let me crack you in the head with this baseball bat and we'll just make whatever comes to mind during your concussion."

Honestly, I think concussions or insanity are about the only ways to describe how some of these strange old recipes came to light.

But then again, we have nothing over some other cultures.

In Indonesia, apparently they eat deep-fried monkey toes, building on humanity's fetish for eating the feet of other mammals, i.e. those poor chickens and pigs.

If you're travelling in Norway, beware if your host offers you "smalahoved" because what you'll end up with is the smoked head of a sheep cut in half and served to you on a plate. And don't think you can get away with just picking at the best parts (if there are any) because you're expected to eat the entire thing -- eyes and all! I think I'd rather have deep-fried monkey toes dipped in blood pudding, thank you very much!


Marc said...

let the hate mail from Scots begin !

Brian Cormier said...

No need for hate mail. I'll gladly try it at some point.