What constitutes “food” is relative, depending upon what part of the world you call home. In Asia, pretty much anything on no (snakes), two, four, six, or eight legs is up for grabs. Europe, however, has its own culinary oddities, as detailed below. Got maggots?
Hákarl: Fermented, dried Greenland or basking shark. This tasty treat is prepared by burying the beheaded and gutted shark in a shallow hole in the ground for six to 12 weeks. Unsurprisingly, the end result is considered noxious to pretty much everyone on the planet aside from Icelanders.
Smalahove: Boiled lamb’s head, traditionally served at Christmas. The brain is removed, and the head salted and dried before boiling. Because they’re the fattiest bits, the ear and eye are eaten first. More fun than a wishbone.
Sardinia (yes, it’s in Italy, but this one deserved its own listing)
Casu marzu: This sheep’s milk cheese has maggots added to it during ripening, because their digestive action creates an “advanced level” of fermentation (also known as “decomposition”). Some people prefer to eat the soupy results sans critters, while the stout of heart go for the whole package. Be forewarned: according to Wikipedia, irate maggots can propel themselves for distances up to six inches. Here’s fly in your eye.
Northern Sweden or Finland
Lappkok: This charmingly-named concoction consists of blodpalt–a dumpling made with reindeer blood and wheat or rye flour–served with reindeer bone marrow. Well, Santa’s herd had to retire sometime.
[Photo credit: Flickr user fjords]
Lutefisk: This dried whitefish treated with lye is beloved by Scandinavians and their American Midwestern ancestors (let’s just say it’s an acquired taste). It’s traditionally served with potatoes or other root vegetables, gravy or white sauce, and akvavit.
Haggis: Who doesn’t love a cooked sheep’s stomach stuffed with its lungs, heart, and liver, combined with oatmeal?
Nozki: Literally “cold feet,” this dish of jellied pig’s trotters isn’t as repulsive as it sounds. The meat is simmered with herbs and spices until falling off the bone, and set in gelatin. Think of how much fun this would be as a Jello shooter.
Salo: The cured fatback of pork is actually quite delicious, and similar to Italian lardo when seasoned. It’s chopped and used as a condiment, or eaten straight-up on bread. Plan your angioplasty accordingly.
Black (or blood) pudding: Technically a sausage, this mixture of animal blood (usually pork), spices, fat, and oatmeal or other grains is surprisingly good. It’s served uncooked, fried, grilled, or boiled. Sound bad? At least it’s not called Spotted Dick.
Stracotto d’asino: A northern Italian donkey stew, often served as a pasta sauce. Donkey and horse are eaten throughout Italy, but this particular dish is a specialty of Veneto, and Mantua, in Lombardy.
Tête de veau: You have to love that the venerable French culinary bible, Larousse Gastronomique, describes this dish of boiled calf’s head as, “a gelatinous variety of white offal.” Mmm. While there are many different preparations for the classical dish, it was traditionally served with cocks’ combs and kidneys, calves sweetbreads, and mushrooms.
P’tcha: A calves’ foot jelly enjoyed by Ashkenazi Jews throughout this part of Europe. It’s uh, high in protein.
Zungenwurst: This sausage is made of pork blood and rind; pickled ox tongue, and a grain filler, such as barley. It’s available dried, or can be browned in butter or bacon fat before eating. And bacon makes everything better.
Paardenrookvlees: Culinarily-speaking, the Dutch usually cop grief for their proclivity for pickled herring and eating mayonnaise on their french fries. That’s because most Americans don’t know this smoked horse meat is a popular sandwich filling. Trust me: Seabiscuit tastes pretty good.
Kokoretsi: Lamb or goat intestines wrapped around seasoned offal (lungs, hearts, sweetbreads, kidneys), threaded onto a skewer, and cooked on a spit. You know what’s good with grilled meat? Meat.
A Vietnamese scientist, Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, has discovered a previously unknown species of lizard in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. While eating at a rural restaurant in this southwestern region of the Mekong Delta, Dr. Van Tri noticed a tank of live lizards awaiting transfer to the grill, after which they would be served with a side of salad.
The Independent reports that the lizard, now known as Leiolepis ngovantrii, is a hybrid of two similar species in the region. The L ngovantrii species are entirely female, and reproduce by parthenogenesis, a form of cloning.
Confirmation of the new species came via two American herpetologists, Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, and his son Jesse Grismer of Villanova University in Pennsylvania. In a goose chase akin to something out of a “Far Side” cartoon, father and son departed immediately for Vietnam after being emailed photos of the lizards by Dr. Van Tri. Upon arrival, they called the restaurant and asked the owner to hold an order of live lizards, before embarking on a two-day motorbike journey to the establishment.
The senior Grismer told the National Geographic News, “When we finally got there, this crazy guy had gotten drunk and served them all to his customers.” Fortunately, the Grismer’s were able to hire some local boys to find live specimens, and DNA testing confirmed that L ngovantrii is an all-female species. Explains Dr. Lee Grismer,”It’s an entirely new lineage of life that was being eaten and sold in restaurants for food. But it’s something that scientists have missed for hundreds of years. It’s not that they’re not known, locals know all about them. It’s just that they’re not known to scientists.”
