The past week has been an interesting one for me, food-wise. Last Monday I had a chance to sample a Mexican “beef brain” taco (de cabeza) and this weekend I found myself unexpectedly eating a plate of Haggis. You know – the Scottish dish made with a stomach-churning mixture of sheep’s lungs, heart and liver mixed with spices and boiled in the casing of a sheep stomach? Yeah, that Haggis.
While I would never go so far as to describe myself as the next Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain, I have become significantly more adventurous in my eating habits in the past five years. It’s perhaps an inevitable consequence for any frequent traveler. The more time you spend abroad, the easier it becomes to adjust to the rhythm of life and customs of places unlike your home. But even for many self-proclaimed “adventurous” travelers like myself, certain foods are the equivalent of a culinary no-fly zone. Phrases like “It’s unsafe” or “I might gag if I eat that” are often provided as rationalizations.
While I can empathize with these excuses, I think all of us (barring dietary restrictions) should try every food at least once. A lot of what we fear about certain foods is mental – a perception we’ve gained from anecdotes and popular culture that’s often not grounded in reality. More often than not you’ll find yourself enjoying the supposedly forbidden food, wondering what had you all worked up in the first place. And if you don’t like it? So what…the worst that happens is you spit it out and have a fun story to tell your friends.
Take Haggis – a food that has become the punchline to a bad joke. When I tried it recently, I found the taste and texture to be fantastic. It was like eating a spicy version of ground beef – I had myself wondering what all the fuss was about. And those beef brain tacos? I wasn’t a big fan – the meat was relatively tasteless and I found them to be too chewy. But you know what? I’m happy I tried both of them. Even if I don’t plan to snack on Haggis and beef brains every day, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation of each of these unique cultures – and that to me makes it worthwhile.