Culinary Delights

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We live in an extremely diverse world. Every region and every culture develops unique cuisines based on availability of indigenous ingredients. What one culture considers "standard," another considers strange, and vice versa. As I have traveled around the world, I have attempted to partake in as much of local cuisine as I can. As you read the following list, please be reminded that I have included items that are "unusual" only from my USA-based perspective. I have also included a few items that I was raised on, that you might consider "unusual" as well.

 

Pupa  Egusi Soup  Ray  Live Fish  Squid in Own Ink  Witchetty Grubs  Fugu  Horse  Snake Skin  Helado de Ojo Blanco Liver in Grease  Udder  Marcos' Beer  Ants  African Game  Kangaroo Tail  Gribenes  Mojama Live Lobster  Live Octopus

  • Buun-Dae-Ki aka silkworm pupa. Yes, in 2007, Ginny and I were served a bowl full of fried silkworm larvae in Ganghwa Island, South Korea. I cannot say they tasted great; in fact, they tasted exactly what I had always expected a large penny-sized insect would taste like. Rich in protein, though I wouldn't want to try to survive on them.

  • Egusi Soup. This is one of the national dishes of Nigeria.  We ate it at a restaurant at the side of the road in Cross River State in Nigeria in the summer of 2005. Restaurant had no electricity (ever!) and of course no refrigeration. This soup was a spicy "bitter melon" soup with a hunk of goat meat in the middle of it. And we ate it with a our fingers by soaking it up with wads of pounded yam (sort of the consistency of raw cookie dough). The soup was mostly orange grease (possibly from the goat?) that stained our fingers.

  • Ray. I ate thornback ray (similar to a manta ray) in Howth, Ireland in 2004. Not much meat, lots of bones, a bit slimy, but quite tender and sweet. During the same meal, Ginny ordered mallard.

  • Live Fish. My good friend Tadao Ichikawa presented this to my wife and I for the first time in a restaurant in Hiroshima, Japan, in the early 1990's. I had always loved fresh sashimi (raw fish), but this was a fish of around 18 inches long that had been professionally prepared by the chef so that its meat was easily removed with chopsticks, but was still very much alive (eyes moving, fins waving, tail swaying, and so on). Sashimi cannot get any fresher! Since that time, I have ordered this dish many times.

  • Squid Cooked in its Own Ink. My good friend Natalia Juristo presented this to my wife and I at her home in Madrid, Spain in 2003. Although I have eaten much calamari over the years (mostly sautéed or fried), this was my first time either eating a major part of the animal, or eating it in its own ink. I do not know if Natalia realized that she was serving us something that we considered worthy of including on this web page, but it sure was! I will likely order it in a restaurant next time I am in Spain.

    p.s. In January 2005, I returned to Madrid and once again savored the taste of calamari ink.  Excellent!

  • Witchetty. In 1979, my wife and I were in Alice Springs, Australia. We were in a steak restaurant, and I asked the waitress to recommend something from the menu that was "local." She pointed to an item named "Buffalo Tournedoes in Witchetty Sauce." I ordered it. She later brought me two delicious filet mignons of water buffalo covered with a pale pink sauce. It was scrumptious. I soaked up every drop of the sauce with the meat and bread, and cleaned my plate until it looked fresh out of the dishwasher. When the waitress returned, I remarked how great it was and asked her if she would be willing to give us the recipe. She answered, "You mean you don't know what you just ate?" She laughed at brought me into the kitchen where I witnessed the chef preparing the same dish for another guest. The sauce is made in a blender by combining live witchetty grubs (beige and pink 4 inch long larvae that aborigine children adore), some cream and a few spices.

  • Fugu.  A few years ago, I was dining in Tokyo with my friends Jun Shibata and Hidetoshi Takahashi. They asked if there were any Japanese cuisines that I had not yet tasted. I said fugu, assuming that the restaurant we were in didn't serve it! To my surprise, the waiter soon brought out a plate of fugu. For those of you who don't know, fugu is a blowfish which contains a deadly toxin. If not prepared exactly right, it will kill you. I was scared to try it. Eventually, Takahashi-San offered to taste it first. He immediately experienced a seizure. He was joking! Finally, they explained to me that this fugu was not poisonous. Then I enjoyed it. It was fantastic.