After last week’s cliffhanger of Amazing Race 14 when Jaime and Cara arrived first at the Pit Stop to only find Phil pulling another yellow envelope behind his back, I thought that Jaime might throw a hissy fit, but no, she handled Phil’s news like a trouper. Instead of winning a nifty trip to some exotic location, off this former cheerleader duo went in the dark of Beijing to Bai Hai Dong Men and the next clue. That doesn’t mean they were in a cheering mood for more fun and frolic with Chinese people, but they didn’t whine.
No one else did either. Perhaps they were too pooped after their swim to get mad about being duped. No rest for the weary. Instead of getting shut eye, there the four remaining teams were darting in and out of shops at Bai Hai street looking for a Travelocity gnome. This task gave glimpses into the mish mash of offerings in various shops. This one clothes. That one dried beans and peanuts. Another one, glassware. You get the picture. Shopping in Beijing is not the version where you load up a cart with everything from a vacuum cleaner to bananas to a lawn chair by the time you hit the checkout counter at a mega store.
Once teams found the Travelocity gnome, off they went with their red-hatted lawn ornament via taxi to find Gu Gong Xi Bei Jiao where they hopped on electric bicycles to glide along the streets of Beijing past Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.
With the early morning sunrise glinting off the buildings and the gnomes sitting in their bicycle basket perches, could the lighting have been more perfect? I think not. Even the teams, who had to have been tootling along only thanks to an adrenaline rush, were able to enjoy the architecture, the soldiers marching during the morning flag raising in the square, and the historic significance of their location. It couldn’t have been a better piece of TV work if it had been orchestrated. What timing.
At their next clue stop, the Dongdan subway station, there was a choice to head to an opera house to dress like an opera singing couple, complete with make-up they put on each other, or head to a restaurant to take food orders of a group of people sitting at a table, repeating the order to the cook, and then delivering the food to the dinners. The trick was using Mandarin, a snap, more or less, for Victor & Tammy. They did make one mistake and had to try again. The food: vegetarian noodles, fried chicken, new taste beef, golden pork spare ribs and good luck fish, reminded me of all the fantastic meals I’ve ever had in Asia. Hint: If you can’t read a menu, look at what other people in the restaurant are eating. Find what looks good and point. This method works like a charm.
Luke & Margie and Jen & Kisha showed up at the Hu Guang Hui Guan Opera House to put on the Chinese princess and gentleman attire. By this time, Margie & Luke had begun to vex each other, but Jen & Kisha were doing well, although Jen couldn’t quite believe they were still in China after their swimming terror.
Just like in the past episodes, during this episode Jaime and Cara were never able to get a break when it comes to cab drivers. Patience, dear Jaime is a virtue. Still, you have to hand it to these two. They keep soldiering on and giving lovely smiles to folks who help them when they feel understood. Jaime and Cara’s moods are like watching a see saw.
Once Jaime and Cara finally found the correct opera house, long after Victor and Tammy had served food at Hu Guang Hui Guan restaurant, and Luke & Margie quit bickering, the make-up task was a snap for these women and off they ran only to get lost and confused again for three more hours.
In the meantime, Kisha & Jen, who I like, were U-Turned by Victor and Tammy at Hu Guang Hui Guan. Instead of getting mad, there they were in their opera attire trying their darnedest to say the names of Mandarin dishes correctly. If there was any lesson to learn from watching them, it’s to write things down as they sound, and listen carefully. Also, if you can’t understand what one person is saying in a language you don’t know well, ask someone else. All native speakers don’t sound the same. Some people are just easier to understand.
After serving food or dressing up in Chinese opera regalia, it was off to a Dong Hua Men Yi Shi Street Market stall that sold snack food that would be great fare at a Halloween party. It is possible to eat deep-fried starfish, grasshoppers, larvae, and scorpions served on a stick. Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods would have gotten a kick out of this part. The best thing to do in such situations is to eat fast. Jen ate little bites followed by a lot of water which led to another issue, a costly one. Victor, Cara and Margie, on the other hand, went to town scarfing the oddities down, as if they couldn’t eat enough of the crunchy critters.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Tammy & Victor dash to the Pit Stop at Niao Chao, the Bird’s Nest stadium of the Olympics. The tasks weren’t particularly difficult for them during this episode and they could clearly say the names of places. These two have grown on me and it’s fun to see them having a good time. They’re the type that traveling brings out the best in.
Unfortunately, Jen had to go to the bathroom before they made it to the Pit Stop so Cara and Jaime beat them. Too bad, too bad, too bad. With those flowing gowns, why not just pee and keep running? Gross, but hey, it’s a million dollars. People were running in their underwear in Siberia. Surely peeing in an opera gown isn’t the worst thing that could happen. On the otherhand, what a great way to illustrate that Beijing does have swank public toilets. Keep that in mind if you have to pee there. Head to the Bird’s Nest for some bladder relief.
So, who do I hope will win? I’m not that partial to anyone. As much as Jaime’s attitude gets on my nerves, I’m impressed Cara’s and her tenacity. They just keep on going like that battery run bunny from the commercial. If they win, I won’t be that upset. Although, they really ought to apologize to Mark & Mike for making fun of short people.
If Luke and Margie win what a great boost for women over forty and people who are deaf. They can kick butt.
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.