  • Horse.  I was in the Japanese Alps a few years ago vacationing with my friends Tsuyoshi and Ikuko Nakajima. This was while I was a vegetarian (although I still ate fish). Breakfast was served in a bento, and included many new and wondrous taste sensations. There was only one item of sushi that looked like meat, and so I decided to not eat it. When Iku noticed that I had not eaten it, she asked why. I told her that I didn't eat meat, and asked her what it was. Yoshi was able to quickly identify the English word for it: horse. But then Yoshi and Iku started talking in Japanese trying to find the English word for the part of the horse. Finally, Yoshi explained that it is a part of the body that only male horses have. I heard enough. I did not eat it.

  • Snake Skin. When we were in China in 2002 visiting our friend Dehua Ju, we were served a plate of fried snake skin. Although I had eaten much chicken skin in my earlier life, I decided to appeal to my vegetarian instincts.  I did not eat it, although Ginny did.

  • Helado de Ojo Blanco. One of my Spanish friends, Oscar Dieste, tells me that he loves a Spanish soup called Ojo Blanco, garlic soup. I haven't tried it, but it does sound very good. However, in 2006, at a restaurant in El Escorial, Spain, my Bonito was served with a scoop of Ojo Blanco Ice Cream on top.

  • Liver in Grease. In 1973, my friend Chuck Collins and I drove across the country in his Scout (an early SUV). When we arrived in Las Vegas, New Mexico (not Nevada), we were famished and went into a diner. I ordered beef liver (obviously long before I became a vegetarian). The waitress brought me a bowl of what looked like soup. I finally figured out that it was a bowl of hot grease. And at the bottom of the bowl was a slab of beef liver.  I ate the liver, and passed on the grease. Yuck!

  • Udder. In the early 1980's, I had the privilege of ordering a dinner of cow utter in Argentina. I believe it was called ubre. I recall it was terrific, but I do not recall any other details. :(

  • Beer? In 2002, at a restaurant called Marco's African Restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa I ordered a "local beer."  To my surprise, it arrived in a coconut, and tasted like no beer I had ever tasted. I later found out that was made right there in the restaurant.  I did not ask for the recipe! Nor will I order it again. By the way, I have successfully tasted and evaluated 6000+ beers over the years, and would order every one of them again (oh, except perhaps Samichlaus)

  • Ants. In July 2004, while at Manyallaluk, Northern Territories, Australia, our guide, Manuel, snatched a green tree-ant colony out of a tree, crushed it between his hands, reached in and handed us each a pinchful of live ants to eat. Ginny ate hers immediately; I was not as brave.  However, a few days later, we found another green tree-ant colony ourselves and this time I did partake in the feast. They were good!  Tasted like a lemon-lime flavored astringent.

  • African Game. During our first two trips to Africa (in 2002 and 2003), Ginny and Michael ate much impala, kudu (gemsbok), nyala, ostrich, warthog, and wildebeest. I took little tastes of most of them. We had opportunities to eat lion, zebra, giraffe, and oxtail (a South African delicacy), but did not partake.

  • Kangaroo Tail. In the 1960's, I had eaten kangaroo tail soup in Columbia University in New York, but in 2004, Ginny was served a plate of freshly barbecued kangaroo tail at Manyallayuk Aboriginal Settlement near Katherine, Northern Territories. I tried a bit; very greasy; not at all pleasant.

  • Gribenes. Small pieces of chicken skin fried in chicken fat. An incredible delicacy with a taste that you can't resist. But as bad for your heart as anything you can imagine. I grew up with these in New York City.  Origin is likely Eastern Europe. I usually ate them mixed with bow-tie noodles, kasha (barley groats), and lots more chicken fat. The mixture is called kasha varnishkes.

  • Mojama. I tried mojama for the first time in Madrid in January 2005. I thought I was in heaven. It is made of salt-cured tuna using a recipe that dates back to the eighth century. You can learn more about mojama at http://www.marketuno.com/products/mojama_article.htm.

  • Live Lobster.  Americans consider lobster a delicacy. Live lobsters are dropped into boiling water and we eat them cooked (but recently alive). In Suwon, South Korea, Ginny and I enjoyed eating a vast array of hwei (the Korean word is sashimi) with our host, Sooyong Park. One of the items was a live lobster. We ate parts of the tail meat, which had been severed from the rest of the torso. The front half was still crawling around on the table. His punishment for crawling off the plate was that he got taken away and cooked.

  • Live Octopus. We had recently watched a 60 Minutes episode about Koreans who ate live octopi (with some dying in the process -- the people, not the octopi). In March 2006, Ginny and I were served them in Korea. They sat on a plate in the middle of the table writhing and grabbing for anything they could. We were told that they were soaked in oil so they couldn't cling to our throats. We were also told to chew them thoroughly before swallowing . . . once again to minimize the possibility of them clinging to our throats. We followed our host's instructions carefully . . . and survived.

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